Note: This content was written in 2012 when STEM-Trek was formed. While some is dated, economic projections have come to fruition. STEM-Trek’s “About” page is a snapshot in time that underscores why the program is as important now as it was when the idea was conceived in 2011.
STEM-Trek supports travel, mentoring and professional development for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) scholars from demographic groups that are typically underrepresented in their use of advanced cyberinfrastructure to accelerate scientific discovery. Beneficiaries are often from resource-constrained environments and are encouraged to pay-it-forward by volunteering at home to help others, or by supporting STEM-Trek in another way that fulfills its objectives.
The infinity symbol represents the symbiotic relationship between those at opposite ends of the technology skill spectrum – specifically STEM scholars and job-seekers lacking vocational technology skills. With little or no understanding of technology, low-tech job-seekers may not understand how STEM research benefits their lives. When this sentiment is prevalent among members of important advocacy groups that are experiencing high rates of unemployment (specifically the aging workforce, veterans, and people with disabilities), it has a negative impact on legislative support for STEM funding. And, if the research community doesn’t understand the challenges faced by these important groups, they won’t fully consider their needs when making advances in medicine, energy, socioeconomic development, infrastructure, technology, trade, tourism, agriculture, and governance.
By encouraging volunteerism, STEM-Trek inspires socially-conscious innovation, while augmenting the federally-supported social safety-net with an infusion of fresh ideas, talent and effort.
How did the economy get so bad?
Several global recessions since World War II (WWII) were accompanied by unemployment spikes that leveled off at rates higher than when they began, and recent events have taken longer to recover. A sixty-year upward unemployment trend is fundamentally linked to broadening economic disparity and the deterioration of global social pathology. Experts are becoming increasingly concerned about the number of unemployed youths, their collective reaction to economic disparity, and the impact to society, in general.
In developed countries, those who work pay into the social programs that support others. Where there is spiraling unemployment, demand quickly exceeds supply. Unfortunately, the same federal resources also support about two-thirds of all research and it’s the only funding that protects the public interest, unlike research funded by commercial enterprises. Just about everywhere, it has been necessary for governments to progressively restructure budgets to address the needs of society’s poorest citizens at the expense of education and scientific advancement.
While the problem seems to be globally-ubiquitous, the impact on developed nations is especially striking. Historically, the U.S. has led other countries in terms of research publications cited and technical innovation produced, including the development of networks, telecommunications and computational cyberinfrastructure leveraged by the rest of the world. However, in the U.S. the number of students pursuing STEM degrees has declined, as well as the performance of students and teachers in STEM disciplines.
The International Labor Office 2012 Global Unemployment Report explains their upside scenarios for recovery will only occur through a strategic, unified global effort. In this spirit, STEM-Trek encourages multinational collaboration and travel to attend scientific conferences. The activity fosters diplomacy, collaborative research, and increases scientist’s awareness of the dangers associated with economic disparity. By encouraging STEM scholars to engage with education and training activities in their home communities, STEM-Trek contributes to citizens’ understanding of how science impacts the quality of life on earth. Additionally, STEM-Trek aims to expand the STEM pipeline by fostering a greater culture of inclusion for female and minority scholars—more than half of the potential workforce that has been long overlooked and neglected.
Cultural shift requires job skills retraining
While job-growth in the 1930’s post-depression period of recovery involved manual labor with on-the-job training, most of today’s jobs require at least a basic understanding of technology. While most under the age of 30 will have been exposed to technology on a daily basis in school and home, older people who are unemployed for the first time may have never used a computer, or may have used technology for a specific vocational purpose and therefore may need to learn word processing skills in order to write a compelling resume and cover letter. The workforce includes many veterans and mature employees who are adapting to disability and would need to learn alternative ways to access electronic information. Most processes relating to unemployment are more effectively managed via the Internet, including filing and certifying for unemployment compensation where available, and applying for jobs.
Between 2007 and 2010, industrial outsourcing and the introduction of robotics had resulted in the loss of nine million US manufacturing jobs. Global changes in the automotive industry have had a huge impact, with job losses totaling 4.4 million in the US and 800,000 in Europe (Isidore, 2010). As Europe continues to struggle with the financial crisis, an additional 500,000 automotive jobs may be cut by manufacturing companies who hope to prevent further losses (Kinnander, 2012). Yet, a recent survey by ManpowerGroup reveals science, engineering, and technology skills are among the top five sought by employers, with IT skills the third most desired (Evans, 2012). Therefore, displaced automotive industry workers in the US and Europe will benefit from vocational technical training.
It’s all about jobs, but not just any jobs—STEM jobs!
Global unemployment mirrors the world’s financial culture. The International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Global Employment Trends 2012 report revealed a grim outlook stemming from successive years of global financial crisis. At that time, one in three of the world’s eligible workers was unemployed, or lived in poverty. There was a 200 million global unemployment backlog which had increased 27 million since the global economic crisis began in 2008. In order to generate growth and maintain social cohesion, more than 400 million jobs are needed to keep up with the projected increase in unemployment (600 million productive jobs over the next ten years), and more higher-paying jobs are needed to restore the middle-class. In their best case scenario, the ILO expects nine million workers in developing countries will remain in families that earn below the poverty level.
In the U.S., unemployment peaked in 2009 at around 10%, and has steadily declined since then. It’s not because everyone is working, however. Many exhausted allowable unemployment benefits, and dropped out of the labor force entirely. Consequently, incarceration and disability rates have increased by a corresponding amount. In European countries using the Euro, the average unemployment rate was around 11 percent in 2013, but the gap of disparity for Greece and Spain increased sharply. While Europe’s average is currently around 12 percent, Greece and Spain peaked at 28 & 26 percent respectively; higher unemployment than was experienced during the 1930’s Great Depression. Since 2012, unemployment among Greek youths skyrocketed to 58.4 percent. But, even developed countries have pockets of poverty that are in sharp decline. In the U.S. territory Puerto Rico, for example, 27.3 percent of youths between 15 and 24 are unemployed, which is where the same Greek cohort stood in 2010!
While job-growth in the 1930’s post-depression period of recovery involved manual labor with on-the-job training, most of today’s jobs require at least a basic understanding of technology. While most under the age of 30 will have been exposed to technology on a daily basis in school and home, older people who are unemployed for the first time may have never used a computer, or they might have used technology for a specific vocational purpose and therefore require training in the use of word processing to prepare a resume and cover letter. The aging workforce includes many veterans and others adapting to disability who would benefit from learning alternative ways to access electronic information. Most processes relating to employment are increasingly reliant upon the Internet, including filing and certifying for unemployment compensation where available, and applying for jobs.
Between 2007 and 2010, industrial outsourcing and the introduction of robotics resulted in the loss of nine million U.S. manufacturing jobs. In 2012, global changes in the automotive industry had a huge impact, with job losses totaling 4.4 million in the US and 800,000 in Europe, with another 500,000 expected to be cut to prevent further losses. While the number of manufacturing jobs has been increasing since then, higher-paid jobs now require college degrees and/or technical skills; the displaced workforce must retrain if they are to advance in manufacturing careers. A 2012 survey by ManpowerGroup revealed STEM skills to be among the top five sought by employers, with IT skills the third most desired.
STEM-Trek is committed to a policy of fair representation and it does not discriminate on the basis of national origin, race, physical handicap, gender, ancestry, religion, or sexual orientation.
For a list of resources cited, see the bibliography.