Are We Approaching a Technical Skills Shortage?

A concern has been growing in recent years over the potential for a technical skills shortage in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere around the globe, particularly in science, and engineering-related occupations.

It is generally predicted that, by 2018, a mass wave of retirements by members of the Baby Boom generation will result in 1.2 million U.S. job openings in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, and there will likely be a significant shortage of qualified applicants to fill them.  The full depth of the STEM skills shortage may be even greater than this, as 50 percent of jobs that require STEM skills do not require a bachelor’s degree or better, according to Plant Services.

US2020 is a new organization developed from a White House call to develop “large-scale, innovative solutions to the STEM challenges in the U.S., with a focus on increasing access to STEM careers for girls, underrepresented minorities, and low-income children.” Announced by President Obama at the National Science Fair, US2020 will match 1 million STEM mentors with both K-12 and college students at youth-serving nonprofits by the year 2020.

Technology companies are also doing their part to address the coming technical skills shortage. For example, in their paper A National Talent Strategy: Ideas For Securing U.S. Competitiveness and Economic Growth, Microsoft challenges Congress to create up to 20,000 new visas annually for STEM skills that are in short supply, along with calling on the states to train more K-12 STEM teachers, widen access to computer science among high schools, and help students who start college to finish their degrees more quickly, especially those in STEM disciplines. In another example, IBM recently introduced a European services grants program which focuses on donating the time and service of their consultants in order develop the IT infrastructure, leadership and technology skills of not-for-profit organizations and education establishments.

In Canada, one educational institution is taking matters into their own hands. On Sept. 5, 2012, the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) officially opened the doors to the new 740,000 sq. ft. Trades and Technology Complex, which is now home to the MacPhail School of Energy, School of Construction and the School of Manufacturing and Automation.

SAIT Polytechnic is concerned about the economic health of Canada, which is threatened by a severe shortage of highly skilled young people to replace a generation of retiring baby boomers in a variety of trades and technology careers primarily energy, construction and manufacturing.  This state-of-the-art learning environment was built to support SAIT’s mission of being “an innovative organization equipping people to compete successfully in the changing world of work by providing relevant, skills-oriented education.”

Panduit was selected by SAIT to deploy a highly reliable, scalable Enterprise infrastructure solution to increase network availability and productivity throughout the new facility.  Working diligently with Gibbs Gage, the architect who designed the project, and Canem Systems, who performed contractor services, we delivered a future-proofed, scalable network infrastructure that provides systems reliability and optimizes SAIT’s business operations while delivering an enhanced learning environment for its students. (Click here to read more on SAIT project specifics).

This expansion was the largest in SAIT’s history, adding labs, classrooms and workshops to host up to 8,100 additional students. The larger facility allows more students to further their desire for skills-based training while furnishing instructors with the resources they need to provide students with the best education possible.

It is hard to say with confidence whether enterprises are ready for coming skills shortages.  However, providing students with learning opportunities and smart, committed STEM professionals is a strong start to addressing the issue.

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