Simi Valley students tour a local manufacturer. (Photo Credit: Marybeth Jacobsen)
Careers involving STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) are growing at a rate of 17 percent compared to almost 10 percent for non-STEM careers, according to the U.S Department of Commerce. In fact, of the top 10 fastest growing professions in the country, eight are STEM-related. The good news doesn’t stop there as workers in STEM fields earn 26 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts.
But, there is a segment of the population being left out of the STEM boom – women. Although women make up 47 percent of the workforce, they are vastly underrepresented in science and engineering occupations. A National Science Foundation study found that only 12 percent of civil engineers and 7 percent of mechanical engineers are women.
The Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Education Coalition (WEC) experienced first-hand the gender gap when they started taking high school students on STEM-related tours to local manufacturing businesses.
“We did two manufacturing tours and it just turned out in the natural order of things that it was just boys who were going through,” said Marybeth Jacobsen, WEC president. “It was the manufacturers who said to me, ‘Can’t you bring a group of young ladies through?’”
In response, Jacobsen worked with the Simi Valley Unified School District to identify two girls from every junior high and high school who would be interested in STEM careers, thus creating the “STEM Equity” tours.
One of the manufacturers on route of the tours is Oxnard-based Haas Automation, Inc., the largest machine tool builder in the United States.
“When they came here, we brought in a number of female employees,” said Tavi Udrea, the company’s director of global training and development, talking about showing the girls career possibilities available to them. “We brought in one of the production managers, people that work in purchasing, people that work in electrical assembly, people that work in mechanical assembly. It’s important because there are many places for women in manufacturing and I want to make sure that the word gets out there and they know that.”
Jacobsen agreed on the importance of STEM role models for girls. “It’s important that they know about Rosie the Riveter and the contribution that women have made historically in America to the manufacturing sector, to know that women can participate in manufacturing and make significant contributions and be successful,” said Jacobsen.
Organizers shared the STEM Equity tours appear to be successful in showing the girls that they can have a future in manufacturing. “When we interviewed them on the way back, many of them indicated that they would have never thought about careers in manufacturing, but now that they saw that it involved everything from accounting all the way up to engineers, from being line leaders, that was definitely something they were interested in,” said Dr. Pam Castleman, coordinator of curriculum and assessment at the Simi Valley Unified School District.
Ideas like exposing future workers to local employers should help build and maintain a strong workforce and benefit the region’s economy in the long-term. Creating partnerships between educational institutions and industry to fill needs in all communities and regions of the state is just one of the 2015 goals of the California Economic Summit’s Roadmap to Shared Prosperity.
Dr. Castleman summed it up the local effort: “I think not only is it a great source for our kids building a career professional network, it’s also good for our local economy in that we’re connecting the kids to their local community so they won’t look outside Ventura County for jobs.”