This week I’ll have the opportunity to participate in an impactful event here in Irvine, CA covering women in medical device leadership. With this being the 3rd annual event the team putting it together was concerned primarily with how we would pull off the event and do so while keeping the content fresh and appealing. Needless to say when you’ve done something twice its really easy to have the 3rd end up on autopilot. Just ask Al Pacino, he’ll know exactly what you’re talking about as a result of Godfather III. (my first of many digressions in this article)
While we had a great topic to address, ‘Successfully Addressing Conflict Resolution & Crisis Management in the Workplace’, the team agreed we were missing something from the event. Missing something to make this 3rd event really special. It was during this time one of our strategic partners, Society of Women in Engineering, or SWE, suggested we offer a scholarship for female STEM students as a part of the event.
We loved the idea and since our organization, DeviceAlliance, had yet to do a scholarship program it was a great way to give back to the local community we serve while also providing a unique experience for the event attendees.
As we dove into the creation of this scholarship program, which would later be called ‘OC Exceptional Female STEM Student Scholarship Award’, we learned a lot of interesting stats having to do with our country’s STEM education programs. Some of those STEM stats were good yet many of them were disheartening to say the least.
While I knew what STEM education was I must admit I wasn’t familiar with the actual programs, how it operated and what the results were. As I began to dig for details to educate myself on this part of academia, I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with the information I was finding.
STEM education in the US is struggling.
I found this really hard to believe. How can such an amazing program have such mediocre to poor results. I learned things like:
These stats are frightening and only the beginning of the landslide of poor outcomes and frustrating data plaguing STEM education. One could easily deduce from this information our country’s efforts to produce a successful STEM education program for the up and coming generations is failing. Perhaps, failing miserably.
I wasn’t willing to accept that. Just because the stats may not be in our favor doesn’t mean STEM isn’t a good opportunity. In fact, I look at it the opposite way. Sure, STEM education reform would almost certainly help our country however in the wake of misfortune opportunity can always be found.
Fortunately, the future for STEM isn’t so doom and gloom, it’s all a matter of how we address the opportunity at hand. Let’s look at some other stats related to STEM:
Yes, the academic side of STEM may be struggling in the US. Yes, we’re pumping a lot of money into STEM and we’re still behind many 1st and even 2nd world countries in terms of our scoring and performance in STEM.
Yet there’s one thing for certain you just can’t argue – technology is only going to increase as time goes on. This means the demand for STEM educated students will continue to be both important and a key driver of our economy. Rather than focusing on the bad, I see it as a chance to focus on the good and the potential growth in STEM education in front of us here in the States.
So how do we address the issue of a struggling domestic STEM education program so that we can get more students through it and into the workforce?
The answer in my opinion is two-fold:
While those two answers may be wildly simple and perhaps naïve on a big scale it’s hard to argue one key fact: technology is here to stay; the jobs of the future will largely be focused and depend on emerging technology.
As technology continues to advance it brings us opportunity, how we and the generations to come choose to take advantage of that opportunity, well that’s still yet to be seen. It’s vital we act NOW to uplift our country’s STEM education programs while encouraging our youth to reach for those opportunities.
I’m proud to be a part of a non-profit team which recognizes the importance of STEM education and just as important is doing something in our local community to encourage and support those students who are chasing their dreams in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.
Key Take Away:
The US STEM education system is getting the pants beat off it by other countries which have placed a high priority in technology and science based education. While this seems bad on the surface it also reveals a lot of opportunity ahead of us, with plenty of employment opportunities with nice salaries and upward mobility. Industry and older generations (in particular parents) need to get involved earlier and more frequent to ensure the up and coming generations are able to take advantage of the opportunities at hand.
Think about how you land within these two areas: industry and adulting. If you don’t have kids how can you educate people younger than you about the opportunities STEM produces? If you do have kids introducing them at a young age to these possibilities is crucial, not just for their development but for our country as a whole. From an industry perspective, challenge yourself and your company to get further involved with the local colleges and universities in your area. Seek out STEM education programs to ingratiate them into your company, help to drive awareness, sponsor projects and competitions. The more we get involved the better of we and those to come after us will be.
I recently read an article on careers and education which asked an interesting question – “do any of these [career certifications in a particular trade, skill or software program] make a real difference in a job application?”
On the surface this question had some great merit. My initial thoughts were, “Great question. Of course they do! People need advanced training and knowledge in order to operate at a high level.”
As I continued to read on a perplexing question of my own began to form which gave me an interesting perspective on the article I was reading. “Does this article, which talks about the importance of choosing the right professional certification, entirely miss the bigger picture?”
Survey says - Yes, I believe the article misses the bigger picture!
I’m a strong proponent character will always trump competency. Why? You can’t teach character, but you can teach competency all day long. Similar to application versus theory. Application [the ability to apply yourself] in my opinion is a much more vital characteristic for most professionals than theory [an academic or textbook understanding of something] alone. Over the years I’ve worked with hundreds of engineers spanning pretty much every discipline there is in the world of product development and product manufacturing. To do this day I’ve yet to find one person who excelled in their career with a heavy doze of competency and theory yet was lost on the character and application side of things.
So what’s the point?
The article mentioned above fails to see the bigger picture. Yes, professional certifications such as CQE, EIT, PMP, PE, Six Sigma, Certified Auditor and Lean, all have their place. They give their newly found owners a badge of honor which can be used to gain new opportunities and win career advancements.
What a certification doesn’t help us with is being good at our job or keeping that job, for that matter. Technical certifications don’t teach you how to necessarily be a better professional, or human being for that matter. They don’t teach you how to communicate thoroughly and fully, and they certainly don’t teach you how to be a good team player, one that is flexible and capable of adapting to each situation.
The reason certifications can’t offer this is because that’s not their MO. Communication, thoughtfulness, being a team player, etc. these are all personality characteristics which can’t be studied from a textbook. One may surmise that these characteristics can be learned on the job or through a mentor, yet I will tell you in my experience you either have it or you don’t. Most people by the time they’ve become a young adult and landed in their profession did so with a personality and set of characteristics which were long set in stone. Changing them, well let’s just say walking on water might be an easier feat to pull off.
Key Take Away:
Before you consider getting a certification make sure go beyond asking yourself the standard questions of, “do any of these [certifications] make a real difference in a job application?” Ask yourself, “if I get this certification can I raise to the occasion professionally to really make it worth my time?” It’s a tough question to ask of oneself. Most won’t be able to do so, and answer honestly, yet those who can may find they save themselves in a position either saving a lot of money and time or taking hold of an opportunity to elevate oneself to the next level.
If you’ve done some reflection and still believe obtaining a certification is right for you and your profession seek out 2-3 professionals in your industry and specialty which have at least 20+ years in the business. Learn from them. Ask them what it takes to get to their level? What do they wish they had done differently? When they are hiring new employees, what are the key things they look for in the A+ candidate. Once you get done with your little industry Q&A you’ll have a better appreciation for what’s actually needed and what’s more of a nice to have.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.