Finding and Keeping High-Tech Talent
Know what the acronym "STEM" stands for? Neither do most of us. But it could hold the key to a brighter future for us all, locally as well as nationally.
STEM is short for the academic subjects of science, technology, engineering and math. Many of us think that sounds hopelessly geeky and irrelevant to our lives. But we'd better think again.
Sadly, much of the rest of the world is running circles around the United States in those departments, which are all-important in the kind of high-tech environment now transforming the globe.
If it seems as if that kind of cutting-edge stuff is mostly going on elsewhere, that is exactly the problem. It is one that people like Pat Corso, executive director of Moore County Partners in Progress, are trying to address in creative fashion. They need our support and encouragement.
We Have to Start Early
If you didn't read the two pieces on Sunday's Opinion front under the headline "Keep Them Home," consider going back and doing so.
The first, reprinted from The News & Observer of Raleigh, emphasized the importance of providing more rigorous STEM education, both in high schools and in universities - and of finding ways to keep tech talent at home. The sidebar article, by Corso, put the subject in local focus.
One realization leaps out at you from the columns: We can't wait till the university level, as important as that is, to start identifying, encouraging and developing youthful STEM talent. Kids with proclivities in such directions need attention at an earlier level.
That's why it was so exciting to read about things like the "summit" that Corso recently initiated with Dr. John Dempsey and others at Sandhills Community College. Among other things, they brainstormed on ways to enhance local high-tech education and develop "pipelines" to direct graduates to local technology companies (and there are some) that are desperate to find STEM-talented graduates.
The most ambitious idea discussed at the summit was working with the Moore County school system to develop a "STEM-focused magnet school" that would concentrate on the kinds of technical expertise that is now in such demand.
Keeping Them Here
Whether at the local or state level, there is not a whole lot of point in sinking resources into education of this kind if the recipients then turn around and take their tech talent elsewhere.
Once we have succeeded in preparing a lot of bright students here and sending them off to college on major scholarships, we need to find ways to track their progress, all the while fostering ways to entice at least some of them to come back and start their careers here.
That ultimately comes back to an old and oft-heard question: What is there for 20-somethings to do around here - and what motivation is there for them to consider staying and raising families? That could mean anything from a minor league baseball team to an amphitheater or performing arts center to good roads and cultural amenities to youth-friendly events like First Friday in Southern Pines .
It won't be an easy challenge to meet. But it's one we ignore at our own peril.
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