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The Importance of STEM Skills & The Top Ed Tech Companies

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The skills developed in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) have always been important in the workplace. Even in professions not heavily rooted in STEM skills like lateral thinking, trial & error and problem-solving are essential for navigating the challenges of work and life in general.

However, due to rapid technological development over the past 10 – 20 years, STEM skills – especially technology – have become more important than ever. Recent research by Mark Muro and colleagues at the Brookings Institute points to a massive shift in the level of digital skills required by jobs in the 21st century.

The report estimates the demand for workers with a high degree of digital skills has increased from 5% to 23%. Similarly, jobs requiring a medium skill level have increased by 8%. Conversely, demand for jobs with low digital skill has fallen by a staggering 26%.

 

Employment by levels of job digitalization

 

Source: Brookings analysis of O*NET and OES data from the ‘Digitalization and the American Workforce’ report.

On top of this, automation threatens to replace many low skilled jobs over the coming years, with some research suggesting up to 47% of current US jobs could be replaced. Unsurprisingly, low skilled jobs are predicted to be some of the worst hit. That said, automation and digitization can also create new jobs. Also, the type of jobs available tends to shift from low skill, non-technology based to highly skilled digital work.

The STEM Shortage, or Perhaps Not?

The assumption that there is a shortage of workers in all STEM fields is misleading for students. This is because this is not strictly true – well not anymore anyway. Contrary to popular belief, the number of graduates is currently outpacing the number of job openings. These graduates generally belong to the disciplines of life, physical and mathematical sciences, as well as engineering.

 

So Many Degrees, So Little Demand

Source: NewYorkTimes ‘Where the STEM Jobs Are (and Where They Aren’t)

This is not to say that STEM graduates are struggling to find jobs. As a matter of fact, unemployment rates are some of the lowest for these degrees. However, a lot of the time students are not entering jobs in their actual field of study.

A survey in 2013 by the National Science Foundation found that around 66% of science graduates entered an occupation not related to their degree. This falls to roughly 30% for engineering degrees but is still fairly high. Consequently, students may not end up in a job directly related to their subject area. Still, employers clearly value the skills students develop in STEM.

The key takeaway message here is that STEM skills can drastically improve employability and job security. This is applicable, even if you are not working within a field directly related. Hence, it seems imperative that kids develop these skills today. A valuable result of this initiative can be that they can prepare themselves better for the challenges of tomorrow.

The Companies at the Forefront of STEM Education

Nowadays, there are a plethora of engaging ways for kids to learn computing, engineering, coding and robotics that extend far beyond the textbook. Once, the tools of such technology were prohibitively expensive and only available in top research labs. Now, they are contained within affordable little robots that fit in the palm of your hand!

The Cozmo from Anki!

One such robot is Cozmo. Developed by consumer robotics company Anki, Cozmo is the AI robot companion that teaches kids to code through interactive, project-based learning. For beginners, this takes the form of a graphical based coding App called Code Lab. This platform is based on Scratch, which was developed by researchers at MIT for use in schools.

With Code Lab, kids can write their own programs by dragging and dropping blocks of ‘code’ into sequences. This starts with the basics in Sandbox Mode, where you learn programming basic things like distance, speed, and animations. Kids can then progress to Constructor Mode to create more advanced programs. Moreover, they can learn coding principles like variables, functions, and loops.  

cozmo

For those with coding experience, the text-based Cozmo Software Development Kit (SDK) is where things really step up a notch. This platform allows you to create complex software for Cozmo with Python – a versatile language widely used in industry. So kids and students alike can develop valuable, transferable skills.

As it’s completely open-source, you have access to the full array of sensors and software that Cozmo has to offer. This includes high-level functionality like path and motion planners, 3D visualization systems, facial & voice recognition, and animation systems.

With Cozmo, Anki provides educational institutions access to an affordable, robotics platform tailored for STEM learning. This platform is accessible for all age groups. From integration into the K-12 curriculum to robotics courses at Georgia Tech University, to use by countless academic researchers!

The only potential downside is that Cozmo does not develop engineering and design skills. However, there is a range of educational robotics companies that do offer this element.

The Robotics Kits from Vex!

One of the most popular is Vex, whose robotics kits have found their way into over 22,000 schools in more than 50 countries!

Similar to Cozmo, the kits are designed to teach kids to code with drag-and-drop programming, as well as a more advanced platform using Python. However, the difference is kids also need to design and build their robots with snap-together parts before they program them, which is great for developing mechanical engineering skills and creativity. Complete with a suite of educational tools and full curriculum, as well as worldwide annual robotics competitions, Vex really set themselves apart as a leader in educational technology. 

Some Words for Some Others

The final two companies we want to introduce are focused around creating computer building kits for kids and adults.

Kano and Piper Computing both were founded out of successful Kickstarter campaigns, which received backing from some huge names in the tech industry – including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak!

The idea is simple, first students can build their own Raspberry Pi (a microcomputer) simple computer with snap-together parts. Next, they can learn how to code by programming their own games, missions and more. This is taught through fun storyline based challenges which are great for keeping kids motivated and engaged.

The companies highlighted above really are doing amazing things when it comes to educating students for the challenges of the modern world. We cannot wait to see where they take us in the years to come!

 

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By William Asbury

William Asbury is the founder of STEMtoyexpert, an educational resource designed to improve STEM learning and awareness ...more

William Asbury is the founder of STEMtoyexpert, an educational resource designed to improve STEM learning and awareness for all age groups. He is passionate about the positive impact technology can have on education and is an advocate for an evidence-based approach to learning. less

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