Sharpsville roundtable highlights job opportunities in STEM fields

SHARPSVILLE, Sept. 22 – State Reps. Mark Longietti and Chris Sainato on Friday led a roundtable highlighting the importance of science, technology, engineering and math education — subjects collectively known as STEM – and the abundance of financially rewarding career opportunities in those fields.

The group, which included representatives from government, education, business and nonprofit organizations, concluded that there is a disconnect between how parents and students perceive STEM job opportunities, and pledged to hold more meetings about the topic.

“The future of STEM education is a matter of critical importance for America’s competitiveness in the global marketplace; for the success of individual businesses large and small; and for the opportunity of  students to have exciting, relevant and financially rewarding careers,” said Longietti, D-Mercer.

Longietti noted that STEM occupations will grow 1.7 times faster than non-STEM occupations in the next 10 years, and it is estimated that by the next decade the number of computer science jobs in the United States will outnumber qualified applicants by 1 million. He added that the top 10 bachelor-degree majors with the highest median earnings are all in STEM fields, while 47 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field earn more than Ph.D.’s in other fields.

At the start of the roundtable, Sharpsville High School students Connor Williams, Roberta Pegg and Ben McCall, along with their teacher Ryan Miller, made a presentation about their participation in a robotics competition through the Southwestern Pennsylvania BotsIQ program. They built a robot that was able to withstand pressure from a competing robot in a one-on-one battle.

The competition required them to use science, technology, engineering and math skills, and forced them to think logically. It gave them a hands-on experience and allowed them to connect STEM skills with real-world problem solving.

Sharpsville High School Principal Timothy Dadich related that one of the best things from the competition is the opportunity students had to partner with a local industry, Sharpsville Container, meet with their engineers and see the work they do every day using STEM skills.    

Jerry Condutti, vice president of Operations at Sharpsville Container, said their involvement has been an enjoyable and worthwhile opportunity. However, he said the company still lacks an available workforce that has the basic skills his company needs, including how to read a tape measure and deal with fractions.

“Write me a curriculum and I will follow through,” replied Ryan Miller, Sharpsville’s technical education teacher.

Bill Padnos of Southwestern Pennsylvania BotsIQ said the program is steadily growing and exposing more students to STEM education. In 2006, it had just six schools and 66 students in Southwestern Pennsylvania who participated. Today, participation includes 60 schools and 1,200 students. Sharpsville is the only participating school in Mercer and Lawrence counties. In its first year, Sharpsville had 10 student participants, which increased to 18 in its second year and now 36 in the third year. 

Padnos said the vision of Southwestern Pennsylvania BotsIQ is to have every student in the region consider manufacturing as a viable career option. 

He said there will be will be 130,000 open manufacturing positions in Southwestern Pennsylvania between now and 2025, and 82 percent of manufacturing employers have indicated that the current skills gap impacts their ability to meet customer demands.

Padnos said the best strategy for employers that need skilled workers is to make an investment in STEM programs at local schools. 

Companies were encouraged to go to schools, meet with educators and provide opportunities for job shadowing and internships. They also were encouraged to help with a BOTS competition or to talk to students about careers.