On June 22, 2017 the Baker-Polito Administration announced $960,000 in grants for STEM and clean energy learning programs for six Massachusetts high schools to help direct students towards STEM higher education majors and careers. The Lean and Earn program grants were awarded by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), and amount to $160,000 per school. Following the announcement, Governor Charlie Baker affirmed that his administration “is committed to providing new pathways for Massachusetts’ students to explore opportunities in STEM-related fields. Encouraging students to pursue studying clean energy and STEM subjects will strengthen our future workforce and further improve our nation-leading innovation economy.”
A major challenge facing Massachusetts’ constantly expanding innovation economy is the gap between available jobs in STEM fields and qualified workers to perform them. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are growing at 17% while others are growing at 9.8%. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education finds that only 1 in 6 American high school seniors are interested in studying STEM in college, and those who are focused on STEM careers early on are often set up for failure because they lack strong backgrounds in science and math before heading to college (especially relative to their international counterparts). MassCEC’s 2016 Clean Energy Industry Report found that employers would stand to benefit immensely from educational development in clean energy and STEM topics; nearly 75% of employers reported hiring difficulty over the last year, with 47% of employers citing insufficient qualified candidates as the most significant barrier to hiring.
MassCEC’s funding builds on the Baker-Polito’s initiative to increase opportunities and participation for students in STEM studies. The new program will support 160 students with both STEM-focused classroom experiences and forward-looking work readiness training and career exploration, including a paid work-based learning opportunity and dual enrollment in college-level STEM courses. Recipients of the grant across the state include: Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School, Malden High School, Northeastern University/John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, UMass Amherst/High School of Science and Technology, Norfolk County Agricultural High School, and Greater New Bedford Workforce Investment Board/New Bedford High School.
As Massachusetts continues its rapid growth as a national leader in education and clean energy, cultivating a workforce that prepared to take up the charge is more important than ever. The Learn and Earn STEM grants are a critical step in equipping the next generation with the tools they need to keep the state, and the nation, ahead of the innovation curve.