STEM education: Gateway to exciting careers

STEM education: Gateway to exciting careers

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Utah veterans are well-aware of the role that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics plays in providing the Department of Defense with the skilled workforce needed to defend our nation. They have seen firsthand how STEM-related systems, training and education has given the U.S. the most awesome military capability the world has ever known, and how it has enabled and protected our young men and women as they bravely answer our nation’s call to end conflicts and stabilize regions across the globe.

What our veterans may not know is the call for even greater STEM awareness, outreach and education as the U.S. attempts to harness the rapid expansion of science and engineering knowledge driven by global research in these fields. 

Our military is very technology-reliant, with over 90 percent of the functionality of DOD weapon systems now controlled by computers. The Air Force requirement for advanced software support is expected to triple in the next 10 years with upgrades to existing embedded computer systems, new aerospace systems entering our inventory, and increasing demand for integrated computer and network-based system solutions.

For example, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and its associated operational, maintenance, and logistics support systems require more than 20 million lines of code and sophisticated multilayer information security. The F-35 Helmet Display System alone requires approximately 1 million lines of code. Our DOD-wide data links and communication structures are driven by advanced, secure and redundant software systems.

In Utah, Hill Air Force Base, currently employs over 1,600 scientists and engineers to help sustain our nation’s weapon systems, and will be hiring more than 200 scientists and engineers each year for the foreseeable future. Most of these impending workforce needs will be for computer engineers, electrical engineers, and computer scientists. Hundreds more are for nondegreed, but technically educated materials (composites, metallics, chemicals) and process (welding, plating, coating) technicians. 

Hill AFB and other corners of the DOD offer many exciting opportunities to work directly with the best technologies the nation’s academic and industrial bases have to offer, enabling them to make real and significant improvements to the national defense and help protect our men and women in harm’s way. 

The opportunities don’t stop at Hill. There is a strong and growing demand across the Wasatch Front for STEM talent to support the DOD industrial base, Utah state and local government, and private industry needs. Given that, this may be one of the best times for our “next generation” to think about going into a STEM field. The benefits are extensive and include:

• High pay — Studies consistently show STEM fields at the top of careers offering the best pay. You can learn more at websites such as “careeronestop” (acinet.org).

• Equality in the workplace — Studies have shown that there is a much smaller pay gap between men and women in STEM fields than in other career fields. Women are sought-after STEM employees, and more are beginning to consider the exciting opportunities STEM careers offer. 

• Creativity/innovation — STEM fields unleash creativity and enable professionals to address the world’s most pressing problems with innovative new solutions.

• Job satisfaction — STEM fields are consistently ranked as having the highest job satisfaction among professions. Many employees feel that their careers are fun because they allow hands-on tasks that provide meaningful solutions to people in need.

• Cross-marketability — STEM fields provide math, critical thinking, research and problem-solving skills that are in high demand other career areas. STEM professionals can transition into other areas of interest (medical, legal, business, financial, etc.) that provide them a broader portfolio of opportunities to pursue their life interests than perhaps any other career area.

Even with the demands and benefits cited above, many projections indicate a growing shortfall in America’s STEM-educated workforce. This is why President Obama provided $240 million in commitments to inspire and prepare more girls and boys, including typically underrepresented socioeconomic groups, to excel in the STEM fields. 

In addition, Utah has commissioned a STEM Action Center to engage in this area. It is reaching out to students, educators, and parents to improve STEM education and make students and parents more aware of the amazing opportunities STEM careers provide. 

We feel veterans are well-positioned to help influence the next generation to consider STEM careers, especially considering Utah’s significant and enduring contributions to national defense. 

Please pass the information provided in this article to those you think might benefit from considering a career in STEM. For more information, contact AFSC.ENRW.EngineeringHiring@us.af.mil.

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