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Governor Beebe's Weekly Column and Radio Address: STEM Works


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By 2020, three-fourths of the jobs available in Arkansas will require advanced skills in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Job seekers who lack training in these "STEM" disciplines will be forced to compete for a dwindling pool of low-wage jobs. If today's students are going to meet the needs of tomorrow's industries, we must increase their performance in these critical subjects.

Recently, we announced a new statewide initiative called STEM Works that will change the way we teach science, technology, engineering and math in Arkansas's schools and create more qualified teachers for those subjects. The goal is to transform Arkansas's workforce to make our State more competitive for high-wage jobs in a global economy.

Today's children adapt to new technology very quickly and at a very early age. Many are familiar with computers before they even begin school, but we teach using the same methods we have used for centuries. STEM Works will change that, using new methods already producing results in classrooms across the country and around the world. By next January, we will have ten Arkansas high schools using hands-on learning, student-led teams and a project-based approach to teaching STEM subjects. By 2020, half the high schools in the State will be using this model.

Reaching these goals will take more than capable students. We will also need more teachers with expertise in these subject areas and with the skills to impart their knowledge to our children. To this end, the STEM Works initiative will encourage math, science and engineering majors at Arkansas's colleges and universities to pursue teaching as a career. By offering these college students the opportunity to take education classes at no charge, universities around the country have been successful in recruiting new teachers. We are working to follow their example on Arkansas campuses.

This ambitious agenda is a critical component of our economic future. American workers prepared to fill low-skill and low-wage positions can already be found in abundance. They account for the more than 100 million applicants competing for 61 million job openings. Meanwhile, higher-skilled jobs go unfilled across the country. The combined result is higher unemployment and lower average wages. Arkansas can attract and create high-paying jobs by giving our workforce the skills that high-tech companies demand. Our State's economy will become more resilient, too, because workers with these skills are far more likely to retain their jobs during tough economic times.

We're implementing STEM Works now, because there is enormous opportunity waiting just over the horizon. Wages in China are expected to increase by 80 percent in the next five years, eliminating the incentive many companies have had for moving their operations overseas. We're beginning to hear from U.S. companies that are considering returning these jobs to the United States. Our people must be ready to compete, ready to build a stronger economy and a brighter future for Arkansas.

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