I recently had the opportunity to speak with Michael Medalla, Manager of the Toyota USA Foundation. The Toyota Foundation recently joined TechForce Foundation® as a supporting member, so it was the perfect opportunity to get Toyota’s perspective on the skills gap we are facing as a country, and how our new partnership could contribute to help solving that issue.
Few people would argue that there are many Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) related jobs going unfilled today. It is estimated that as many as 2.5 million STEM-related careers will go unfilled nationwide within the next decade. That is a staggering number by any measure.
Just a few short years ago, the STEM skills gap was virtually unheard of. Today, there has been dramatic reversal. The STEM skills gap is a hot topic across government, the educational community and many American industries. One of the main struggles that remains, however, is gaining consensus on the root cause behind that gap. Together, TechForce and Toyota USA Foundation hope to create opportunities to address the skills gap and show the connection between technician and manufacturing careers and STEM skills.
TechForce: So, tell me about the Toyota Foundation.
Medalla: The Toyota Foundation has been around for 31 years and supports education. For the past several years we’ve been laser focused on STEM. STEM jobs are good jobs; and as industries across the nation make technological breakthroughs, STEM-readiness is required to create, support, and service these new innovations.
TechForce: Why did the foundation decide to partner with TechForce?
Medalla: The skilled trades related to advanced manufacturing and technicians are important to the industry and the nation. However, there is a misconception about the nature of this work and the type of postsecondary education required. TechForce, with its innovative programs, helps address the misconception by educating students, parents, and influencers. And that’s good for all industries.
"There are many routes to good jobs, and there are many companies that are hungry for STEM talent... Each pathway is viable."
TechForce: How would you describe the outlook of the technician career?
Medalla: There will always be machines that need to be fixed. The demand for technicians is quite high and will be for some time. The key is to stay in front of the technology, and constantly work toward improving your skills by pursuing additional post-secondary training and certifications.
TechForce: How do the career and STEM education skills overlap?
Medalla: Today’s vehicles have many computer systems, electronic components, electrical systems, and so on. Those systems are diagnosed through computer hardware and software that read the many sensors in a vehicle or a piece of equipment. These are high-tech careers that require training, aptitude, and skill. The technician career of the past is not the same as it is today. Likewise, advanced manufacturing today is not “dark, dirty, and dangerous.” We want young people, parents, and influencers to understand the real nature of these good STEM jobs.
TechForce: So, why do you think the STEM skills gap is so large?
Medalla: When I unpack the STEM skills gap there is another gap that is revealed: the STEM motivation gap. In essence, it’s about creating excitement for the jobs that require aptitude in science and math.
Another factor is perception. We need to better educate young people that these ARE high-tech jobs, ARE good jobs, ARE well-paying jobs, and that through these jobs they can make a difference in the lives of others. It’s important that awareness and motivation interventions occur in the earlier grades so that upon entering middle school, the students choose to pursue a STEM track.
"These are high-tech careers that require training, aptitude, and skill."
TechForce: What’s one piece of advice that you have for young people?
Medalla: There are many routes to good jobs, and there are many companies that are hungry for STEM talent. Some, for example, require a trade certification, some require a two-year degree, and some require a four-year degree. Each pathway is viable. And there are many companies, like Toyota, that support training through avenues such as the Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) program or the Toyota Technical Education Network (T-TEN) program. Keep your mind open to the opportunities that exist and focus on your education after high school.