Emily DeRocco

Emily DeRocco


Editor’s Note: Emily DeRocco, former Assistant Secretary of Labor in the George W. Bush administration and currently Education and Workforce Director for Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT), was guest speaker at a recent Washtenaw Economic Club luncheon. She spoke before an audience of nearly 200 business and industry leaders. Following are excerpts from her speech that addressed the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education in re-establishing America as the leader in manufacturing.  

Although Washington is my “home base,” these days when I’m in Michigan, I feel like I’m home. They say, “Home is where the heart is,” and my heart is truly with the businesses and citizens of this state who refused to let the recent recession diminish their spirit, their courage, or their will to recover. As a result, I believe in the renaissance that is occurring here, and to the strength and importance of our manufacturing sector.

In this new world of manufacturing, our workforce needs an educational foundation in STEM.

In the STEM workforce, employment is expected to grow 17 percent by 2018, while the number of college graduates in STEM fields, down from 24 percent two decades ago.

Even more alarming, the gender and racial gap within the STEM workforce continues to widen. For example, while women comprise 49 percent of the college-educated workforce, only 14 percent of engineers are women.

The number one reason students do not choose STEM careers is lack of exposure at an age when they are considering what career they want to pursue and what education is important to get them there.

There are compelling reasons for young people to pursue STEM education and jobs:  STEM graduates have access to two times as many entry-level jobs as non-STEM graduates and STEM jobs offer a 26-28 percent salary premium over non-STEM jobs.

There are several national “movements” that show great promise in finally addressing this imbalance in our demand and supply:

1.     There is new recognition and investment in the attainment of nationally portable, industry-recognized credentials that have real value in the labor market. Now, we need employers—your companies—to begin recruiting, screening, and hiring for those industry credentials.
2.    Efforts lead by business leaders to re-engineer career and technical education in the U.S.
3.    Accelerated secondary to post-secondary pathways of learning for skills in demand in the job market.
4.    New apprenticeship models that combine theory- and work-based learning.
5.    And completely aligned to our reasons for being here today—and the nation’s premier community and technical colleges who are aligning their technical education to industry demand, to technology infused manufacturing and other sectors, and to the “secret sauce” of combined experiential learning, classroom learning, e-learning, and hands-on training. WCC—you are doing everything right great success in your Advanced Transportation Center!