CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Here's a puzzle: High-tech U.S. businesses say they have 300,000 job vacancies but can't find science-savvy American workers to fill them. They asked Congress to raise the ceiling on H-1B visas for special-skills workers so that 200,000 well-educated aliens can arrive each year. (Some U.S. labor unions say this is a ploy to obtain foreign specialists who work for less.)
We assume that the unfilled vacancies are real -- during a time when millions of Americans are looking for work -- and they're a sad reflection on America's education system, which can't produce enough intelligent young people with science training.
STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math -- is a buzzword for the type of education needed by modern societies to continue advancing. America's lack is ominous.
Around one-fourth of U.S. teens drop out of high school, many flounder in drug problems, and graduates are woefully unprepared for jobs requiring mental abilities. America is falling behind other modern democracies in such training -- and West Virginia trails the U.S. average.
Two experts, Klaus Kleinfield of Alcoa aluminum and Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote a joint treatise saying:
"[U.S.] manufacturing employs 12 million people in jobs that provide pay and benefits well above the national average. It accounts for more than 10 percent of the country's economy and 68 percent of its research and development investments.... As globalization has ramped up international competition and technology has revolutionized the shop floor, many of those 12 million jobs have changed dramatically.
"Today's manufacturers often rely on precision machinery, computer modeling and high-tech tooling far removed from the traditional assembly line, and too few American students are prepared for these skilled, internationally competitive jobs. U.S. high-schoolers ranked 23rd in science and 31st in math on recent international skills tests -- about on par with Hungary and behind Slovakia and Poland."
This is dismal. The new "information age" requires workers with keen knowledge, and multitudes of young Americans aren't qualified to participate.
West Virginia public schools and colleges are striving to boost STEM training. For example, West Virginia State University holds a NASA rocketry day and operates a summer science camp whetting teen interest in math, robotics, physics, biology, chemistry and other core fields.All parents should prod their children to become interested in high-tech learning that is the key to success in the rapidly changing world.