WASHINGTON, D.C.]— Concerned by the looming shortage of workers in 2 and 4 year technical degree career paths, teachers and leaders from across the country addressed the issues at the U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference in Washington, D.C. recently.

Shell experts participated in a panel discussion and held a workshop at the Company-sponsored event. The workshop examined how the troubling decline in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) knowledge affects the United States’ energy industry—and how teachers can help students seize emerging career opportunities.

The industry’s loss of STEM workers traces its roots back many years, explained Decyck Spooner, senior director of the American Petroleum Industry (API). Employment in the energy industry has fallen significantly since the early 1980s. This job loss has contributed to a perception that the industry is an unattractive career choice with unreliable employment practices, according to an API survey. As a result, undergraduate enrollments in petroleum technology studies have dwindled.

Now industry leaders are concerned that the U.S. talent pool is too shallow to replace retiring baby boomers. Students’ declining performance in math and science adds to the concern, Spooner told workshop participants.

Michael Alvarez, manager of Shell’s Workforce Development Initiative (WDI), discussed what Shell is doing to address the issue.

“As we build our technical workforce pool, it is imperative that we develop all of the potential brainpower available to us.  At Shell, that means casting a wide net to encourage more students from underrepresented communities and women to consider energy careers as an option to build a bigger talent pool for Shell’s future workforce,” Alvarez said. “We are also supporting educators by providing them with access to hands on STEM tools and information about the energy industry to inspire students to pursue careers in STEM fields.”

A Well-Planned Path 

Outside of family, teachers have perhaps the greatest influence on students, Alvarez explained. While students can leap from step to step across many different paths toward STEM careers, teachers can help them “connect the dots” for the best step-by-step path toward their goals.

Representatives from the National Energy Education Development project (NEED) led the teachers in exploring hands-on activities taken directly from the Shell website. This introduced new ways for educators to inspire students’ interest in STEM-related fields.

For instance, teachers saw how students can use toy vehicles and weights to determine the distance the car travels. They also learned how to help students connect activities to careers, and how Shell can support their classroom activities.

Evette Torres, who leads the initiative to boost Shell’s future talent pipeline through youth activities and STEM events, introduced the “Connecting the Dots” teacher challenge. The challenge asks teachers to implement one activity from Shell’s Energize Your Future website or the NEED Fossil Fuels to Products curriculum. The teachers compete to win $1,000 for their school’s STEM activities.

“The hands-on curriculum was great, and so was the discussion about website resources,” one teacher said after the workshop.

Another conference participant was impressed with Shell’s efforts to broaden its workforce. “I like the fact that Shell is taking the initiative to incorporate minorities and women into its field,” the teacher said.

Building Our Brainpower

In another Shell-sponsored conference event, Alvarez served on a panel that explored how to recruit the next generation of STEM employees. Alvarez detailed Shell’s outreach efforts, including four-year and two-year scholarship and internship programs.

Alvarez explained that Shell is actively invested in inspiring more students to enter STEM careers. This dedication to workforce development will help us smooth the transition into the Shell of tomorrow, Alvarez said.   

“Only by increasing that workforce will technology continue to develop, ushering in new ways to better use our resources,” he said.

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