Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors (GM), has a front-row seat to witness the growing need for employees trained in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Advancements in technology make today’s cars far more complex than ever before and with that complexity comes the need for an ever-increasing labor force trained to meet the challenge. Demand is rising for skilled labor, but schools are not producing nearly enough candidates to fill these needs.
GM automobiles contain the typical materials of steel, rubber, and glass, creating a substantial need for scientists and engineers who are capable of finding more efficient ways to use these raw materials in the production of cars. However, GM founder William C. Durant never envisioned the modern necessity of using computer coding to improve every aspect of automobile design and manufacturing. Barra explained in a recent CNN interview that “a car today has hundreds of millions of lines of code,” adding that “every child needs to have these skills.”
GM has partnered with a variety of organizations to help expand the reach of STEM education and train students of all ages in the disciplines necessary to meet the future demands for labor. These efforts include creating online computer-programming courses, enhancing diversity by recruiting more women and minorities into STEM fields, providing school grants for teaching math through game-design concepts, and promoting technology that trains teachers in “computational thinking”. GM is spending millions of dollars in an attempt to grow the talent necessary to meet industry requirements in the future.
In addition to the efforts by GM to supplement these resources promoting STEM-related education, there are many other initiatives underway that can make a significant difference in this area. One company, Dallas-based RoboKind, has developed a remarkable program that makes STEM education affordable and engaging for students of all ages, called Robots4STEM.
Robots4STEM centers on a drag-and-drop programming language based on the University of California at Berkeley’s SNAP! project. This unique language, JettLingo, comes with a complete curriculum that requires little to no training for instructors and allows students to work at their own pace as they absorb the concepts. Students create programs in JettLingo to manipulate a robot named Jett and to control personal avatars so they can immediately see the results of their efforts. Just as GM aims to fund and promote programs that will assist the next generation in skilled labor, Robts4STEM seeks to give kids a leg up in STEM-related education.