Investing in STEM for Growth in Education and Workforce Development

Alex West

Strategy & Partnerships Group Manager, Studio, Citi Ventures

Peri Becker

Strategy & Partnerships Lead, Studio, Citi Ventures

Now more than ever, greater investment in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) industries and related research and development (R&D) is critical for future economic growth. In the short term it can help the US economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the long term it will spur success across all industries and sectors.

This is the key takeaway of a research project that Citi Ventures Studio recently conducted in partnership with the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS). Through in-depth landscape and literature reviews as well as interviews with leaders in academia, government, and industry, we have identified five key areas where increased STEM focus and funding can have the greatest future impact:

  1. Education and workforce development
  2. Climate and energy
  3. Manufacturing
  4. Science and technology
  5. Healthcare

In this article, we will explore the education and workforce development area: promising ways to equip more workers with the STEM knowledge and skills they need to succeed, and the opportunities that doing so could present for employers.

Finding the “Missing Millions”

Driven by global competition and the growing importance of science and technology across all sectors, the need for STEM-capable workers continues to increase. According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), science and engineering (S&E) jobs are predicted to grow by 13% by 2026, compared with 7% growth in the overall US workforce.

Yet the US may not be poised to meet this demand in the long-term. Despite recent emphasis on K-12 STEM education, American students’ performance in science and math consistently ranks below many competing nations. Meanwhile, the US is failing at the post-secondary level to leverage its diversity, keep pace with demographic trends, and cultivate its talent pool. The NSF estimates that for the nation’s S&E workforce to accurately represent the US population in 2030, the number of women in those jobs must nearly double, the number of Black people must more than double, and the number of Hispanic people must triple. The NSF refers to these and other potential STEM workers as the “missing millions”—people who are capable of succeeding in S&E careers, but do not have access to pathways that lead to those jobs.

How can access be improved? Two areas show promise:

  1. Education and Workforce Preparation: STEM skill development starts with a strong foundation in math and science—areas where, as noted, the US currently lags. To counter this, school systems can adopt policy frameworks that support STEM curriculum at the high school level and lower—as researchers in North Carolina are currently trying to do with computer science.

    Increased investment in community colleges would also expand STEM education. Community colleges reach a wide and diverse array of students and can help bring them into the STEM career funnel by co-creating workforce training programs with local firms and industries that require specific skills. For example, students at IBM’s P-TECH school in Baltimore can earn Associate’s degrees while training to become the health care providers and technicians that nearby Johns Hopkins Medical Center needs. Similarly, our own Citi® University Partnerships in Innovation and Discovery (CUPID) program recently launched its first community college partnership in California, which seeks to build pathways to Citi careers through student capstone projects.

    Finally, geographic innovation and training hubs can bring together industry, academia, workers, and students to accelerate STEM education and facilitate pathways into STEM employment. A hub in Brooklyn partners with dozens of stakeholders to provide inclusive educational opportunities for underrepresented students to excel outside of the traditional classroom via hands-on computer science and engineering training.

  2. Hiring and Workforce Development: While investments can and should be made into the STEM education ecosystem, companies can also do much to attract and grow STEM talent within their own operations and workforces.

    Offering high-quality, STEM-based apprenticeships and internships can give students and young workers the chance to learn the technical, academic, and interpersonal skills they need to thrive in the workplace. These opportunities can also help advance equity, connecting a more diverse population of young people to social and professional networks they might not otherwise encounter. For example, CUPID works with Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other institutions of higher learning to bring gifted students of diverse backgrounds into Citi for internships, where they help develop new ideas, products, and services alongside teams across the enterprise.

    Firms also can look for alternative ways to bring STEM skills into their workforces and upskill their current employees. As many as 30 million American workers with the skills required for higher-paying jobs are unable to move into those positions because they lack four-year college degrees. As a result, many companies are adopting skills-based hiring and advancement practices, partnering with organizations to find outside candidates who have developed the skills they need through alternatives to four-year college, and/or promoting and training internal candidates who have those skills regardless of the candidate’s education or experience.

STEM Education and Workforce Development at Citi

Citi already plays an important role in supporting STEM workforce development and skills-based learning. Programs such as CUPID and the Citi Foundation’s Pathways to Progress initiative help equip young people, particularly those from underserved communities, with the skills they need to succeed in today’s rapidly changing economy—and drive fresh talent into our firm. Citi also offers opportunities for current employees to grow their skills through tuition reimbursement benefits and tools such as Degreed.

In addition, Citi Ventures Studio has created Worthi® by Citi, an online tool that helps people advance in their careers—including within STEM—by gathering job market data and insights to identify needed skills and online courses they can take to develop those skills. City Builder® by Citi, our data-driven platform that empowers investors with data and insights to increase capital and advance communities, can also help identify regions where investment in emerging STEM-based industries and innovation hubs can best stimulate job creation.

With the need for STEM workers growing and younger people increasingly turning toward vocational schools, apprenticeships, and other alternative forms of education to learn the skills they need, there has never been a better time for organizations such as Citi to champion STEM education and workforce development—both within our firms and around the world. Doing so may well prove key to future growth and prosperity for people, companies, and the economy as a whole.

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