This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Much has been made over past 20-30 years about the low numbers of underrepresented students (African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and females) entering the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) pipeline and the resulting economic consequences for knowledge-based industries, such as advanced manufacturing. In 2012 the President’s Council of Advisors on Science Technology reported that the US would need 1 million more STEM workers to meet economic demands (Olson & Riordan, 2012). A recent report by The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte also indicated that more than half of skilled manufacturing positions remain unfilled—a situation that is not likely to change over the next 10 years (Giffi et al., 2018). These reports, and many others, collectively tell us that employers are struggling to fill positions because of a lack of skilled workers. This reality frames our work and leads us to ask: How can educators and schools increase the number of girls, African American, Hispanic, and Native American students pursuing STEM and manufacturing as a career?
I sat down with two individuals with substantial experience dealing with this issue, on BOTH ends of the spectrum. Michael Medalla is a Manager with the Toyota USA Foundation, where he works with organizations such as the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE) to scale innovative solutions that support underrepresented students. Mimi Lufkin is NAPE’s CEO Emerita and has devoted her career to increasing the number of girls entering STEM and CTE professions by helping educators realize their power in working with students.
Who is NAPE and why is the Toyota USA Foundation partnering with NAPE?
Established in the early 1990s, NAPE is a consortium of state and local education agencies, corporations, and national organizations who are committed to the advancement of equity and diversity in classrooms and in workplaces. The NAPE Education Foundation was established in 2002 to expand NAPE’s reach, which originated during the 1970s after the passage of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) legislation focused on equity and CTE. We’ve been fortunate to have a relationship with the Toyota USA Foundation to try to close the equity gap in advanced manufacturing, and I’ll let Michael talk about what brought us together.
Since 1987, the Toyota USA foundation has supported innovative STEM programming across the country. Toyota also has a long practice in diversity and inclusion, which was the focus of my role prior to the foundation where I delivered leadership training. One thing that I’ve learned about equity, diversity, and inclusion in general is that they don’t happen naturally. As a group, humans don’t gravitate toward difference—it’s just the way that our brains seem to work. Therefore, we have to be very intentional to ensure that Toyota, our partners, and the group of learners that we want to impact reflect society at large. Demographic shifts are happening all around us, and more and more as we progress into the future. So, we wanted to partner with NAPE so that we can get a little bit better, not only in our internal practices and learning but also in partnering with experts. With NAPE we have a program that’s designed to help us increase the representation of women and people of color in manufacturing.
What are some of the factors that have led to this issue?
This is a fairly complex problem, because inspiring interest in STEM happens in many ways, and there are many societal stereotypes that depress that interest. Many barriers exist out there, so the approach to this work must be multifaceted, which is one of the things that I’ve really valued in our work with Toyota. Its particular approach is to address the issue from both the education side and the workplace perspective, as a leading company in this arena.
Cultural stereotypes about “girls aren’t good at math” continue. There are stereotypes about low expectations, this sort of insidious discrimination of low expectations for students of color or of low income, and this sense that mathematics or success in STEM is somehow an inherited trait. The research does not indicate that. Really, the biases that exist out there need to be addressed head-on, and, as Michael was mentioning, this notion of being very directed and focused on this work is important.
Mimi, that’s so important. When I think about the problem that we’re trying to solve, this burning platform problem that’s presented to us (i.e., the STEM skills gap, the difference between the number of STEM jobs available and the number of students who are ready to fill them), it’s daunting. And, as I start to unpack that issue, I believe that two new gaps emerge. The first is a motivation gap and the second, certainly for advanced manufacturing and many STEM fields like that, is a perception gap. It’s our intention with the partnership with NAPE and our other activities is to try to influence learners at a younger age and head off at the pass some of the cultural stereotypes and biases that inevitably enter into a young person’s existence.
With the perception gap, we need to be proactive and more in control of the narrative of what it means to be in a STEM career at Toyota, or in the transportation industry or sector. I would challenge anyone to say that not every company out there is a tech company. Every company is. A company may not be entirely STEM focused, but if it is competing for the future, then it is a tech company. So we need to do a better job of defining what these careers are, and how they can be relevant to young people. For many students, especially the underrepresented and the underresourced students, a STEM career could be a road to the middle class and beyond.
Michael, how does this problem affect the daily life of a large multinational corporation like Toyota?
For us specifically, we have this perfect storm of baby boomers retiring, we have a postsecondary preference for only 4-year degrees, and we have students and young people and even parents, counselors, and influencers who are just not aware of what’s out there. This affects Toyota because if we don’t have the technical professionals to work on the machinery or to design vehicles, then we can’t provide products and services to our customers. We can’t then make a profit, and we can’t continue to support nonprofits and communities on the philanthropy side. It threatens our profitability, the economies of the regions where we have a presence, and the economy of the nation.
What are some proven ways known to improve outcomes for girls and students of color?
Under the Toyota—Make the Future project, we’ve created a set of resources for educators to use in their outreach effort with students as part of the feeder into the STEM pipeline. Eventually the goal is to do all the things that Michael talked about, which is to be sure that individuals have an opportunity to fulfill their own career goals, to be successful citizens of our country, and to be economically self-sufficient. In the #MaketheFuture project, we looked at the research literature about what motivates students to choose career fields that might be nontraditional for them, either in terms of their gender or of their race, and what are the things that motivate students to engage in STEM-related fields. So, we created “9 Best Practices” and are building resources that we are piloting with state and local school districts, community colleges, and the recruiters who work for the AMT programs that Toyota supports across the country.
These 9 Best Practices fall into three categories, with several strategies in each.
- INSPIRE. What are the strategies to raise student interest to get them excited about STEM—to generate this desire to want to know more, to potentially try more? The first strategy is to encourage educators to reach out to middle and elementary Schools. By second grade, students begin to say things about what they want to be when they grow up. That’s a critical time in a young person’s experience around understanding what careers may be out there for them. We encourage educators to take role models from the programs in high school or community colleges to elementary schools and middle schools and give those students an opportunity to engage.The second strategy is to make it personal. The most effective strategy for engaging particularly underrepresented students in STEM is to haves a person who is considered an expert, a teacher, the counselor, or someone in a leadership role to personally say to a student, “You know I really think you can do this, and there’s this program and I want to invite you to participate.” Giving them the opportunity to do that and personally encouraging them to participate is important.
“The most effective strategy for engaging particularly underrepresented students in STEM is to have a person who is considered an expert say to a student, “You know I really think you can do this, and there’s this program and I want to invite you to participate.”
The third strategy in Inspire is to create exploration experiences for targeted students, so opportunities with afterschool programs, camps, and all kinds of low-risk, high-fun activities are very important in terms of inspiring an interest in STEM.
- EXPLORE. The first strategy in EXPLORE is to engage same gender, same race, same ethnicity role models. By seeing people that look like them engage in STEM careers is really critical in terms of identification, students can identify themselves in that same role.The second strategy in EXPLORE is to provide repeated exposure to Advanced Manufacturing careers. This is not a one-and-done kind strategy; it has to be repeated in many ways, over and over again. Don’t assume just because this child had an experience in the elementary school, they are now an expert about what it means to be an engineering technician or to work in the manufacturing industry.The third strategy is to include real-world, hands-on activities when doing any kind of recruitment or outreach activity. This is not about talking heads, or being in a situation where students get to walk around the plant and look at the machines. They should have an opportunity in some way shape or form to engage in some kind of hands on, touch it, feel it, do it, kinesthetic experience to really be able to connect to that field.
- EXPAND. How do we expand our reach? How do we engage with others and collaborate in order to bring all of the things that I was talking about to a community? Some of the most important people in young people’s lives are their parents or caregivers. The research is really strong—the primary influencer of a young person’s career decision-making is their parents. Another strategy is to partner with community-based organizations. Be sure to connect all these organizations together so that these programs and services dovetail nicely, and students can have those experiences in a seamless way. The last EXPAND strategy is to connect students to meaningful work-based opportunities. A really strong motivator for students is to go into a company, go into a manufacturing plant, go to visit Toyota and actually spend time with an employee. It gives them an opportunity to shadow what the person does. All of those opportunities begin to build a student’s knowledge of their skills and their experiences, and whether or not these are fields they really want to pursue.
INSPIRE, EXPLORE, and EXPAND.
These 9 Best Practices are the cornerstone of the work that we’re doing with Toyota. Again, we’re working in communities where Toyota has a presence, and also where there are Advanced Manufacturing career pathway programs that bring students throughout their educational experience into an AMT program at a community college, and eventually placement into a business partnership placement. The resources and materials we’re creating are being piloted and tested at the moment. We hope to have everything available and ready to release some time in the fall. I want to again thank Michael and his team at Toyota USA Foundation for their support and engagement in this work. It’s been a great experience for us.
Thank you Mimi. What I like about NAPE’s framework is that it’s based on evidence, it’s based on research. And it recognizes that we’re operating in a system that has certain preferences. I’ll call it implicit bias. These jobs are for girls and these jobs are for boys, and these are good jobs and these are not good jobs, and these are good industries and these are not good industries. The NAPE framework really recognizes that system, and so it’s designed interventions to make sure that the young people are invited to join more than once, to make sure that there are images and mentors that look like them. In recognizing that there is a system that has certain preferences we need to be very intentional and methodical about how we design what we do so that we can get the outcomes that we want.
How else has Toyota taken a lead in addressing this issue across the United States?
Toyota has a long standing commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion, and partners with organizations like NAPE that help us solve societal and business problems. If it’s true that diversity helps us make better products, provide better services, and to solve problems better—and we think that it is true—then we just need to get better at how we attract and retain the workers that we want. So, whenever we select the project, it’s that ground zero.
“If it’s true that diversity helps us make better products, provide better services, and to solve problems better—and we think that it is true—then we need to get better at how we attract and retain the workers that we want. So, whenever we select the project, it’s that ground zero.”
Michael one thing that you’ve really hit on which I’d like to highlight is really the power of the community. What can parents/community members do to help make changes in their families and communities?
Community members have really important roles, so there are a few things to think about. One is that every opportunity you have to expose a young person in your life to STEM careers and excite them to want to learn more is a wonderful opportunity for you to help broaden that young person’s horizons. Engaging your daughters, your nephews, and your neighbors’ children in a STEM summer camp, encouraging them to get involved in STEM clubs at school, finding out about after school programs, and making sure that kids have an opportunity to engage in those things. It’s frequently communities of color and communities that are low income that don’t have access to these kinds of programs, so anything that you can do to influence your community to invest in STEM education from a community perspective and make it accessible for every student is also really important.
These days diversity and STEM have become buzzwords. I want to invite you both as we wrap this up – what’s the one thing you want people listening to this podcast to understand about this topic?
I think the first thing is there’s nothing unusual about STEM. It’s our everyday lives. Everything in our world is engineered, everything has some relationship to science and mathematics and technology. I want people to not be afraid of what that means. The other thing to know is that in the future, this is where young people are going to have tremendous opportunities to become economically self-sufficient. Diversity in STEM is a win-win situation. We really need everyone to engage in STEM, and we need people with diverse backgrounds to come to this enterprise in order to keep us competitive, and keep us globally in front of all the innovation that’s going to happen in the future. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity!
For me and how we operate at Toyota, equity, diversity, and inclusion is a business imperative. It’s about maintaining and improving company performance. For STEM, it could mean “Succeeding in Today’s Emerging Marketplace,” and it’s about preparing young people for high-demand, high-growth jobs. So, where are the good jobs? Most of them require some postsecondary work, either a technical credential or two-year degree or four-year degree, so it’s the advice giving and the guidance and helping young people master the subjects that they need to master in order to get those good jobs. It will be important for the prosperity of that person, his or her family, community, our region, nation and the world.
“For STEM, it could mean “Succeeding in Today’s Emerging Marketplace,” and it’s about preparing young people for high-demand, high-growth jobs.”
We want to thank our two guests, Mimi Lufkin, CEO Emerita of the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity, and Michael Medallia, Manager with the Toyota USA Foundation. You can find more information at https://www.toyota.com/ and at https://napequity.org. You can find more about the Make the Future Project here.
TOPIC: workforce gap, advanced manufacturing pipeline, equity
Written by Ricardo Romanillos, Ed.D.
Ricardo is the Director of Professional Learning with the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE). NAPE is a consortium of state and local agencies, corporations, and national organizations. NAPE’s mission is to build educators’ capacity to implement effective solutions for increasing student access, educational equity and workforce diversity.
Olson, S., & Riordan, D. G. (2012). Engage to excel: Producing one million additional college graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Report to the president. Washington, DC: Executive Office of the President. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED541511
Giffi, C., Wellener, P., Dollar, B., Manolian, H. A., Monck, L., Moutray, C. (2018). 2018 Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute skills gap and future of work study. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en.html