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Investing in the STEM Pipeline

Our company’s future success is dependent upon innovating the technologies that not only meet, but exceed, the demands of our customers. And exceeding those expectations will only happen with the right talent. The problem is that the automotive industry is facing severe shortages of students and recent graduates entering the work force with the skills and knowledge necessary to propel our business forward, particularly in technological fields.

It is critical that we develop a pipeline of technically trained professionals and that we create opportunities for students to become more engaged in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The situation is particularly acute in the United States. According to a recent survey by the Program for International Student Assessment, U.S. students ranked 24th in the world in their understanding of science and 31st globally in math.

Meanwhile, the percentage of degrees awarded in STEM disciplines is on the decline. For example, enrollment in engineering degrees is expected to fall to just 5.5 percent of all college majors by 2020 – about half of what it was in 1995.

Adding to the problem, minorities and women are underrepresented in the field. While Latinos make up about 16 percent of the U.S. population, they comprise just 8 percent of those earning engineering degrees. African-Americans, who make up 12 percent of the overall population, make up only 4 percent of those earning engineering degrees. And while the rate of women earning engineering degrees is steady, the rate of minority women is declining, particularly among African-American women.

% of Total Engineering Bachelor’s Degrees Earned 1977–2011

Graph showing % of total engineering bachelor's degrees earned 1977-2011

Source: National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, Inc. (NACME), 2013. 2013 NACME Data Book. Retrieved from http://www.nacme.org/research-publications.

Those statistics relate only to those who would be entering the work force in the next few years. Among those who are currently teenagers – the employees of the future – just 17 percent of students express high interest and demonstrate strong proficiency in STEM careers. We need to get more students interested – and maintain their interest.

And many of those who do choose STEM careers are often unaware that the auto industry offers innovative and collaborative careers beyond core engineering. Despite our exciting technical innovations, we often must compete for talent with the high-tech companies of Silicon Valley and continue to fight perceptions of an aging industry. In truth, however, these days we are as much a technology company as an auto company.

So what are we doing about it? In recent years, we have stepped up our efforts with a new strategy that is supporting STEM initiatives in a more holistic way. Our STEM strategy recognizes the importance of a strong governance structure with leadership that supports the strategy with resources to ensure it remains sustainable. To that end, we have councils at various levels of the company that engage many sectors of our business. We ensure that our current and future initiatives are aligned, using data and metrics to drive actions and decisions on where we will invest in the future. Finally, we know we’re not in this alone, so it’s vital to stay connected to stakeholders who are active partners. These include external organizations already working on great STEM initiatives, as well as our own employees who are passionate about securing the future of Ford and the overall automotive industry.

We have developed programs that promote awareness, hands on learning and STEM educational opportunities and support teams in established programs such as FIRST Robotics and vehicles teams at select universities.

We support several programs that build STEM skills, as described below.

High School Science and Technology Program (HSSTP)

For 30 years, Ford’s HSSTP program has given students in southeast Michigan the opportunity to spend time on the Ford campus meeting with scientists, engineers and technicians to see how science and engineering can have real-world applications. Participating students spend six Saturday morning sessions at Ford’s Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn with Ford employees who volunteer their time to some 200 students a year.

The program gives us a chance to promote science and engineering, and reach out to students to encourage them to consider new career options. Students who attend at least five of the sessions are eligible to apply for summer internship positions.

Some of the participants have ultimately become Ford employees. Angela Harris, for example, participated in HSSTP when she was in high school in 1998. She did an internship at Ford that summer and then came to Ford as a full-time employee in 2003 after graduating from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering.

“I don’t think I would have known to go into chemical engineering if I hadn’t had the opportunity to do the internship here at Ford,” said Harris, who now works as a research engineer in biomaterials and plastics. “Most people don’t start their careers when they’re 16 years old, so it’s been an interesting journey for me.”

Philip Lechowicz, a research engineer and member of Ford’s electrification team, also attended the HSSTP and did an internship at Ford when he was a student at Adlai Stevenson High School in Livonia, Michigan, in 2000. “It’s a very good opportunity to get real-world experience versus the typical textbook instruction you get in the classroom,” he said. “The Ford HSSTP experience proved to be an invaluable asset throughout my undergraduate and graduate university studies, and was a springboard to enter the engineering work force.”

We have been exploring how we can replicate this successful program in other geographic areas beyond just southeast Michigan.

Ford Next Generation Learning (Ford NGL)

Ford NGL mobilizes educators, employers and community leaders to prepare a new generation of high school students for college, careers and life. The program, which was launched by the Ford Motor Company Fund in 2006, provides dollars, coaching, mentoring and technical support to more than 20 communities in the U.S. to establish “career academies” that allow students to learn their academics through the lens of a career which, in turn, makes learning more relevant and meaningful. These career academics are developed to align with the work force and economic development needs of a city or region. A large majority of the academies focus on STEM careers.

Ford NGL evolved out of the Ford Partnership for Advanced Studies (PAS), which officially launched in 2004 as a high school curriculum focused on helping teachers to engage students in more project-based learning. The Ford NGL program goes beyond working with a small group of teachers in a high school. Instead, the program addresses how a district or region of districts can transform their high schools into career academies that use real-world, project-based lessons tied to a potential career. Our experience and research show that it takes a community to make real change, and our approach blends the expertise of stakeholders across the communities where the Ford NGL program is in place. Three distinct but interconnected strands comprise the Ford NGL framework, which enables whole communities to design and carry out a long-term plan for revitalizing education (see graphic below).

The public school system in Nashville, Tennessee, for example, has seen a tremendous boost in its graduation rates since it became a Ford NGL community. With 12 high schools and more than 16,000 students, the program has set up a total of 78 career academies that focus on topics ranging from engineering to aerospace to music production. The graduation rate jumped from 58 percent in 2005 to 75 percent in 2013.

“This is the most holistic and systematic approach to the transformation of high schools that we’ve seen as it creates a way for local employers, post-secondary partners and civic leaders to support education in very meaningful and systemic ways,” says Cheryl Carrier, executive director of Ford NGL.

Through programs like NGL, we’re now focusing even more strongly on developing a pipeline of future talent in the U.S. who are prepared for STEM careers and greater success in whatever careers they choose to pursue.

Transforming Teaching and Learning

Creating meaningful learning experiences that enable students to learn and apply academic, 21st century, and technical knowledge and skills to real-world challenges.

Transforming the Secondary School Experience

Creating and maintaining career and interest-themed academies and collaborative culture, structures, and practices.

Transforming Business and Civic Engagement

Engaging employees, educators and community leaders in building and sustaining a transformed secondary school experience.