Taking the Nerd' out of Technology

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My teenage son enthusiastically embraces the high-tech world ," learning computer programs instead of viewing TV programs, and competing against other schools as a member of his high school math and science teams.

I have long suspected he was bucking the trend. Unfortunately, I was right.

According to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), too few of today's youngsters are pursuing their interests in math and science, mainly out of fear of being labeled "geeks" or "nerds." And that fact could spell trouble in the years to come.

"The disconnect bet-ween the availability of jobs and the careers students choose could have dire consequences for America's economy," said NAM, "as we face a possible shortage of up to 12 million skilled workers in the next 20 years."

Moreover, our schools are doing a rather lousy job in the career counseling area. In fact, a recent nationwide study conducted by Ferris State University in Lansing, Mich., concluded that today's high school juniors and seniors "often cannot name anyone outside of their parents who have been helpful in career counseling."

Recognizing the need to attract impressionable young people to highly skilled technology and manufacturing occupations, NAM and the U.S. Department of Commerce teamed up to develop the GetTech Web site. The interactive "kid-friendly" site, located at www.gettech.org, aims to dispel the "nerd" perception by helping to illustrate the value of careers in science, manufacturing and technology.

In addition, NAM has made available an information kit to use in classroom presentations and during events such as National Engineers Week. Called Manufacturing Now, the kit was funded by the 3M Foundation and helps junior high and high school students "see the connection between the math and science classes they take in school and career opportunities in the highly technical world of manufacturing."

What can you do?

NAM's efforts make for a great start, but much more will be required to fatten up the high-tech labor pool. You can make a difference.

Invite the local middle school children into your facility. Give them the opportunity to see "technology in action" and to learn about the skills required for different jobs within the plant. If a plant tour is not feasible, you might want to help develop an informative, engaging program to present on-site at the school.

Consider becoming a mentor. Young adults already enrolled in technology-intensive programs also need some guidance and encouragement to succeed in their efforts.

A good place to start is the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' mentoring program (www.aiche.org/students/chap ters/mentorguide.htm), which matches institute members and aspiring engineers. Or you might want to check out mentoring opportunities at a college near you.

Let's put the "nerd perception" to rest and ensure a healthy future for the chemical industry and other manufacturing industries.


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