​STEM Careers, Soft Skills, and Exploding Bacon

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Careers in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) are becoming increasingly important as technology impacts the workplace and the world we live in.  Tom Friedman (NY Times Columnist and author) and many other thought leaders talk about how technology has changed in the past 10 years, and expect an even more rapid pace of technology change in the future.  Companies, organizations, and people that don't respond to changes in technology may run the risk of becoming outdated and obsolete.  

STEM careers, technology, and the impact of education were addressed at the World Future Society's 2014 conference in Orlando, FL.  At the welcome reception, we met with an impressive group of 13 to 18 year-old students who build and program robots for competition with their 4-H FIRST Robotics Competition team.  This team, named "Exploding Bacon," operates similarly to a small business with a variety of team roles, and focuses on several core skills: 
  • Robot-building (engineering, technology, etc.)
  • Teamwork (project management, drawing on individual strengths, etc.)
  • Professionalism (elevator speeches, marketing, soft vs. hard deadlines, etc.)
As HR professionals, it was interesting for us to see how these students were being developed for the future workforce, by being trained in hard skills and "soft skills" (or interpersonal skills).  This wasn't about robot-building alone!  It was apparent that these students are gaining a lot of varied tools and training from this educational experience.  They were very well spoken and demonstrated a high level of professionalism, especially for their age.  Ultimately, 90-92% of Exploding Bacon team members go into STEM careers.  But the things learned through Exploding Bacon are valuable, whether used later in STEM or other careers: the students are learning to have meaningful interactions in their workplace.  They are learning how to navigate the increasingly hyper-connected world around them by incorporating concrete skills and use of technology with teamwork and communication.

This method of education seems to be effective in developing skills and knowledge in these students.  Learning in a fun environment enables them to grasp the skills and knowledge that will help them as they prepare to enter the workforce.  This is a great model for us to consider in  the rapidly-changing world around us: learn specific skills, work together, adapt to changing technologies, and of course, have fun!

Connect with Ben on LinkedIn and Twitter @ben_patient
Connect with Kelley on LinkedIn and Twitter @KelleyPatient

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