It Takes a Village

Businesses invest in educating with a purpose

GUEST COLUMN | by Al Bunshaft

With fewer resources at their disposal, teachers in the U.S. are struggling to provide a better education for their students and as a result academic performance continues to stagnate. Likewise, politicians desire to keep our international standardized test scores ahead of other countries while keeping budgets down. In the middle of this, students are struggling to eke out their own educational path that will lead them to a healthy career.

Interestingly enough, the one group that has arguably the most resources to help – and a lot to gain – from improving the educational system, is also often the least involved: local businesses.

The “do more with less” cycle

The education system is in a constant state of competition – against budgets, international pressures, and an increasingly complex and changing world. As a result, the educational system constantly finds itself trying to do more with less.

Businesses across the country are challenged in filling high-paying jobs related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Nationally, only 43 percent of high school students are interested in pursuing careers in STEM. The low number is a concern for businesses as it will result in a shrinking pool of STEM-qualified workers for science and technology-based companies. In fact, national research reports indicate that if we do not increase the number students interested in entering STEM careers in the next decade or so, around 90 percent of all scientists and engineers will live in Asia.

Compounding the problem of fostering interest in STEM careers is that many teachers have not experienced STEM jobs outside of the teaching profession. They are unable to impart first-hand knowledge about what it’s like to have a position in a STEM enterprise and the skills that are required for success.

Businesses rise to the challenge

One group with a horse in the STEM race is the 3D Experience company Dassault Systèmes (3DS), Europe’s second-largest technology company and a world leader in Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). 3DS continues to expand its presence in the North America, making sizeable investments in office space, marketing and advertising, with now approximately 3,000 North American employees. As part of that investment, the company also realized the importance of fostering growth within the industry and is dedicating resources to help young students — from the time they enter the education system, through to college graduation and beyond.

3DS recognized the challenge of educating students and fueling excitement for STEM and STEM careers, and quickly kicked-off a partnership in the U.S. with an organization called DIGITS, a STEM education initiative aimed at increasing interest in math and science subjects and careers for grade school students. In the summer of 2012, 3DS piloted the Teachers At Dassault Systèmes (TADS) program, which provides teachers with first hand experience with the myriad of jobs in a STEM company and the qualities required for successful careers in a company like 3DS. The TADS teachers also spent their time adapting 3DS’ innovative Passion for Innovation materials for use in the classroom as part of an introduction to engineering module for science classes.

More recently, 3DS entered into an academic partnership with the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. This partnership aims to promote statewide use of 3DS technology, which is widely used by leading aerospace OEMs, many of whom have a major presence in Washington. The State has already invested $4.8 million for aerospace training and apprenticeship programs during the current Governor Christine Gregoire’s administration. With this agreement, the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges is investing in 3DS applications, which will be implemented during the 2012-2013 academic year within 34 of the state’s two-year colleges. In support of this implementation, 3DS will provide extensive online training for the personnel who will be teaching the courses.

Benefits for all sides 

3DS’ investments are a perfect example of how businesses should be thinking about seeding growth for their industries beginning with the earliest stages. Programs like these create a system in which everybody wins. By investing in the community, the company wins by showing its ongoing commitment as a corporate presence in the region and fosters loyalty among job seekers as well as potential clients and partners.  It also sets a foundation for a larger population of more qualified local talent down the road as children who participated in its programs begin to graduate and join the workforce.

Teachers win by getting advanced training that may otherwise be unavailable to them. They’re better equipped to guide students interested in STEM careers down the right path because they’ve had the opportunity to see what skills are needed in those fields firsthand. They have established relationships with people working in those careers and training with the real world programs they use on a day-to-day basis.

The community as a whole, including other businesses in the region, wins by setting more attention on their industry and reinvesting their intellectual assets. They see growth in their industry across the region because the community has cultivated local talent that will be more qualified to fill industry positions down the road.

In the end, more is always more. The education system and region as a whole win by bringing an abstract learning experience into focus with end goals of working in industry. Students gain a better understanding of the benefits of studying math and science as well as the career opportunities that will be available to them as they move forward with their education.

The American Dream is not just to be educated, but to go out and do something with that education. As the country’s overburdened education system faces mounting pressures both financially and politically, it can be easy for curricula to lose sight of the end goal – helping students find their passion and turn it into a career as a productive member of society. With a vested interest in this goal, businesses are perfectly situated to help the educational system evolve into a community effort that benefits all parties involved in the short- and long-term. We hope to see more companies getting involved in the future.

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Al Bunshaft is the managing director of Dassault Systèmes’ North America organization, responsible for the structure, management and evolution of the 3,000-person business operations in the United States, including the sales and development facilities of the five PLM brands residing in the geography. He brings to Dassault Systèmes more than 25 years of developing and delivering innovative enterprise solutions to customers. He has held numerous leadership positions in technology, R&D, sales, and product development. Write to: al.bunshaft@3ds.com

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