WALLINGFORD — The town and school system are launching a town-wide campaign to address a shortage of workers entering fields related to STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
The initiative seeks to give students interested in STEM more opportunities to explore and pursue careers. The campaign also looks to increase awareness of the workforce shortage that manufacturing businesses are facing.
“The number one issue that we deal with in terms of our present employers is the unavailability of workforce,” Tim Ryan, the town’s economic development specialist, said about local manufacturers. “I don’t know of any of our manufacturing businesses that are running at full staff right now.”
Superintendent of Schools Salvatore Menzo came up with the idea to collaborate with other town departments and local businesses to start the campaign, which is being dubbed “Operation STEM Town.”
“As part of this initiative, the Wallingford Public School District will continue to implement new avenues for students to explore and continue to learn about STEM related classes and professions,” Menzo said in an email to parents this week. “One key component to the district’s work has been the development of project-based, hands-on approaches to real-life problem solving. The many other STEM initiatives planned will support students learning in a collaborative way.”
The campaign will kick off next week with a town-wide design competition for students in grades K to 8.
Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. will sign a proclamation on May 31 declaring Wallingford as a “STEM town,” which Menzo said will “formalize the town’s commitment to its students and businesses.” The proclamation will be signed during an event at the HUBCAP Wallingford, 128 Center St., at 4:00 p.m. on May 31.
Menzo said the programs offered as part of the campaign will not be mandatory. The goal, Menzo said, is to get students excited about STEM fields and help them realize how lessons they learn in classroom are relevant to STEM jobs.
“We’re not looking for this to be mandatory. It’s to create interest, excitement around STEM. We already have so much STEM in our curriculum,” Menzo said. “...We want to create that relevance. We don't want to make this another class, another assignment because that could take away the excitement.”
“It's a matter of choice,” Ryan said. “If they want to do something like that, great. If not, then they'll have other interests, but we just want to make sure they know the opportunities are there.”
Ryan said part of the battle with encouraging students to go into manufacturing today is battling “stigma” that manufacturing jobs are low-paying, dirty and physically demanding.
“I think a generation of parents right now don’t necessarily look at manufacturing as a great career opportunity for their kids,” Ryan said. “Today's manufacturing is much cleaner. The physical requirements are much less.”
Ryan credited Menzo for working to create more opportunities for students entering the STEM workforce.