Giving the LI innovation economy plenty of STEAM

Pipe pipeline: A pipeline-maintenance training program presented jointly by Farmingdale State College and National Grid is a great example of applying STEAM education to the 21st century workplace, according to Rosalie Drago.
By ROSALIE DRAGO //

Employers in technical trades lament the loss of “shop” class and its hands-on maker skills. Business owners complain that candidates possess minimal work experience.

But there is tremendous work-readiness power in STEAM – enough to fuel a 21st century workforce.

Beginning in elementary school, education institutions are using STEAM (for science, technology, engineering, arts and math) to contextualize core classroom subjects in a way that aligns with skills required by the new economy. This educational approach emphasizes problem-solving and collaboration, and encourages makers to work through a more complete creative process.

What really makes this an effective work-readiness tool is not that it prepares students for any particular occupation, but instead builds fluency in all STEAM skills – which is critical, as virtually all jobs, at all levels, require competency in these core components.

Arts – including visual, graphic and special arts – have become a very important component. In-demand jobs in fields such as Computer Aided Design rely heavily on formal arts training, for instance, and the creative process is a natural part of innovation.

We can see the STEAM-skill connections in various Long Island industries. The Shoreham Solar Commons project, one of the largest solar farms in New York State, required architects, engineers, commercial electricians, heavy equipment operators and laborers – and that was just in its development phase.

The term “laborers” may not evoke advanced science, but these particular workers were responsible for installing and maintaining plant life. From distinguishing and caring for the different varieties to adjusting for runoff from the solar panels to preserving the surrounding wetlands, technical applications were in play. Science was part of the job.

Rosalie Drago: Full STEAM ahead.

Next week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to name the offshore wind developer selected to build the next wave of renewable-energy infrastructure for our region. This industry requires deep-water construction, high-tech mechanical systems, marine operations, onshore assembly and a maintenance facility with state-of-the-art equipment. On Long Island, renewable energy will remain a job center for years to come.

Meanwhile, thousands of feet of gas pipeline need to be checked, repaired and replaced. National Grid and Farmingdale State College have training programs to prepare technical-installation crews for pipeline work.

At the same time, ace pipeline inspector ULC robotics, based in Hauppauge, is developing, testing, manufacturing and operating drones – next-gen tech that requires coders, robotics experts, manufacturing technologists and licensed commercial pilots.

And there are five major infrastructure-development projects in Long Island’s pipeline. The construction industry could see up to 40,000 construction jobs added to regional rolls in the next five years.

Of course, all kinds of parts and equipment will be needed to support all this growth, from solar panels to new signage. Our advanced manufacturing facilities will require plenty of people power.

And all of these hardworking Long Islanders will need good and efficient healthcare. Like advanced-manufacturing industries, healthcare employs process, software and hardware engineers; both also use 3D printing, Computer Aided Design and other essential STEAM skills.

Regardless of a person’s employment path, STEAM skills need to be developed and deployed. Whether a high school graduate chooses a trade school, a union apprenticeship or a four-year college, math and technology training will surely be part of the mix.

The ABCs of STEAM help shape critical and innovative thinking – a must for our emerging workforce and our ever-evolving Island economy.

Rosalie Drago is Long Island regional director for the Workforce  Development Institute, a statewide nonprofit focused on job-creation and retention. The WDI pilots, supports and scales workforce-development initiatives that foster empowering careers for Long Islanders and a talented workforce for Long Island businesses.