How early should kids begin STEM education?

Ohio children need high-quality pre-k education if they are to develop the STEM skills that will be in demand for 21st century jobs, a group of business and military leaders said this week.

A new report shows Ohio has a skills gap in science, technology, engineering and math. The report was prepared by ReadyNation, a nonprofit business group, and Mission: Readiness, a group of retired military leaders who work to ensure kids stay in school.

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About 65 percent of eighth graders in the state of Ohio are not proficient in math and nearly 60 percent are not proficient in science, according to the report, STEM and Early Childhood — When Skills Take Root.

Developing strong STEM skills early is key to closing the skills gap that young adults are facing in the workforce business and military leaders said.

“The first five years of life are absolutely critical for brain development,” said Chris Burns, marketing and education manager at Encore Technologies. “If we wait till kindergarten we have waited too late” he said as he and other leaders talked about the report at a press conference at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery on Thursday.

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“I can tell you firsthand that careers in STEM will continue to be a major driving force in our economy,” said Burns who is also a member of ReadyNation.

Encore and similar companies struggle to fill positions due to the skills gap in young adults, according to Burns.

There is a shortfall of over 190,000 job positions in Ohio, according to data from the report.

“Just like private industry, military service in the 21st century is increasingly reliant on sophisticated technology requiring an increasingly STEM-trained workforce,” said Retired Maj. Gen. Deborah Ashenhurst, a member of Mission: Readiness. “We must also keep in mind that the young people we will seek to recruit for the military, post secondary education, and private sector jobs in less than 15 years should be entering pre-k today.”

The military views the skills gap as a national security issue

“Seven out of 10, 17 to 24 year olds, which are prime recruiting ages, are not eligible to join in military forces,”said Ashenhurst. “In Ohio its a greater percent, the primary reasons, too poorly educated, too overweight, or they have a record of serious crime or drug abuse.”

ReadyNation is made up of about 2,000 businesses and works with educators and schools to ensure that students can later on in life compete for STEM jobs. Mission: Readiness includes more than 700 retired admirals and generals who work to strenghten national security by making sure kids stay in school, stay fit and stay out of trouble.

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