More and more colleges in Galveston County and elsewhere are preparing students for future careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math in response to growing demand in the job market.

But local educators agreed that simple job training for a career that is likely to change in coming years isn’t enough.

“The only way to look at the new technology coming along is that if students know how to teach themselves, then they will be able to adapt quickly,” said Larry Rohde, department chair of Biological and Environmental Sciences and associate professor of biology and technology at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.

Between 2010 and 2018, jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math grew at a rate of three times that of jobs not in that field, according to the Smithsonian Science Education Center. But the rate those jobs are filled isn’t growing comparably. In 2018 alone, more than 2.4 million jobs went unfilled, according to the center.

But preparing students for the workforce isn’t as simple as finding areas of shortage and giving them job-specific training, educators said.

More than 800 million jobs worldwide could be lost to automation and other advances by 2030, according to a report by consulting group McKinsey & Company.

A quarter of professions are at a high risk for automation by 2030, which amounts to 36 million jobs, a Brookings Institute report released in January suggests. Another 36 percent — about 52 million — face medium exposure, according to the report.

In the more than 20 years at the Clear Lake campus, Rohde has seen many changes in his field, he said.

“You’re seeing a lot of combining of different subject matters,” Rohde said. “Physics and biology, for instance, is one area that in the past never really went through the same door. But over the past 20 to 30 years, there’s been a transition and a new field of biophysics come about.”

Some amount of critical thinking is important to keeping up-to-date with the latest trends, said Cissy Matthews, vice president at Galveston College.

But professors also must introduce students to the latest trends, while also showing them how to teach themselves, Rohde said.

“You have to give everyone the background to be able to adapt,” Rohde said. “My field, biology, is all about adaptation anyway.”

For instance, Rohde teaches a class on tissue cell culture — a high-demand subject that is constantly changing, Rohde said.

“You try to teach students the foundation materials and go from there,” Rohde said. “Sometimes you use their own interests to expand their knowledge.”

Some students are interested in computer science and can use that interest to combine with biology, Rohde said.

“Once they finish the course, they can apply to different jobs saying they have tissue culture skills,” Rohde said.

Health care support occupations are projected to grow by about 24 percent, according to the most recent employment projections of a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

Those jobs and other medical practitioners account for 13 of the 30 fastest-growing occupations and are projected to contribute nearly one-fifth of all new jobs by 2026 and beyond.

Keeping up with that is important, but it all comes down to the foundations, Rohde said.

“I tell my students that I’m not just here to teach you molecular genetics,” he said. “I’m going to teach you that, but I’m also going to teach you how to teach yourself.” 

Matt deGrood: 409-683-5230; matt.degrood@galvnews.com

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