Wednesday, September 23, 2020
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Congrats, brother, on your new STEMpathy job

I want to congratulate my brother, who just got a new job with a huuuge telecommunications company in Chicago!

My immediate family somewhere in California, 1970-something.

His job will involve wiring, networking, troubleshooting, and that sort of activity for a Fortune 50 company. He’ll be working out of an office in Oak Brook, where, incidentally, McDonald’s has its world headquarters.

He landed the job after 27 years of working with another telecommunications company, and then after taking classes and earning certificates in new technology, and then after a series of interviews.

What his new managers said they liked about his application was that he demonstrated not only strong knowledge of the technical aspects of telecommunications—using words I don’t know and more acronyms than we have in the education field, some of which even include numbers, like IPv6—but also the “soft” skills, working with people on a team, interpersonal communication skills, and skills like that.

My brother has always been able to talk to anybody and make an argument that whatever person he was talking to could understand. Even if we disagreed about something, I would always be able to put myself in his shoes after talking with him for just a few minutes.

He brings skills to the job that New York Times columnist Thomas L Friedman calls STEMpathy skills. Mr Friedman writes, “The best jobs in the future are going to be what I call STEMpathy jobs—jobs that blend STEM skills (science, technology, engineering, math) with human empathy. We don’t know what many of them will look like yet.”

Indeed, my brother’s new managers are trying his position out for a year, hiring him as an independent contractor, which is a common practice these days as companies try to figure out what these new jobs will look like.

In elections, my brother tends to vote for Republicans, but I won’t say he voted for President-elect Donald Trump. My point, though, especially to people who did support Mr Trump, echoes that of Mr Friedman:

The idea that large numbers of manual factory jobs can be returned to America if we put up a wall with Mexico or renegotiate our trade deals is a fantasy. Trump ignores the fact that manufacturing is still by far the largest sector of the US economy. Indeed, our factories now produce twice what they did in 1984—but with one-third fewer workers.

Trump can’t change that. Machines and software will keep devouring, and spawning, more work of all kinds.

I added some emphasis, because I wanted to underscore that what really big companies say they need are the jobs that new technology has created, not the ones that new technology has made obsolete. I know many, many conservatives, having grown up in the Chicago suburbs and now living in the northern part of Baltimore County, Maryland. Many of them are my dearest friends.

But we just can’t make a promise to bring coal jobs back. Not only will that advance the destruction of the environment, but it will also handicap Fortune 50 companies that give us more jobs than the coal industry ever could in a hundred years.

Same with trade. We can’t just shut out companies that ship jobs to other countries, where people are also suffering. What we need to do is work with those companies and countries to eliminate some of the deplorable conditions people have to work in at factories in some countries. Take away manufacturing, and these people will lose their jobs. Our economy here in the US is better kept open and flexible.

And most important, recognize that jobs in the future may not look like the jobs your parents have today. Keep that word, STEMpathy, in your mind. Figure out what it means, and then think about that as you pursue a career-ready education track. That’s where the jobs are going to be, no matter who our president is.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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