STEM education opens doors to a variety of career paths, regional success

As the owner and operator of the electric transmission system in Michigan, my company ITC relies on graduates of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs to innovate and maintain the reliability and efficiency of the electrical grid. But we are not the only company looking for technically trained employees.
Recent studies have shown that there will be 274,000 STEM jobs in Michigan by 2018, 92 percent of which will require some secondary education or training beyond a high school degree.
What is alarming, when looking at this research, is that 69 percent of our high school graduates are not prepared for college-level science courses. In order to keep good, high-paying jobs in our region, we need to improve on these numbers. By focusing on STEM-related topics in schools, we can maintain southeast Michigan's reputation as an innovative and desirable location for companies looking to expand.
Another hurdle we must address in the state is the perception among young people that STEM careers are difficult and not exciting. In our current education system, we see a limited number of opportunities for K-12 students to explore a full range of technical careers. Students who have the skill set required for STEM careers may opt to follow a non-STEM career path, simply because they have not been exposed to the type of STEM career that interests them. In an effort to address this issue, ITC is expanding our partnership with the Michigan Science Center to create a gallery with rotating STEM-related exhibits, which will open in the coming weeks. By integrating a more diverse set of programs, and exposing students to a broad set of career paths, we can help them find and fill one of Michigan's high-paying STEM careers.
When you think of STEM education, one of the first career paths that comes to mind is most likely a branch of engineering. At ITC, engineers comprise approximately one quarter of our workforce. These engineers are working to maintain a highly reliable transmission grid and develop innovative technologies to keep up with the ever-changing power industry. However, engineers are not the only skilled workers ITC relies on to create and maintain a robust electric grid.
Team members with STEM backgrounds can be found across each of our departments, working on all aspects of the transmission system. From planning and designing new transmission projects to maintaining existing lines, you can find ITC employees working in fields including IT, finance, design, and more.   
ITC's field technicians constantly monitor the electric transmission system for potential issues and work to address those issues to ensure customers throughout our footprint receive reliable and efficient power. In addition to ITC employees, we work with a number of skilled contractors to construct and maintain transmission projects. Together with these partners, ITC works to build a modern transmission system that will deliver electricity to those who need it long into the future.
Developing and maintaining the advanced technology in our systems requires people with a skill set in math and problem solving above what is available in most high schools, and skills required of these employees are constantly advancing. We cannot expect students to walk out of high school fully prepared for these types of positions. However, we do need to ensure our high schools are able to effectively prepare students to enter college and training programs with the skills they need for success.
I am proud to be a part of ITC, a company that is taking an active role in developing our future workforce, not only for the electric transmission industry, by supporting STEM education in both the classroom and informal learning settings.

Gregory Ioanidis is ITC's vice president of business unit finance and rates, a board member of the Michigan Science Center, and former co-chair of the Southeast Michigan Council of Government's (SEMCOG)/Metropolitan Affairs Coalition (MAC) STEM Careers and Skilled Trades Task Force.

This piece is part of a series of features highlighting the importance of transforming Southeast Michigan into a hub for STEM education and careers. It is supported by the Michigan Science Center.
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