How STEM Workforce Investments by Large Manufacturers Can Benefit the Entire Industry

Large manufacturers have a vested interest in securing a pipeline of STEM talent and are making big investments in educational programs around the country. And while these grants and partnerships may directly benefit their own labor pools, they also are helping develop a more abundant and skilled workforce for the entire sector.

For instance, the Toyota USA Foundation recently issued two grants worth a combined $2.35 million to expand workforce opportunities in the manufacturing sector. A $2 million grant will go to Project Lead the Way, to support more than 100 K-12 schools throughout the country with related program implementation. The National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity also will receive $350,000 to create promotional tools and outreach strategies for educators to use with students in the K-12 and community college systems.

In addition to aiming these initiatives at a broad age range, organizations like Toyota also are aiming to reach women and minorities in under-served communities, which could be a significant source of untapped talent. Mike Gross, President of Toyota USA Foundation, said that these investments could better prepare the nation’s youth for future opportunities. “Persistent workforce gaps in STEM fields can be solved by increased participation and inclusion of diverse students,” Gross said.

Toyota also recently granted $1.7 million to the Southwest Independent School District in San Antonio to spur STEM programs at its new high school. It also granted $4 million to California State University to support the design, construction and equipment of a new 87,000-square-foot innovation center that will include labs and opportunities to inspire students from kindergarten through college.

“Our goal with these grants and contributions is to make sure that…Washington students…are getting the skills they need to fill the jobs that we know are going to come open at Boeing and the aerospace industry.”

Boeing also has been making large investments in STEM education initiatives. In Washington state alone in 2016, the aerospace manufacturer granted $6 million to three universities and a number of other educational programs. Bill McSherry, vice president of government relations and global corporate citizenship for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said the grants are an investment in its own future. A coming wave of workers hitting retirement age and a lack of skilled graduates means many manufacturers could benefit from investments and public-private partnerships.

“Our goal with these grants and contributions is to make sure that…Washington students…are getting the skills they need to fill the jobs that we know are going to come open at Boeing and the aerospace industry,” McSherry said.

In 2015, Lockheed Martin started a three-year program to grant $2 million to 184 public schools in Orange County, Fla. The funds were intended to pay for school district expansion of Project Lead the Way and to cover teacher training and tools such as apps, computer upgrades and robotics kids. Rick Edwards, Boeing executive vice president for missiles and fire control, said that the company has had a presence in the area since 1955 and will need to hire an additional 110,000 engineers in the next 15 years.

Mid-market manufacturers should be doing their part too. As key employers in their communities, it’s critical that all companies, not just large ones, think about how they can prepare the next generation for manufacturers’ future needs.

The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates there will be more than 1.2 million unfilled STEM jobs by 2018, so it’s important that everyone work together to prepare the workforce to fill those jobs.

Craig Guillot :Craig Guillot is a business writer based in New Orleans, La. His work has appeared in Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, and You can read more about his work at