Every April, Americans celebrate National Volunteer Week. So now is precisely the time to ask ourselves how we can best donate our time and talents.
Of course, there is no shortage of worthy causes. But one area where volunteer work is particularly impactful is educational programs that help young Americans develop an interest in science, technology, engineering and math -- the so-called "STEM" fields. Developing proficiency in these subjects can set students up for a career in some of the nation's most promising industries.
Even during this period of high unemployment, the demand for qualified STEM workers vastly outpaces supply. A recent report from the non-profit Change the Equation found that, in the broader economy, unemployed Americans outnumber job postings by three to one. However, for STEM professions, there are about two open jobs per jobless American.
The demand for well-trained professionals in fields such as biotechnology, aerospace, and software development won't wane anytime soon. A recent report from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology found that for the United States to remain a dominant force in science-based industries, we will need to produce roughly 1 million more STEM professionals over the next decade.
Achieving this goal starts with motivating young Americans to pursue STEM degrees. Today, a mere 300,000 Americans earn a bachelor or associate degree in a STEM subject each year. More troubling still, only 40 percent of students who intend to major in one of these areas actually completes a degree.
Students who end up pursuing a STEM education often developed an interest in science and technology at an early age. A single formative experience can provide a lifetime's worth of motivation. That's why helping young Americans discover their passion for these subjects is such a worthwhile volunteer opportunity.
Executives in technology and science-driven industries have an enormous role to play in sparking an early enthusiasm for STEM subjects.
Already, some industry leaders are doing their part to generate STEM excitement in our schools.
For example, tech giant Google uses its talented workforce to help spark student interest in science. In collaboration with the Citizen Schools initiative, Google volunteers have participated in 139 apprenticeship courses. These educational programs expose middle school students to technical subjects like software engineering and robotics. Students in these courses receive hands-on instruction from some of the most talented minds in the tech world.
Last year, Altria gave a sizeable donation to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to help new middle school teachers learn hands-on approaches to making math and science instruction interesting, relevant and fun.
Here at Raytheon, we have a rich culture of STEM-related philanthropy. For instance, firm employees give their time to initiatives like MATHCOUNTS, which inspires interest in math among middle school students through competitions, clubs, and other enrichment programs. Firm employees also give their time to initiatives like the FIRST program, which engages high school students in robotics competitions nationwide.
Volunteerism is strongly encouraged at Raytheon. In fact, during 2011 and 2012, company employees donated nearly 400,000 hours to serving their communities.
The emphasis we place on volunteerism is in line with a broader national trend. In 2011, the number of American volunteers reached a five-year high of 6.4 million. And more than 18 percent of those volunteers spent their time teaching or tutoring.
These efforts to encourage student achievement in the STEM fields are extremely important when it comes to preparing young Americans for the jobs of tomorrow. If the United States is going to produce the kind of qualified professionals that the job market demands, industry leaders must continue to donate their time to cultivating STEM passions in local student bodies.
National Volunteer Week is the perfect opportunity to redouble our efforts to improve the lives of young Americans and set them on a path to professional success.
Keith J. Peden is senior vice president of Human Resources and Security for Raytheon Company.