In today’s global economy, ensuring that students in Arkansas and around the country have the skills they need to compete in a global environment is critical to maintaining America’s leadership in the world. We need a strong education system that helps our future workforce meet the needs of the technologically driven world and reflects the modern workplace.

Emma, a rising sophomore at Mountain Home High School, told me the she is optimistic about her future because of her exposure to science and technology. She is one of the youngest participants in Mountain Home’s For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics Team 16. She credits this activity for her interest in science and technology. After being on the team for one year, she’s changed her plans for the future. Instead of pursuing a career in medicine, now she wants to work as a biomedical engineer.

Emma’s teammates all had similar positive results. They encouraged support for education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). As one student said, programs like FIRST that help students discover and develop a passion for STEM empowers them to succeed and puts them on a career path that is full of future opportunities.

During the last decade, growth in STEM jobs was three times faster than growth in non-STEM jobs. The Department of Commerce (DOC) expects that trend to continue with an overall growth of 17 percent from 2008 to 2018. Unfortunately, American companies have been looking abroad to fill domestic positions because of the lack of skilled workforce in these areas.

That’s why we are working in Washington to grow STEM opportunities to get more young Americans prepared for the future. There is bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House to expand STEM education opportunities across the country.

Earlier this year I helped introduce The Talent Act, legislation that includes a provision aimed at increasing the number of students from low income families and underrepresented groups in STEM fields.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) recently passed the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA). Dedicated funding for important priorities like STEM instruction and achievement is included in this legislation.

A 2013 Brookings report shows a college degree is not necessary for highly skilled STEM jobs. Half of all STEM jobs are available to workers without a four-year college degree.

The good news is partnerships in Arkansas between communities and universities, vocational and technical schools are working to prepare students for the skilled labor local businesses need.

Developing coursework to provide the appropriate training allows students to find employment that matches their skills and provides businesses the workforce they need to operate.

Arkansas economic officials say education is the key to future prosperity in our state. Programs that promote STEM help create a pipeline for the future and should be a component of the plan.