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In April of 2021, GE announced a new initiative called Next Engineers, a $100 million program aimed at inspiring American students to pursue engineering degrees, with a focus on diverse students in particular. The data behind that decision is compelling: More than half of global companies have reported a shortage of engineers, and only 20% of those who do get engineering degrees identify as women, minorities, or disabled. In this episode, GE CMO Linda Boff talks to Quartz CEO Zach Seward about the roots of the problem and how the Next Engineers endeavor will address it. 

Boff cites two reasons that young people may not be pursuing engineering careers. 

One is simply a low level of awareness, because unlike fields like computer science, engineering isn’t talked about as much in mainstream culture. Another is that learning about engineering is more inspiring when it’s experienced from an early age and in a hands-on, roll-up-your-sleeves way—by building rockets, say, or figuring out how to make objects float—which doesn’t happen in many public schools.

GE hopes to build an entirely new pipeline for future engineers, starting with informational programs for eighth graders like school assemblies and classroom speakers. For ninth graders they’ll create an immersive summer camp, while high schoolers will get a three-year college readiness series paired with scholarships. For anyone hoping to help bring more diversity to the STEM field, GE’s research suggests that reaching students early could make a real, lasting impact.

“When I was 13 years old, if someone said to me, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ I don’t think engineering would’ve been on the list,” Boff continues. “Not because it isn’t a great career; I just think the awareness of it among young people is not what it needs to be … People want to see what an engineer role model looks like.”

Read more: If you want to be rich and powerful, majoring in STEM is a good place to start

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