Today we took part in a STEM workshop in the small town of Gaibú, a short trip south of the large city of Recife in the Brazilian State of Penambuco. The teachers were all from public schools in the State who were honing their skills in STEM subjects for high school students.

What maked the location so interesting is that it is next to the new industrial city of Suape, an area that is growing by leaps and bounds. Suape has a deep water port, making it a logical destination for everything from cargo ships to shipbuilding. Not too many years ago, this area was largely empty. Today it is growing 24 hours a day.

I remember when the sky around here was so dark that the stars looked like lanterns. Today the glow of Suape can be seen from miles away. While only 60,000 people work there today, that number will grow to 300,000 or more in a few years, and many of these jobs require STEM skills. This places a great challenge on local educators. Brazil graduates about 35,000 engineers each year, and the demands for new talent in just the automotive and petroleum areas alone requires this many engineers or more, each year. While immigration from other places (including Spain, Japan, and the United States) is helping, Brazil needs to grow more of its own STEM talent, hence the project we are working on here.

Of course the challenge is not limited to Brazil. Other countries are experiencing a shortage of qualified STEM workers. Even in the US, where the economy is slowly recovering, the demand will eclipse our capacity to fill it with the number of STEM graduates in our pipeline.

I’ve long said (as is supported by data from the UN) that economic development is strongly linked to education. This is increasingly the case today, and educational systems worldwide need to do everything they can to foster the creativity and insight of students who may embark on a career path in one (or more) of the dynamic STEM fields.  Failure to meet this challenge will hurt any country that ignores the need.