When Denis Edwards was nine or 10 years old, he had an experience that shaped his career choice.
Edwards’ uncle, who worked at NASA, introduced him to several astronauts.
“From that point on I knew I wanted a career in science or technology,” said Edwards, now chief information officer at Kforce Inc.
Kforce (Nasdaq: KFRC) brought similar opportunities to school children from throughout the Tampa Bay area on Saturday, when the Tampa-based staffing firm held a STEM Fair to inspire the next generation of innovators, creators and experts.
With Edwards and Kye Mitchell, chief operations officer, as hosts, the company and more than a dozen local partners provided activities related to science, technology, engineering and math for students from kindergarten through 8th grade.
It’s a natural fit for Kforce, which specializes in placing professionals with clients in the tech, finance and accounting industries.
“There is a shortage of skill sets,” Edwards said. “We don’t have enough high school kids focused on STEM, and if you go a step below that we don’t have enough middle schoolers that are thinking about STEM.”
Businesses struggle to fill critical skilled roles in STEM occupations, with some estimates that up to 2.4 million STEM jobs go unfilled, according to STEMconnector, a Washington, D.C.-based consortium. At the same time, there’s a “belief gap,” in which young people hold inaccurate beliefs about the traits and aptitudes needed to thrive in STEM careers.
It’s never too early to start talking to children about STEM opportunities, Edwards said. He told his own story about meeting astronauts at the Kforce STEM fair, which also featured professionals such as Thais Lage, mechanical operations engineer at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, and Dr. Faisel Syed, medical director at Dedicated Senior Medical Center.
There were hands-on activities, such as virtual reality headsets, LEGO mosaic models, coding games and applications and creating slime.
The children at the STEM Fair are years away from entering the workforce.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is get enough young kids interested in STEM at an early age, not just that we’re looking at that to help with our business, but we just think it’s a good thing for kids to start thinking about, because when they grow up technology is going to be such an important part of their lives. We want to help prepare them as well,” Edwards said.
“It’s about doing some community outreach, because we think it is important for kids to start thinking about how technology will impact their lives.”
It was a somewhat unusual move for Kforce, which generally doesn’t talk about its work in the community.
“We do a ton of community outreach. I’m not sure we’ve marketed that as much as we should,” Edwards said. “We’re looking to do more of these kind of events, because we think it’s the right thing to do. These are the kind of things you can expect to see us doing more of … We want to strengthen our relationships with partners.”
Kforce partners on the event were: Aetna, AgileThought, Bricks 4 Kidz, ConnectWise, Florida Education Fund, Girl Scouts of West Central Florida, Great Explorations Children’s Museum, Jabil, Junior Achievement of Tampa Bay, Microsoft, SIM Tampa Bay, Tampa General Hospital, University of South Florida and University of Tampa.