At Neustar, we like to say that we are the technology behind the technology that many of us use today. But what about the people behind the technology – the individuals who drive innovation at Neustar and keep our company growing in an increasingly competitive economy? These team members, made up of engineers, programmers, and other technology specialists, are essential to the success of our operations. Yet people with strong science and technology backgrounds are a scarce resource in our workforce today. This presents a significant challenge – not only to the long-term growth of innovative tech companies like Neustar, but to the future of our economy.

Recently, I had the privilege of sitting on a women’s CEO panel hosted by Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and took the opportunity to discuss the importance of this issue to America’s job growth and economic recovery. The United States has been a leader in the development of some of the most important technology in the last hundred years. However, if we are not training our kids in STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math – we are depriving our nation of the tools and talent it needs to maintain American leadership in scientific discovery and technological innovation.

People frequently think that the dire state of STEM education in this country is a new phenomenon, but the reality is that America has been outpaced by its competitors for years. One assessment of student performance in math and science now ranks the U.S. 25th in math and 17th in science when compared to other countries around the world. These statistics are troubling on their own, but even more so when put in the context of job creation and economic growth.

In fact, if current trends continue, by 2018 there will be 1.4 million computing job openings in America but only about 400,000 U.S. computing graduates to fill them. And lest you think this is a regional problem: forty out of the fifty states are producing fewer computing graduates than are needed to fill the projected openings of their in-state computing jobs. Needless to say, the lack of STEM-educated graduates in America is a very real and worrisome problem.  This is particularly poignant now with unemployment in the United States at 8.6% and yet we are in the position of having to recruit people with science and technology backgrounds from other countries.

In order to prepare an innovative and competitive workforce, we need to get our kids excited about STEM. We need to make it accessible and available to kids at all levels – elementary school, high school, and college. And we need to make a special effort to focus on girls, whose rate of matriculation in computing and information sciences has actually declined 13 percent in the last ten years.

The great thing about the current state of STEM education is that we can change it.  At Neustar, we want to take an active role in changing the future.  That is why we are investing in the development of an exciting digital literacy program that we plan to roll out for high school students in Virginia and Kentucky early in 2012.

I’m also proud to say that Neustar has been especially active in promoting women in technology. In November 2011, Neustar’s Chief Technology Officer Mark Bregman and other representatives attended the 11th Annual Grace Hopper Celebration honoring women in computing. At the event, our team had the opportunity to meet hundreds of incredibly skilled women who are making significant contributions to the technology sector each and every day.  Thanks to the diversity of culture, education, and ideas these women bring to the table, companies like ours are able to stay on the cutting edge of technological innovation.

We also need to do more as a nation.  By renewing our commitment to the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math, the United States can secure our place as the world’s strongest economy and top scientific innovator for years to come. All we have to do is shepherd the next generation of scientific leaders and innovators out of the classroom and into the technology workplace. The jobs are there – all we need to do is educate the applicants.