It’s no secret that STEM fields have an enormous representation problem. Women make up less than 30% of the nation’s workforce in science, technology, engineering and math, which rank among the fastest-growing and highest-paying career fields in today’s economy. For Black and Latino workers, the gap yawns even wider: They hold fewer than 10% of all STEM jobs.

STEM knowledge and skills are increasingly necessary to prepare students for the job market. Nearly a quarter of all occupations in the United States — in engineering, information technology, health care, construction and multiple other fields — require STEM competency. In the coming years, that share is predicted to grow.

Addressing underrepresentation and career preparation issues starts with the education system, but it is too much to ask schools to solve these problems by themselves. Some 80% of a child’s day is spent outside the classroom. That leaves plenty of time for other important and overlooked approaches — such as afterschool and out-of-school programs — that can offer additional time and more sustained opportunities to provide career exploration programming and augment the STEM teaching and learning that happens during the school day.

Afterschool and other out-of-school time settings can improve students’ grades, class behavior and homework completion. They also can provide opportunities for hands-on learning, play and other interesting activities that can spark a lifelong interest in STEM. Afterschool and out-of-school programs often have the flexibility to focus on students’ critical learning needs in ways schools cannot. They also can target and reach girls and other underrepresented populations with hands-on STEM learning opportunities that schools aren’t always equipped to offer. If students are set up for greater educational success earlier in their lives, the nation can construct stronger school-to-career pipelines that can produce more diverse and highly skilled talent.

Read the full article about STEM education gaps by Kyle Hartung and Melissa Moritz at The 74.