William H. Swanson, chairman and CEO of Raytheon Com­pany, out­lined how busi­nesses can play a role in meeting this chal­lenge at Northeastern’s CEO Break­fast Forum on Tuesday morning. Photo by Mary Knox Mer­rill.

Busi­nesses, gov­ern­ment and acad­emia must inspire and cul­ti­vate the next gen­er­a­tion of leaders in sci­ence, tech­nology, engi­neering and math­e­matics (STEM) careers in order to pre­serve America’s eco­nomic future and global lead­er­ship in inno­va­tion, Raytheon Chairman and CEO William H. Swanson said Tuesday morning at North­eastern University’s CEO Break­fast Forum.

Swanson – whose com­pany is a tech­nology and inno­va­tion leader spe­cial­izing in defense, home­land secu­rity and other gov­ern­ment mar­kets throughout the world – addressed 150 busi­ness and aca­d­emic leaders at the event. He said America’s strongest asset is its inno­v­a­tive spirit and deter­mi­na­tion to pursue solu­tions to society’s greatest chal­lenges. But he pointed to sta­tis­tics that show U.S. stu­dents are falling behind other coun­tries in interest and pro­fi­ciency in the STEM dis­ci­plines.

As a result, Swanson said busi­nesses have an oblig­a­tion to help reverse this trend by better iden­ti­fying work­force trends and growing job sec­tors, through public advo­cacy and by encour­aging employees to vol­un­teer and mentor youth. Doing so, he said, will bol­ster the nation’s economy, its secu­rity and the devel­op­ment of a highly skilled crop of future leaders.

“Vir­tu­ally every busi­ness is tech­nology depen­dent today, so we all have a stake in replen­ishing the STEM pipeline,” Swanson said. “Busi­nesses cer­tainly see the ben­e­fits of a stronger STEM pipeline with a highly skilled work­force dri­ving inno­v­a­tive new prod­ucts, sys­tems and solu­tions.“

Northeastern’s CEO Break­fast Forums rec­og­nize leading CEOs who are invited to speak to an audi­ence of other chief exec­u­tive offi­cers and senior exec­u­tives from the Greater Boston area.

Swanson out­lined a range of ways Raytheon is meeting these chal­lenges, including the company’s Math­MovesU ini­tia­tive which engages stu­dents in math and sci­ence through hands-​​on, inter­ac­tive activ­i­ties. He said more than 14,000 employees are also involved in vol­un­teering or men­toring pro­grams, and that they col­lec­tively log more than 170,000 vol­un­teer hours annu­ally.

“Those of us in STEM careers know how exciting our pro­fes­sions are, and we need to share that excite­ment and pas­sion every chance we get,” Swanson said. “Some­times all it takes is a single moment or spark to inspire a future engi­neer or sci­en­tist to pursue a STEM career, and many times this inspi­ra­tion comes from eager vol­un­teers or men­tors.”

Swanson said North­eastern is also doing its part through inno­v­a­tive pro­grams at the university’s Center for STEM Edu­ca­tion, and through its sig­na­ture co-​​op pro­gram in which stu­dents gain real-​​world expe­ri­ence working at com­pa­nies around the globe and then bring that knowl­edge back to the class­room.

Secu­rity is one of Northeastern’s top research themes, along with health and sus­tain­ability, and Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun said this com­mit­ment to national secu­rity includes strong rela­tion­ships with the mil­i­tary and ROTC as well as the defense industry. “We have made defense and home­land secu­rity a key part of our research agenda,” he said.

Aoun and Swanson both noted the long­standing part­ner­ship between their two insti­tu­tions, which includes expe­ri­en­tial learning oppor­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents and research collaborations.