Students Interpret STEM Too Literally

August 22, 2017

In the face of an ongoing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) talent shortage, Randstad US conducted a study to uncover key motivations, beliefs and perspectives of STEM-related topics among kids aged 11 to 17. The research shows that despite high interest in STEM studies and confidence in STEM skills at a younger age, interest dwindles as children grow older.

Students 11 to 14 years old are 18 percent more likely than students aged 15 to 17 to consider math one of their favorite subjects. Fifty-six percent of young people also said knowing how STEM skills relate to the real world would make STEM classes more interesting.

"The term 'STEM' needs a rebrand and awareness campaign to get the next generation of talent excited about pursuing these careers," said Alan Stukalsky, chief digital officer for Randstad North America. "Young people are self-selecting out of higher STEM education classes because they can't see how these skills apply to different professions and employers they're excited about. It's a misperception and a serious economic problem, as a rapidly growing number of jobs now require STEM competencies. If we don't find a way to guide and prepare the future workforce for these positions, we run the risk of the need for these skills escalating and the hiring gap expanding."

Practical uses of STEM skills are difficult for students to see.

The study revealed not only a lack of students' awareness of what types of STEM jobs exist, but also a lack of personal connection to STEM professionals and how STEM jobs are defined.

•52 percent of students say they don't know anyone with a job in STEM, and more than 1 in 4 students (27%) say they haven't talked to anyone about jobs in STEM.

•Almost half (49%) of respondents say they don't know what kind of math jobs exist and 76 percent report not knowing a lot about what engineers do.

•87 percent think people who study STEM work at companies like NASA; far fewer associate them with mainstream consumer brands like Instagram (40%) and Coca-Cola (26%).

Students interpret STEM too literally.

Young people reported high enthusiasm for careers not explicitly defined as STEM but requiring related skills, suggesting the need for broader education as to how STEM skills can be applied in fields beyond math and science.

•64 percent of students rate creating video games for a living as very fun, while 90 percent rate it somewhat fun.

•54 percent of respondents think it would be very fun to earn a living working with marine life, with 89 percent rating it as at least somewhat fun.

•47 percent think it would be very fun to make websites for a living, with 86 percent saying it would be at least somewhat fun.

There is a lack of confidence in STEM-related skills among young women.

Despite significant progress over the past several decades in young women's participation and performance in STEM subjects, a major gender gap still exists.

•Girls are 34 percent more likely than boys to say that STEM jobs are hard to understand.

•Only 22 percent of young women name technology as one of their favorite subjects in school, compared to 46 percent of boys.

"Technology has become a crucial component in our everyday lives and the future is bright for STEM professionals. As employers, educational institutions, parents and stakeholders in the future talent pool, we need to encourage young people into STEM disciplines and ignite a passion for STEM in the next generation of talent," says Stukalsky.

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