Careers in STEM: How to Encourage Interest in Youth
Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields can offer incredible careers for employees. Contributors can have a hand in positively impacting people’s lives — even data analytics is being used to improve health outcomes through greater efficiency and artificial intelligence (AI) assisted diagnosis.
Yet, it is just as vital to recognize that for all the benefits STEM careers offer workers, these fields are also in need of contributors. Innovations can’t be made if there is no fresh influx of talent. As such, it is important to ensure there is a focus on encouraging youth interest in STEM so that they are enthusiastic to follow it through to higher education and careers.
So, how can this be approached effectively? Let’s take a look at a few areas of focus.
Any activity — whether career-based or a hobby — benefits greatly from early intervention. When kids are younger, they can get a better grasp of ideas and activities. Indeed, we’re starting to see the first generations of digital natives enter the workplace. Their confidence with the tools of our digital landscape often puts them in a better position to innovate using them. This is because these advanced systems have been a part of their world since infancy.
A similar approach needs to be achieved with STEM careers. This is recognized by schools and governments alike as there is increased emphasis on introducing STEM education in the early years to better prepare the workforce of the future. There are significant benefits to bringing activities in from kindergarten onwards. Not the least of which is that kids gain more than a basic theoretical understanding of the fields. They also get hands-on experience in applying them to project-based activities that keep them engaged. This early intervention also has a role in the soft skills that they will need in STEM careers, such as memory retention, language development, and collaboration.
Get Involved in Clubs
The classroom is not the only or indeed most important avenue to encourage STEM among youth. Part of the problem with some fields is that there can be too much of a focus on how it relates to their schooling and grades. As such, industry leaders should be seeking to get actively involved in activities that help young people to engage with the practical, fascinating, and fun sides of STEM. Often the best approach is through after-school clubs and activities.
Some of the potential routes here include:
Robotics Competition Clubs
In the U.S., the BEST Robotics competition sees teams provided with a scenario they have to solve using limited materials to build a robot that can take on the tasks. These clubs are not just building robots, but also spend months preparing by learning about the systems behind the technology: programming, engineering, and data analytics. Industry leaders should get involved with their local teams, sending company representatives to provide practical and educational guidance. These are opportunities not just to pass STEM skills to youth, but also to enlighten them about how these skills are used industrially and how they can present opportunities for careers.
Over the past decade or so, coding camps have risen to be a practical form of programming education. Rather than studying in the dry confines of computer science classrooms, these camps give attendees hands-on, project-based lessons in coding. They have been especially useful as a way to ensure that those students who are less able to proceed to higher education can gain the skills and occasionally certifications that can make them innovative contributors to STEM industries. As such, industry leaders should be instrumental in encouraging the operation of camps. They can provide instructors or guest visitors, and even fund scholarships for students from low-income and marginalized backgrounds.
Provide Mentors and Role Models
Activities and early intervention can get young people interested in STEM. However, what can really get them enthused and set on a career path is exposure to inspiring industry figures. Too often the idea of a job in STEM can be quite an abstract concept, but when you introduce a face, a personality, and a passion to the job description, this helps to make the path real and achievable.
This is especially important when it comes to addressing the gender and race gaps in STEM industries. Taking the aviation industry as an example, pilots — whose work bridges science and engineering — are frequently associated with being white males. Yet so many inspiring women shaped and influenced the path of aviation and by extension aerospace. In the past, there was not just Amelia Earhart, but also the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) of World War II. That said, it is still startling that there is a serious imbalance of female captains, pilots, and mechanics. Part of the problem is that women aren’t shown that they have a place in these roles, and there are too few visible role models that demonstrate that they can not only contribute but thrive.
As such, businesses in STEM industries need to not just ensure there are not just diverse contributors and leaders in their companies, but also that they are prominent. When conducting school visits, make sure that there are representatives that demonstrate their passion but also show a face other than those white male examples seen every day. Mentors are vital here, too. Often kids struggle to find a path because they don’t have access to mentors who understand the challenges they face. Make it part of your policy to train and provide diverse mentors to schools and universities, helping to drive the inclusivity that is both ethically sound and necessary for innovation.
In an increasingly technologically reliant world, there is a need for STEM-trained professionals. As such, industries and the community are active in capturing the enthusiasm of kids from an early age and supporting programs that help build their passion and interest in the fields. Importantly, there must be a focus on representative role models that can inspire diversity and create a healthy, vibrant landscape.