Two key focuses of my blog are Career Discussions and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). While we’re encouraging participation in the STEMs today, there are potential challenges in the sector going forward which we must also be aware of. The following contributed post is entitled, Challenges Facing The STEM Sector.
* * *
Without a thriving STEM sector, it is hard for a nation to rise and meet its obligations and challenges for the future. Considering that STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, it’s easy to see just how much of what goes into building a country falls under that banner. Then, consider that (before Coronavirus hit, throwing all future plans into chaos), the USA is on target to have 2million STEM jobs unfilled from the 3.5million that it needs to source by 2025. America needs to work on its STEM shortage; so what can be done?
It seems clear that something needs to be done. 2025 isn’t some mythical far-off future; it’s five years away. STEM, by any reckoning, is a field from which we get doctors, pharmacists, engineers of all kinds and programmers, along with a great many other occupations. If there is a reluctance among younger people to focus on STEM subjects, and a lack of aspiration towards careers in the sector, what does the future hold for all of these industries?
There is a significant gender gap in STEM industries
It is easy to point fingers and find explanations for a shortfall of women in the STEM workforce, and yet… the key fact is that the industries are not attracting anywhere near as many young women as they need to be. At the crucial ages of 15-16 – just as they are starting to focus closely on what they’ll be doing at college – just 20% of girls have a positive impression of engineering jobs. Other numbers suggest that as many as three-quarters of school-age kids don’t understand what STEM careers entail – so creating the conditions to change this is an essential first step.
Concerningly, the reputation of science fields at academic institutions is not great from an equalities point of view, with women on campus reporting a pervasive culture of sexual harassment.
Less inward immigration means fewer overseas experts
Regardless of one’s political standpoint, it is necessary to point out that you can either have a world-leading STEM sector at all levels or a country that applies harsh limits on immigration. You cannot have both, and the numbers of H-1B visas being issued is trending downwards in all sectors – including to STEM graduates. This, according to experts in the field, is inevitably handing advantages to other countries – notably China which is home to 4.7 million graduates in the field, compared to America’s 560,000 as of 2016.
The term STEM is often poorly-defined
Who works in STEM, in your opinion? A few occupations were named above and, for sure, doctors and engineers are certainly STEM experts. Anyone getting in touch with LOC Scientific for essential lab equipment, or researching potential cures for illnesses like the one sweeping the planet right now is also a STEM worker. So, too, is any architect or therapist – and the lack of clarity over the definition of such a vital term could be overall off-putting for people who think about the whole sector as having to do with bubbling flasks and test-tubes. Perhaps, more than anything else, what STEM needs in the next five years is a rebrand.