The U.S. has a shortage of tech workers and it’s up to schools and the upcoming generation of workers to help solve the problem, according to a recent study.
Staffing and consulting firm Randstad North America recently performed a survey among 1,000 11- to 17-year-old students and found there’s a misunderstanding of what STEM jobs are available. That, in turn, is making fewer kids and young adults interested in pursuing the field as a career later in life.
“Over half of the students (52%) say they don’t know anyone with a job in STEM, revealing broad unfamiliarity with STEM skills and misperceptions about where these skills can be applied,” the study says.
For instance, research suggests that as children grow older, they’re less likely to pursue the subjects. In fact, “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.”
Alan Stukalsky, chief digital officer at Randstad North America, tells CNBC Make It that there’s “a lack of education as to what careers are available and what jobs are out there.”
To get the next generation actively seeking jobs in STEM, they need to be shown interesting real-world applications — and it starts in schools, says Stukalsky.
“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,” he says in a statement.
As of 2016, the U.S. had roughly 3 million more STEM jobs available than it had skilled workers to fill them, according to Randstad data.
Teaching kids about the various real-life applications of STEM helps them determine if it’s a career choice to study. But many don’t realize that they find STEM jobs interesting in the first place.
Stukalsky says that students often describe jobs in STEM as “nerdy, boring and just sitting in front of a computer.” They think STEM jobs mostly mean becoming a mechanical engineer or computer engineer, he says, which aren’t seen as fun.
However, when students are told about STEM jobs such as website animator and video game creator, they become excited, he says.
In fact, 64 percent of students rate creating video games for a living as “very fun,” 54 percent think it would be “very fun” to earn a living working with marine life, and 86 percent say it would be “somewhat fun” to make websites for a career.
According to the survey, 56 percent of the students said knowing how STEM skills relate to the real world would make STEM classes more interesting. Schools “need to take a bigger role in helping,” he says. “It’s about connecting the dots.”
Stukalsky adds that changes to the field must also be inclusive of women. Why? The stereotype that “girls aren’t good at STEM” still exists.
According to the survey, girls are 34 percent more likely than boys to say that STEM jobs are hard to understand. Meanwhile, only 22 percent of young women name technology as one of their favorite subjects in school, compared with 46 percent of boys.
For the future, Stukalsky says it’s vital to teach the next generation about careers in STEM while they’re kids. “If you’re looking to move people into these careers at university age, it’s a bit late,” he says.
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