Is STEM running out of steam?

Has STEM, which the business community urged school districts to embrace, been oversold as a career path?

August 13, 2018 |

A study by Junior Achievement USA and Ernst & Young inferred that the dearth of mentors could be why teenage boys are losing interest STEM careers. Junior Achievement USA

In 2011, the Commerce Department’s Economics and Statistics Administration, using Bureau of Labor Statistics employment projections, predicted that STEM-related occupations would expand by 17% from 2008 through 2018, compared to 9.8% growth for all non-STEM jobs during that same period.

Educators certainly bought into that projection, based on the increasing number of school districts across America whose high schools now offer STEM and STEAM courses or have built separate academies for these disciplines.

But has STEM, which the business community urged school districts to embrace, been oversold as a career path? Education Week magazine asked that very question in May 2018, and concluded, based on its own reporting and research, that while the government’s forecasting was basically on target, its inference that there’s this expanding pipeline of primed high school students itching to pursue STEM as a college major or career choice is “more nuanced” than the Commerce Dept.’s prognostications might suggest.

Around the same time that EdWeek published its findings, Junior Achievement USA and Ernst & Young released the results of a survey of 1,000 13- to 17-year-old students, conducted online in late February and early March, which uncovered a notable drop off—to 24%, from 37% in 2017—in the number of boys who said they wanted a STEM career. Girls’ interest in STEM remained unchanged, at 11%.

Ed Grocholski, Junior Achievement’s Senior Vice President-Brands, wasn’t completely surprised by the survey’s results, which he attributes, in part, to a lack of exposure that students have to STEM-related employees and fields. Conversely, the number of teens interested in medical or dental careers increased to 19% from 15%, with girls more likely to choose that path.

“Those professions are tangible to teens, and are something they can relate to, because they’ve either gone to a doctor or dentist, or have seen them on TV,” says Grocholski. He adds that teens are interested in professions they think will help people, like education, public service, law enforcement,
and the military.

Junior Achievement has been trying to fill the mentoring gap with volunteers who serve as role models. But he admits that such efforts “sometimes forget about the inspiration part.”

The takeaway for AEC firms, he says, is to get more involved in talking about their industry to youngsters, because “outside of TV, kids aren’t paying attention, even though a lot of STEM might actually coincide with their interests.”

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