Survey reveals growing lack of interest in STEM careers among young people, especially girls

Lack of knowledge about how the STEM skills are applied add to misperceptions

Although children between the ages of 11 and 14 years old demonstrate a high level of interest and skills in STEM ­– science, technology, engineering and math – their interest dwindles as they get older, according to new research from Randstad, a global human resources firm.

The survey also revealed a gender gap. Girls are 34 percent more likely than boys to say that STEM jobs are hard to understand. Moreover, only 22 percent of young women name technology as one of their favorite subjects in school, compared to 46 percent of boys.

Fifty-six percent of young people 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,” concluded 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.

The misperception has created a serious economic problem, he added, because many jobs today require STEM competencies.

Other key findings:

• 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 such as Instagram (40 percent) and Coca-Cola (26 percent). 

Also, 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.

The online survey was conducted in the United States between July 20 and July 30, 2015 among 1,000 11- to 17-year-old students. 

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