Multiple academic studies have demonstrated that encouraging children to pursue a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) career gives them a distinct business advantage later in life. For generations, STEM education has remained an integral approach to learning and development, helping students develop the critical thinking tools that are vital to an ever-evolving world. In addition to the academic value it delivers for students, STEM contributes to creating essential roles and opportunities in the job market that drive the global economy.
Employment opportunities for STEM graduates
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance and value of STEM careers have only been further reinforced by shifts in the global economy and responsive technological advancements. According to STEMEducationGuide.com, a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, as of 2020, over 10.2 million people work in a STEM field in the United States, representing 6.6% of American jobs. STEM occupations have an average salary of $100,900, nearly double the national average for non-STEM positions.
As the world becomes increasingly digitalized and reliant on technology, the demand for STEM skills and careers is growing rapidly. As such, STEM students are invaluable to the economy and workforce. As technology continuously evolves, so does the job market as it adapts to advancements in every industry. New roles and positions are created to align with current technological innovations. STEM experts are instrumental in the design, development, and implementation of solutions to the world’s complex problems. According to Dell Technologies, professionals believe that 85% of STEM jobs that will be needed in 2030 don’t exist currently. Substantial changes in the field are right around the corner.
Challenges and the need for improvement
STEM students possess the knowledge necessary for driving innovation and economic growth. For this reason, it is important that they receive academic resources and opportunities that effectively promote the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Unfortunately, STEM education is currently facing challenges that could affect the success of skilled students around the globe.
Despite the incremental increase in women entering STEM fields, there are far fewer female workers in computing and engineering than men. According to the Pew Research Center, women earned 53% of STEM college degrees in the United States in 2018, but only 22% of those were in engineering and 19% in computer science. These two STEM fields, in particular, are dominated by male workers and lack gender diversity. At the same time, women greatly outnumber men in the world of healthcare. This is only the tip of the iceberg.
In addition to gender inequality, racial disparity is considerable. According to the STEM Education Guide, African American students earned a mere 7% of STEM degrees while Hispanic students earned 10%. The statistics are even worse for women of color. While the numbers for minorities with STEM careers are increasing, many groups are not strongly represented in the STEM workforce, showcasing a heavy lack of diversity within the field. Even though engineering is one of the most prominent STEM career paths, it remains dominated by white males with a severe underrepresentation of other races and ethnicities.
The lack of racial diversity can be attributed to a deficiency of academic opportunities for minorities and low-income families. Students coming from families with lower incomes are often restricted from certain opportunities and do not have the resources required to reach their full academic and professional potential. For this reason, STEM education suffers from an absence of student diversity spurred by financial burdens and obstacles. Therefore, it is crucial that STEM education receives proper funding and provides the career counseling programs necessary to help students from every representable community to thrive.
STEM and the future of the global economy
There is a common stigma toward the difficulty of STEM education that tends to discourage older students from pursuing the field. Experts agree that it is best to expose students to STEM learning at a young age. In fact, 80% of STEM students said their STEM career knowledge increased because of their afterschool childhood experiences, dedicating non-school hours to STEM-related learning and activities, according to STEMEducationGuide.com. For this reason alone, it is important for schools to support STEM-related programs and options for their youth.
Sufficiently preparing students for the road ahead not only ensures their success in thriving and lucrative fields, but it also supports the growth of the global economy. This can be accomplished by prioritizing early STEM exposure and funding the resources and opportunities necessary to increase gender, racial, ethnic, and economic diversity in the field.
The modern workforce relies on filling important roles in science and technology delivered by the skills and talents of proficient STEM graduates. The increasing number of STEM graduates entering the workforce is poised to help establish and retain economic sustainability. Without an increased focus on and support for STEM education and the success of its students, the global economy will suffer. It is crucial for educators to anticipate the global issues ahead and create an adaptive STEM curriculum that reflects a diverse and modern student body in today’s digital age.
Solongo Chuluunbaatar is an educator and researcher with a mathematics and science education background. Chuluunbaatar has authored a chapter in the book Women of Color in STEM: Navigating the Double Bind in Higher Education. For more information, contact email@example.com.