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STEM Career Myth-Busting: 5 Common Misconceptions

According to a recent study by the Social Market Foundation and EDF, science, research, engineering and technology jobs are expected to grow twice as quickly as all other occupations between now and 2023 meaning roughly 142,000 new jobs, all within STEM-related industries. 

The study, released last year and called ‘Jobs of the Future’, was commissioned with the aim to help change the perception of STEM careers, and promote more inspiring pathways for young people to consider.

Unfortunately, we know that for many careers advisors there is still a long way to go to bridge the gap between how young people are educated about different STEM careers, the ideas that many parents and young people hold about STEM, and the reality of the current developments in this career area. From an economy perspective, there are concerns that the shortage of skilled candidates the industry is already experiencing will continue, and has the real potential to impede on scientific and technological progress.

There are a variety of reasons that steer young people and graduates away from careers within STEM, and there are a lot of misconceptions and myths that surround the industry. One of the ways careers advisors can overcome this is by educating themselves around what the common misconceptions are, and passing that education onto students so they can make more informed decisions and career choices.

To help you out, we thought we’d collate the five most common STEM career myths that we’ve stumbled across here at Springpod. Alongside the myths, we outline ways that you can combat them.

Myth One: You can only work in the STEM area that you studied in

Many young people feel that their career options are limited to the area of STEM in which they have focused their studies on, but this isn’t necessarily the case.

The world of work is continually changing, and employers are more focused on the transferable skills and mindsets that young people can bring to the table. Reed, the recruitment and career giant, asked thousands of employers what they really look for in a new employee. When asked if they would choose a candidate with the right mindset, but a lower skillset or a candidate with the right skill set but a poor mindset, 96% of employers picked mindset over skill set. 98% also said they would be confident in helping someone with the right mindset to develop the right skill set in their job.

This is especially true within STEM. The core fundamentals and skills that are developed within, say mathematics, including reasoning, enhanced fault finding and problem-solving, and these are just as applicable within a career in bioengineering.

One in five students fear that they have made the wrong choice when picking subjects to pursue in further and higher education, and the impact this may have on their future career ideas. Offering reassurance that the skills they develop are applicable across a range of STEM careers, can help them feel more confident about their choices and give them a broader perspective on where their studies can take them.

Myth Two: You can’t get a job in STEM without a Phd

STEM careers are enshrouded in this idea that they’re only for the top of the class. The ‘Einstein’ students, who get straight A’s and go on to pursue academia in the highest of orders; a Phd.

This myth is worth debunking with students. STEM pathways are not reserved solely for those who might be future Nobel Prize contenders – they’re for every student who has an interest in any of the four key areas! No matter what academic pathway they choose.

Mention apprenticeships and most people will think of the staple carpenter and electrician roles that this pathway has typically been geared toward, but times are definitely changing. The apprenticeship landscape is quickly taking note of the fact that STEM is a massive sector that fits nicely into the ‘earn-while-you-learn’ ethos including apprenticeship roles as a:

  • Laboratory Chemical Scientist
  • Medical Laboratory Technician
  • Aerospace Engineer
  • Forensic Scientist
  • Environmental Science Researcher

It’s important to make sure students know that there are many different, completely viable pathways into a STEM career at various academic levels.

Myth Three: Girls aren’t interested in STEM careers

It’s no secret that women are massively underrepresented across the breadth of STEM industries; we covered some of the statistics in our previous article which you can read here.

Whether through societal norms, parental guidance, or unconscious bias within schools, girls have been steered away from STEM for too long. Marie Planchard, director of education community at 3D software application company Dassault Systèmes, says:

“A woman’s decision to become involved in STEM-related fields happens when she truly begins playing with and understanding toys and developing creative energy. Too often we drive girls to play with toys that subconsciously are pushing them away from STEM, but STEM needs to be an area where young girls can begin to bring more of that creative energy.”

Thankfully we’re starting to see this change in leaps and bounds. With greater awareness, and the rise of organisations like WISE campaigning for greater access and promotion of STEM to young girls, the issue is attracting a lot of attention and encouraging an industry shift.

The key thing here for careers advisors is to make sure they’re backing these campaigns, and building a positive culture for girls to not only get access to STEM careers education, but to feel invited, included and welcome in the process.

Myth Four: STEM careers are all boring research and laboratory jobs

It’s no secret that the way STEM subjects are taught are not well received across many young people. With the view that they’re ‘boring’, and many of the careers that follow on from the subjects are equally dull, it can be difficult to convince students that there’s more to a career in STEM than what they’re provisionally led to believe in the classroom. Diane Tomlinson, Human Resources director for Mondelez International, adds:

“It’s dispiriting to hear that young people are intimidated by STEM subjects as jobs in STEM can be hugely fun, creative and inspiring, and companies offer great career opportunities with training provided in the more technical aspects.” 

We know that there is so much more to STEM careers than being stuck in research and a laboratory. A quick look through the available entry careers and apprenticeships in STEM with the Ministry of Defence should be enough to convince anyone of that. For careers advisors, debunking this myth is about showcasing the wide breadth of careers available, and the variety of employers offering them. A mix of activities, visits and information days can really help to crack this wide open for students – employer-engagement activities are also a great way to inspire your students.

Myth Five: Most STEM jobs will move to automation anyway in the next few years

Well, if this one were true then we wouldn’t be worried about the huge skills shortage in the industry and how we’re going to address it… Despite the regular news articles telling us that the robots are on their way and automation is nigh, there has never been more scope for carving out a successful career – especially in STEM.

It’s true that automation is redefining key areas of work and some roles are more at risk of that impact than others. The ‘Future of Employment’ study by Oxford University found that jobs such as telemarketers, tax preparers and fast food cooks are some of the highest at risk, but it also found that automation is creating new areas of work too.

The ‘Jobs of the Future’ report we referenced at the start of this article goes on to highlight key areas of job creation, and new job roles that could be created through greater automation, including:

  • Computer Coders and Programmers
  • Geotechnical Design Engineers
  • Intelligence Consultants
  • Robotics Engineers
  • Data Scientists

The truth is, we don’t and won’t know exactly how automation is going to continue to shape the world of work. What we do know is that it is creating just as many new opportunities as the naysayers are saying it is wiping out. The key is to educate young people to stay positive, think creatively and explore what their options are.

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Are these misconceptions ones you’re hearing in the classroom? Or perhaps they’re misconceptions you yourself have been thinking? We hope this article has helped to shed a little light on why they are misconceptions, and how you can start turning them around when speaking to colleagues, young people and parents too.

Elaine Mead

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