It seems that everywhere people are talking or writing about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), and the need for qualified workers to fill a growing number of jobs now and in the near future. Yet, surprisingly, 90% of high school students say that are not interested in pursuing a career or college major involving STEM, according to a survey of a million-plus students who take the ACT exam. That is concerning since, in just five short years, it is estimated that there will be 2.4 million STEM job openings.
Why isn’t STEM top of mind among the next generation of workers? Is it that schools are simply teaching students in an unappealing manner, favoring textbooks over experiential learning or because they aren’t aware of the variety of jobs and careers that are available in the STEM world?
To find out what high school students really think about STEM subjects, we reached out to over two dozen teens (ages 13 – 17) nationwide. When asked what makes their favorite subjects exciting, the top three responses were: teacher (76%), hands-on projects (72%) and discovering something unknown/new (72%). At the bottom was working independently (8%). When reviewing their answers, it seems as though “nobody wants to be taught, but everyone wants to learn.” When teachers or guidance counselors discuss STEM, it becomes more of a command — a big turn-off for teenagers. Companies that want to engage teens can tap into their excitement and make them fans (and possible future employees) for life.
The following tactics can excite the teenage demographic while also giving them the power to choose their own future:
Introduce the World of STEM
When asked to name the STEM subjects their school currently offers, the majority of respondents listed traditional courses in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, statistics, chemistry, biology, and physics. Only one-quarter of respondents noted computer science, game technology and engineering. These offbeat, lesser-known STEM subjects are extremely attractive to teens. Several participants expressed, “I love learning about the latest technology” and “I wish they offered more things that could help me decide on a potential major or career as opposed to the basic general courses they offer.” Case in point: STEM Flix, a video series provided by the Northrop Grumman Foundation and Science Bob (a noted educator and STEM ambassador) explain the different applications of science, technology, engineering and math in careers as well as everyday life by showing students the importance of STEM through mediums are that are both educational and interactive.
Provide Engaging Opportunities
When asked about the kind of learning they enjoy most, 88.8% of survey respondents cited hands-on projects, while 66.7% said, discovering something unknown. One teen said that, “… a long term [collaborative] project where we can design and make a product that would better people’s lives and the world,” while another stated that she would like to see a class with “a mix of lecture classes and hands-on activities. Less note-taking and [more] interesting projects.” Texas Instruments and the National Academy of Sciences’ Science and Entertainment Exchange take a creative approach to STEM education. Both initiatives give educators new, free tools to immerse students in these critical fields using Hollywood as a backdrop, which blends learning with entertainment.
Corporate Mentorship Program
Perhaps one of the most powerful ways for companies to groom their next generation of qualified workers is to mentor and inspire them. These programs give kids the opportunity to apply their STEM studies in a manner that “relates to the real world in many ways [and gives the opportunity to] solve real world problems,” as one student noted. General Motors’ GM Global Rivers Environmental Education Network program (GM GREEN), in partnership with Earth Force’s Youth Engagement Partnership is sponsored by local GM plants and sends employees into local schools to teach students that science is real life and not just something talked about in the classroom. "… We engage our own employees while working with students and teachers in real life laboratories…,” explains-Michael J. Robinson, vice president of sustainability and global regulatory affairs for General Motors.
Companies that can engage and excite teens about STEM, have a golden opportunity to create a friendlier and more accessible atmosphere that teens will be eager to enter on their own. Is your company involved in STEM? Email me directly or post your comments here!