Young people's career choices are influenced by various factors including parents/families, who are often unaware of the diverse career options open to pupils who study STEM. The ASPIRES research found that: "most young people and their parents have a narrow view of where science can lead. The widespread view – that science qualifications lead primarily to a job as either a scientist, science teacher or doctor – is contributing to many young people seeing post-16 science qualifications as ‘not relevant for me’. Those young people who are aware of the transferability of science qualifications are more likely to aspire to STEM-related careers and/or plan to study science post-16." [ASPIRES Young people’s science and career aspirations, age 10 –14]
More diverse and compelling STEM images and stories are required in education and the mainstream media to help promote greater diversity in the STEM workforce and support inclusion. Key factors that emerged from the Invisible Witnesses project "point to a decline in many girls’ self-belief in their abilities in science, particularly the physical sciences, as they grow older and their rejection of the stereotypically masculine images of science and scientists as ones that they could espouse for themselves. The images of STEM that some girls (and some boys) are uncomfortable with appears to still be pervasive and does not evolve from the educational environment alone." [Whitelegg, E., Carr, J. and Holliman, R. (2013) Drawing on young people’s media literacy skills to explore gendered representations of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. (Research Briefing).]
The stereotypical images of STEM are not representative of the situation today where people frequently work in multidisciplinary teams across subject areas using cutting edge technologies. The Primary Futures project aims to "Redraw the Balance" and "widen the horizons and aspirations of primary school children by helping them make the connections between their learning and their futures." It is vital that the value of STEM qualifications is illustrated throughout the school years and more positive depictions of STEM introduced. Diverse STEM role models are needed to highlight the breadth of careers that studying STEM can lead to and their impact on society. The messages must permeate into the family in order to expand societies view of where studying STEM can lead and the flexibility it offers.
We live in a rapidly changing world where the jobs of tomorrow don’t exist today. People never know where their career may take them, but one thing is certain studying STEM will provide them with skills that are highly sought after by employers.
Individuals who have studied STEM are transforming nations; they are the ones: tasked with solving the problems encountered in the world today, making novel discoveries, creating the new technologies we come to rely on and, working hard to ensure its future. If young people remain unaware of where studying STEM can lead who will shape the future…