Global report

What influences early career talent into STEM, and how can employers attract the talent of the future?

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Personal preferences

STEM Job requirements

Entering the job market

Conclusion

Introduction

Global report

Introduction to the research

As a specialist STEM talent partner, we understand the skills gaps that are emerging within STEM around the world, from the green skills gap to employers seeking to build more inclusive workforces. There are many ways we can address these gaps, none more so than ensuring there is a pipeline of eager STEM talent ready to tackle the challenges of the future. Young professionals today will be the change-makers of tomorrow, but what interests them about STEM and why do they choose to study these fields?

About the research
About the report

About the research

To counterbalance our first piece of research ‘How the STEM world works’ aimed at understanding the needs and feelings of experienced STEM professionals, we ran the ‘STEM Youth survey’, in partnership with the 2021 Social Shifters Global Innovation Challenge partners. The goal of this research was to develop an understanding of the factors and challenges that influence young or early career talent in pursuing a career in STEM. We reached out to over 1,000 young individuals from around the world aged between 18-30.

About the report

This report outlines the global perceptions of STEM industries, and what influences young or early career talent in these fields. From important life goals, to why they chose a career in STEM, to their views on access and availability of STEM roles, we cover it all.

Personal preferences

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Early careerists and experienced professionals in STEM share similar reasons when choosing a career, as supported by the current ‘How the STEM world works’ research. Financial stability remains a top requirement for all STEM professionals, regardless of their career stage or location. However, those in Africa and Asia Pacific (APAC) region had a slightly stronger desire towards making a difference in the world, while US and European respondents leant more toward being financially secure. This could be down to the level of economic development of each of these regions where the More Economically Developed Countries (MEDC) seek financial outcomes first, but Less Economically Developed Countries (LEDC) look through a more altruistic lens.

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Individuals and investors actively seek greener, more inclusive and ethical choices in today's world. Our data shows this is no different to young people, where purpose is a recurring driver in career choice. However, whilst non-financial drivers primarily influence young people to pursue a STEM career, financial security is one of their most important life goals. This suggests that in early career stages, personal desire to learn and make a difference in the world is more important, but financial stability does play a part in the long-term.

Employers seeking to attract young talent should head this insight. It highlights the importance of communicating the right message to a younger audience through value and impact, with a view to the long-term outcomes or benefits.

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Respondents describe STEM fields positively using future-facing words. This sentiment is reinforced through our ‘How the STEM world works’ whitepaper, with experienced professionals stating they felt positive about the demand for their skills in their country or sector.

Regardless of career level, working at the intersection of in-demand skills within a changing society and economy provides a positive outlook on a STEM career.

STEM job requirements

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Overall, young STEM talent perceives various aspects of STEM more positively than negatively. The opportunity to make an impact and personal interest are the top aspects when considering a STEM role. Younger respondents aged 18-24 felt more positive about the potential to contribute to society, whereas ages 25-30 felt more positive towards the nature of the work itself.

While respondents to the survey were positive overall, they felt least positive about the equality of opportunity (71%) and work-life balance (70%) available in a career in STEM. Compared to our ‘How the STEM world works’ research, experienced STEM professionals can afford to play hardball at the negotiating table with employers to gain better or improved flexibility and work/life balance as their skills are in high demand. 

Unsurprisingly, those identifying as male and female had different views on the equality of opportunity: 74% vs 69%. But, once in their STEM career women were more positive towards opportunities available to them (+3%), even though women continue to be underrepresented with an estimated 35% of STEM students in higher education being women. The research suggests prior to entering the labour market, females feel less confident in securing a job, but this feeling slightly subsides when they are in the door.

Headshot of Maria Brown-Spence, ESG Community Director, SThree
"We are seeing STEM organisations becoming more active in their own programmes to attract and retain talented women. It may surprise entry-level talent to see the number of resources and programmes available to them within the STEM sectors like our Breaking the Glass programme in the US." Maria Brown-Spence, ESG Community Program Director, SThree
Learn more about Breaking the Glass
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All respondents agreed that the skills listed in the survey, such as interpersonal and communication, were important to entering STEM with. Leadership and management skills were least important, presumably due to repondents' current career stage. The expectation to manage or lead a team or project becomes more important the more responsibility you are given.

Critical thinking was ranked as the most important skill, reflecting STEM's highly technical aspects. A required level of understanding is needed to articulate opportunities and challenges across all fields and specialisms.

However, there were differences when the data was analysed at each career stage. Those interested in STEM perceived the technical skills as more important than critical thinking. Whereas those in STEM education or active in the jobs market felt critical thinking was most important. This discrepancy suggests a disconnect between perception and reality of necessary skills for entering the STEM market. As one develops in their specialist field, knowing how to evaluate and make decisions is key. Employers could do more to profile the specifics of a STEM job, what it entails beyond just the technical side, how a role adds value to an organisation and how critical thinking plays a crucial part in that process.

Entering the job market

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Education from skills and training is the most important factor in securing that first STEM role over internships and work experience, which ranked second. But, when asked what the main obstacle to finding a STEM job was, respondents indicated that not having practical or work experience was the top barrier. This is contradictory as individuals highlight they lack real-world experience but attributed being able to secure a job to their education.

This suggests it could be down to the advertisements or requirements of the jobs available not matching the actual role requirements or training provided as part of the role over time. The key point here is that both factors are important and mutually beneficial for young talent.

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Individual research is the predominant method used to find a job, followed by direction and support from trusty educational institutions as voted by respondents in Africa, APAC and Europe. Only respondents in the US felt that their education or training institution offered more support than the internet.

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Despite age, gender, career level or STEM specialism, having no practical or work experience was the main obstacle respondents faced when finding a role.

The exception again was US respondents, who state their main obstacle is meeting entry-level requirements or having the correct qualifications. The difference in perception may indicate US education institutions aren’t sufficiently equipping individuals with the necessary skills for the jobs related to their field of study. Or employers' requirements for STEM jobs are too high, or employers need the right person now and are, therefore, not prepared to take on new recruits that require training.

Regardless, this shines light on possible solutions to help close the gap, as a STEM employer offering internships or as institutions designing courses around the practical application of the work as found in the real world.

Conclusion

The world of work is changing, and the skills required to help close the gap are becoming a necessity to build the future we need. This research identifies several new perspectives from a younger demographic on STEM, how its perceived and the feelings towards the accessibility of jobs. Overall, there is more that employers and educational institutions can do to increase the transparency of STEM careers to different demographics to help build the future talent pipeline.

Matthew Blake Square
"Employers' EVP (Employee Value Proposition) needs to balance meaningful work, continuous learning, clear career pathways and the right rewards to attract and retain new talent. We hear new talent asking 'where is my next step on the career ladder?' and employers need a clear answer to that question." Matthew Blake, Chief People Officer, SThree

Experienced STEM specialists have uncovered through the changes in labour market conditions and scarcity of demand, they are able to leverage their professional value to gain better employment packages. And this, if they can get through the proverbial door, is a future young STEM talent can look forward to.

Discover other regional views

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United States report

What influences early career American talent into STEM, and how can employers in America attract the talent of the future?

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Asia Pacific report

What influences early career Asian talent in STEM, and how can employers in the Asia Pacific region attract the talent of the future?

Early-career STEM talent, huddled around mobile phone pointing at screen

African snapshot

What influences early career African talent in STEM, and how can employers in Africa attract the talent of the future?

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European report

What influences early career European talent into STEM, and how can employers in Europe attract the talent of the future?

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