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.
Top 3 factors influencing their decision to pursue a STEM career
- Personal interest in the subject matter
- An opportunity to make a difference
- Continuous learning and development opportunities.
Those aged 25-30 considered the attractiveness and growth potential of their industry similarly to continuous learning and development opportunities.
As well as this, female respondents felt more influenced by personal interest and the learning and development opportunities compared to males, who alongside personal interest were influenced by the growth opportunities of their industry
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.
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
When asked their feelings on how they view various aspects of STEM from job security, to flexible working to available opportunities, responses to aspects of STEM were more positive than negative
- 85% felt positive the work itself (interesting, challenging, etc)
- 84% positive of the potential to contribute to society
- 83% felt positive towards the opportunities for training and advancement
- 82% felt positive of STEM’s prospect of providing a secure job
- 81% felt positive of the international opportunities available
- 80% felt positive of the pay and compensation levels STEM offers
- 79% felt positive towards the prospect of doing project/contract work
- 76% felt positive towards the industry culture and values
- 74% felts positive towards the opportunity for flexible working
- 71% felt positive of the equality of opportunity provided
- 70% felt positive towards the work/life balance
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.
"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, SThreeLearn more about Breaking the Glass
To what extent do you agree the following skills are important to entering the STEM industry?
- 87% agreed critical thinking skills, e.g., evaluating facts making informed decisions were important
- 85% agreed technical skills were important
- 85% agreed that effective written and spoken communications skills were important
- 84% agreed well-developed math, analytical, or computer skills were important
- 83% agreed interpersonal skills to build relationships are required
- 79% agreed management or leadership skills were important
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
What is the single most important thing in getting your first STEM Job?
- 39% said skills and training acquired as part of my education
- 28% said internship or workplace experience
- 10% said academic performance
- 9% said help from career advisor or recruiter
- 8% said personal or family connections
- 7% said the reputation of the college or university I attend
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.
How helpful are each of the following sources when it comes to finding a STEM job?
- 86% found internet search helpful
- 85% found education/training institution helpful
- 79% found careers/job fairs helpful
- 72% found competitors and programmes helpful
- 70% found friends and relatives helpful
- 69% found recruitment service/labour contractors helpful
- 65% found advertisements (newspaper etc) helpful
- 55% found public employment offices helpful
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.
What if anything has been the single main obstacle to finding a job in STEM?
- 29% no practical or work experience
- 20% cant meet entry level/qualifications required
- 4% not enough jobs available
- 8% considered too young
- 8% discriminatory prejudices (e.g, disability, race, appearance, etc)
- 8% poor working conditions in available jobs
- 8% Low wages in available jobs
- 5% my gender
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.
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.
"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
United States report
What influences early career American talent into STEM, and how can employers in America attract the talent of the future?
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?
What influences early career African talent in STEM, and how can employers in Africa attract the talent of the future?
What influences early career European talent into STEM, and how can employers in Europe attract the talent of the future?
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