United States report

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

Early-career employees huddling around a laptop smiling

Is the future female?

Framing flexibility

Providing support that has an impact

Conclusion

Introduction

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Highlights

67%

Views on flexible working

67% feel positive that STEM industries can deliver flexible working options (-7% from the global average). This is especially felt in engineering fields.

64%

Gender perceptions

64% feel positive about the equality of opportunities available within STEM (-6% from the global) – but there’s a significant disconnect between those identifying as male and female: 73% vs 57%. And once in their STEM careers, female's negativity increases, dropping to 56%.

88%

Helpful sources of information

88% of respondents rely on their schools and colleges for guidance and help to secure their first STEM role (+11% from the global).

Introduction

In 2021, specialist STEM talent accounted for approximately 23% of the total US workforce, and by 2024 it is expected that the US will see a 24% increase in the demand for STEM professionals compared to 2018, according to a report by global management consultancy McKinsey.

The STEM Youth survey, in partnership with Social Shifters, looked at the factors and challenges influencing young or early career talent in pursuing a STEM career in the US.

Suvey demographics

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Gender

Male: 51%

Female: 45%

Prefer not to say: 4%

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Age

18-24: 48%

25-30: 52%

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Field of study or interest

Engineering: 20%

Technology (computer science and data): 32%

Sciences (life sciences, biology, chemistry and physics): 38%

Mathematics, finance and statistics: 11%

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Qualification level

High school: 14%

Bachelor or undergraduate degree: 57%

Maters or postgraduate degree: 23%

Doctoral studies: 4%

Early career STEM talent in the US chose to work or study in these fields primarily because of their interest in the subject. Second to this is the potential to achieve high earnings. When asked how they’d describe STEM, the top three responses were innovative, important and changing. Compared to the global view, US respondents selected 'changing' as their 3rd choice instead of 'exciting'. Is this difference in feeling the result of the recent years and its subsequent effect on the changing nature and importance of STEM work in the US?

One could argue that early STEM talent are aware that the importance of their roles and the challenges their skills tackle continue to change and grow in importance. The pandemic, war in Ukraine, energy crisis as well as the societal and economic shift coined ‘The Great Resignation’ by Anthony Klotz, are highlighting to this demographic that their future world of work is changing at a rapid pace. So, perhaps it is no surprise that STEM careers are closely associated with financial goals given their ability to solve some of the world’s greatest problems.

Three ways respondents believe employers and other interested parties can attract those interested or already in STEM education into the scarce jobs of the future were by understanding the perceptions of young women in STEM, what it truly means to be flexible and how early employers can support early STEM talent into jobs.

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Is the future female?

Key statistic: 64% feel positive about the equality of opportunities available within STEM 4 (-6% from the global) – but there’s a significant disconnect between those identifying as male and female: 73% vs 57%. And once in their STEM careers this negativity increases, dropping to 56%.

Many students feel positive about the opportunities for career development within STEM. But, this differs between males and females. Females feel less positive about the equality of opportunities in the US than males. Educational institutions and/or employers seeking to tap into all-important diverse early career talent need to think more about how they can better support this demographic in education and their first role.

Gemma Branney - Head of ESG
“Ensuring that we place candidates from diverse backgrounds is critical to the future success of the employers we work with and for us, this is one of the reasons behind our Breaking the Glass initiative.” Gemma Branney, Head of ESG, SThree

Interestingly the respondents from our whitepaper aimed at experienced STEM professionals were a largely male sample. The results indicated that more women entering STEM professionals could significantly close the skills gap. So while there is work to do, it is an encouraging thought that we had more female responses to our STEM Youth survey.

In the US, we’re trying to help build talent pipeline for the future through our community programs. Breaking the Glass helps create opportunities for females in tech, and STEM Equity Coalition drives equality in STEM career pathways for underrepresented people.

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Framing flexibility

Key statistic: 67% feel positive that the industries can deliver flexible working options (-7% lower from the global). This is especially felt in engineering fields.

Young talent felt positive about the international opportunities STEM jobs can offer but felt less positive than the global average about industries being able to deliver flexible working options. US employers must be clear about what flexibility entails for the different STEM fields to attract young, sought-after talent.

Established STEM professionals reinforce this statement. They believe flexibility is nearly as important as the salary/rate or benefits package offered, as highlighted in our ‘How the STEM world works’ research. So framing what flexibility means, what flexible options are available, or what else is offered as compensation for specific STEM roles is now crucial.

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Providing support that has an impact

Key statistic: 88% of respondents rely on their schools and colleges for guidance and help in securing their first STEM role, and for those in STEM the support has made an impact, as the percentage of those who found this help critical to securing a job was rated consistently high by 88% of respondents, (+11% higher from the global).

Support from US educational institutions positively affected students' perception of STEM and their ability to secure a job.

Compared to the global view, which is a little less positive, the robustness of the college systems and/or focus on STEM subjects is providing the right environment for young people to excel in their STEM careers. Through our STEM Equity Coalition partners, we’re also seeing several STEM non-profits investing in nurturing diverse talent into employment.

Headshot of Maria Brown-Spence, ESG Community Director, SThree
"Through the STEM Equity Coalition we are helping to drive equality in STEM careers, to change the career pathways for underrepresented people, and aim for a truly equal and diverse workforce" Maria Brown-Spence, ESG Community Program Director, SThree

US students indicated that having no practical work or experience was their main obstacle when securing a job. However, compared to the global view, they felt less strongly about this, suggesting confidence in the US education system. Educators seem to provide support and programs of study designed to leave students feeling so well equipped that having no work or practical experience isn’t necessary to attract employers.

When asked what support they needed to find a job, one respondent answered, “Internships, fellowships and other safe programs for exploring a career option while being paid and still learning.” Paying students for their time makes internships and work experience a fair and equitable source of development, accessible to all. Educational bodies and employers could supercharge potential by offering relevant, paid work experience on top of a first-rate education.

Conclusion

In the US, STEM is seen to provide a career that delivers development, security and opportunities. The US education system is a sound source of guidance that actively bolsters students entering STEM careers.

Offering practical experience through paid internships or placements remains critical for prospective employers wanting to attract STEM talent. Some feel they can’t progress into the career they want without this support.

Once in STEM, flexible working options need to be clearly articulated, or employers risk losing out on the specialist skills they seek.

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