In recent years, there's been a lot of debate in both the education sphere and the business world about the lack of individuals interested in STEM. Shorthand for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM is a very important block of academic subjects that has always played a significant role in shaping the future, and a shortage of candidates could potentially impede scientific and technological progress.
Some experts believe that the shrinking pool of STEM talent starts in schools, where students aren't given a comprehensive enough curriculum or the proper motivation to excel in these subjects. But others believe that circumstances outside the classroom are really contributing to this perceived absence of qualified workers.
"The problem is that there's a shortage of educators and technology leaders helping talented individuals connect with employers," said Ryan Carson, co-founder and CEO of tech skills education platform Treehouse."Education alone won't be enough to fill the projected 1 million U.S. tech jobs expected to be created over the next six years. Individuals need job placement assistance, connections to hiring managers, and mentoring and training on how to find and market themselves for technology jobs."
The real reasons behind the talent wars probably lie somewhere in the middle of these two ends of the spectrum. But there are still many common misconceptions that steer students and recent grads away from STEM careers. Here are five myths you shouldn't believe about getting and working in a tech-related job. [The 10 Fastest-Growing STEM Jobs]
Your career options are limited to the one area of STEM you studied. Grade-school students are usually exposed to science and mathematics as a standard part of their curriculum, but once they reach college, interested students will have to choose a particular area on which to focus. Marie Planchard, director of education community at 3D software application company Dassault Systèmes, discourages students from believing that they can only apply for and get jobs directly related to their field of study.
"STEM-based careers give you more options than most career paths, but the misconception is that you're limited to strictly one of the four areas," Planchard said. "Once given the fundamentals, skills and reasoning, and an enhanced general ability to solve problems, they can be applied to realistically any field."
Tech employers require a degree in a STEM subject. If you have an interest in technology but don't hold a degree in computer science or engineering, don't think you can't get a job in a STEM field. Carson noted that many in-demand tech jobs today can be filled by nondegree holders: USA Today reported that among the eight most popular STEM jobs that don't require a college degree, six paid more than the national annual average wage of $45,230.
Women just don't want STEM careers. It's no secret that women are severely underrepresented in STEM fields. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics put the percentage of women in computer- and math-related jobs at less than 30 percent. But do female workers really not want STEM careers? Planchard believes that cultural factors and women's upbringing influence their interest or disinterest in tech from a very young age.
"A woman's decision to become involved in STEM-related fields happens when [she] truly begins playing with and understanding toys and developing creative energy," Planchard said. "Too often we drive girls to play with toys that subconsciously are pushing them away from STEM, but STEM needs to be an area where young girls can begin to bring more of that creative energy.With 50 percent or more of young girls deciding by fourth grade that they don't want to explore STEM, this leaves [tech] companies with less of a talent pool to choose from."
You'll learn everything you need to know in school. Learning doesn't end when you graduate, and this is especially true for STEM workers. These individuals must keep up with the latest technologies and research to stay at the top of their field, and relying only on your formal education won't do you any favors several years from now when that information is outdated.
"[What's] required to hold a computer science job is the determined, enthusiastic mastery and continuous upkeep of a skill set, like writing code," Carson told Business News Daily. "These skills can easily be acquired through affordable and accessible online learning programs, like Treehouse and Codecademy."
"Students must be enthusiastic to both learn and change," Planchard added. "Whatever you learn today is going to be different in a few years and you have to be willing to adapt and keep learning to find that balance."
An interest in STEM comes later in life. As Planchard said, a young girl can be influenced to pursue STEM subjects just through the toys she plays with as a child. The same principle of early encouragement applies to students across the board, regardless of sex.
"Start early," Carson said. "By creating a fun, hands-on, educational technology experience at an early age, it's easier to spur curiosity among young minds and empower youth to pursue high-paying careers in technology."
Originally published on Business News Daily.