Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) are an important part of the Irish economy, which will continue to grow and play a fundamental role in Ireland’s future economic success. STEM also provides some of the most exciting and fulfilling careers available.
Demand for positions in these areas will increase to meet the ever growing needs of our modern society. Without STEM, our economy just won’t function as well as it possibly could.
Europe is facing a shortage of scientists, engineers and people with technology qualifications. Opportunities exist for Irish students with STEM career prospects in an increasing number of diverse positions and sectors and STEM graduates can command attractive salaries, benefits and travel opportunities.
84% of Irish STEM students are extremely positive that they will get a job they enjoy after college, with 80 new jobs per week being announced in the technology sector alone.
For many students and parents, there is still a stigma attached to STEM subjects in school, which can be portrayed as being more difficult than other subjects on the curriculum. Other myths include STEM subjects being boring and irrelevant.
There is a major need to debunk these misconceptions and supply students with the correct information, so that they can make well informed decisions about future careers. Some of the most common misconceptions regarding STEM include:
- STEM classes are too difficult
STEM classes are often perceived as being more difficult than other subjects not only by students but also by parents, who want to ensure their child’s maximum possibility of achieving good grades. Sometimes challenges student face with STEM subjects is often more to do with the way the subject is taught, rather than the course content itself.
The modern introduction of more interactive teaching tools brings these dynamic subjects to life allowing students to relate to this subjects in a ‘real-world’ context. When students also get a chance to engage in hands-on science and engineering, they can see that the real-life application of the subject, making it easier to relate to and inspiring and motivating them to go further.
- STEM subjects are for boys only
This remains one of the key misconceptions around STEM subjects. Although the STEM workforce is crucial to our innovative and economic growth, women are underrepresented. This may be due to a number of factors including lack of female role models and gender stereotyping.
This perception can occur due to the common misconception that all engineering roles require some form of heavy labour. Myths like these are discouraging girls into STEM careers but major opportunities are now plentiful as employers see the need for more women in STEM not only for reasons of fairness and equity but out of innovation and economic necessity.
- STEM careers lack creativity
STEM careers require lots of creativity and innovation and are centered on resolving problems with imaginative solutions. Albert Einstein stated that ‘The greatest scientists are artists as well.’ Without creative and imaginative thinking, STEM would not be fulfilling its role.
- Ever growing opportunities
Employment in STEM occupations is predicted to grow almost two times faster than the average for other occupations. To give an example of the increasing demand for STEM graduates, the European Union states a current shortage of over half a million Information and Communications Technology (ICT) workers in Europe.
- Competition for jobs is decreasing
The number of STEM graduates in the EU has fallen to 17% putting Europe behind China, India and Japan. The EU continues to struggle to attract highly skilled graduates from outside the EU, indicating a less competitive environment for potential STEM professionals.
- STEM opens many doors
STEM skills are now crucial to the modern world and are vital to Ireland’s innovative capability and global competitiveness. This will continue to grow as new technologies such as renewable energy and nanotechnology play an ever increasing role in today’s society.
With many of the top ten technology, pharmaceutical, medical devices and financial services companies in the world located here, STEM graduates in Ireland have a host of industries and sectors open to them.
- Problem solving: Being able to identify problems, design studies to gather data, collect and organise data, draw conclusions and apply what they have learned to novel situations.
- Innovation: Recognising challenges or gaps in the market, then creatively designing, testing and implementing solutions to solve them.
- Self-reliance and independent thinking: being able to use initiatives and self-motivation to work alone, develop and gain self-confidence, and work within a time limit.
- Logical thinking: Being able to apply the rational thought processes of design to innovation and invention.
- Technological literacy: Understanding and explaining the nature of technology, developing the skills they need and applying technology appropriately.
In a recent survey conducted by SFI, 51% of students stated that they were influenced by their parents when it came to picking a college course and that parents had advised them to choose courses that would suit their personalities.
Parents and guardians have three important roles in helping their child consider a career in STEM:
The first role is to help challenge misconceptions about STEM. This is important as stereotypes can prevent students from realising that STEM careers offer a role for everyone. Sites such as Smart Futures provide real-life career stories which demonstrate how people from all backgrounds are involved in STEM courses and careers. By going to STEM-related events (such as Science Week shows for example) you can help to introduce your children to real people that work in these areas and start to change their perceptions - check out the STEM listings poster in the Resources section for an example of what's going on across Ireland.
The second step is to help teenagers open their eyes to the vast choice of exciting career paths and opportunities in the STEM sector. Make sure you are comfortable with college websites and other important sites such as Qualifax.ie and the CAO website. Familiarise yourself with all avenues including alternative entry routes into courses, such as PLCs. It is also important to help your child attend college open days so they can gain a better understanding of what each third-level institute offers.
Getting involved with your child’s school work not only helps you identify your child’s development but also gives you an insight into their curriculum.
Attend science and engineering festivals and events - there are many free activities and clubs all over the country for students to get involved in. See our STEM listings poster in the resources section to see what is happening in your area.
Finally, encourage students to explore these opportunities so they can make informed choices for their future. Make sure you know what subjects your child is interested in and also their strengths and capabilities.
For additional support on using these steps visit the Smart Futures website regularly to read new STEM career stories which descripe a typical day, necessary qualifications and career advice. By following each of these steps, you will allow your child to make an informed decision free from misconceptions and stereotypes.
Women and girls are still vastly underrepresented in STEM subjects today. In Europe, 55% of all students are female, but only 37% of students enrolled in the science, mathematics and computing fields are women. However, this does not mean STEM is a men-only career option.
This issue is a cultural one and recent research has shown yet again that biology has nothing to do with the lack of women involved in STEM. As Professor Gina Rippon of Aston University states “We really cannot afford to sit back and accept the view that girls are not going to be interested in science subjects."
A recent survey found that 80% of girls and 83% of young women* believe there is a lack of high profile female role models in STEM sectors, which in inevitably fuels the low uptake of STEM subjects by girls at an early age.
Smart Futures provides relevant real world examples of women in STEM courses and jobs who are thriving in their chosen career paths. This system allows women and girls to connect and relate to women in STEM, thus creating the vital role models necessary for increasing girls’ interest and uptake in STEM subjects. This is evident by the fact that 78% of teachers still hold the belief that careers in nursing, beauty, hairdressing and child care are careers that appeal exclusively to girls while engineering, game/app development and science are careers that appeal exclusively to boys.
Again, going to STEM-related events (such as Engineers Week talks/workshops for example) you can help to introduce your daughter to female role models that work in these areas and start to change their perceptions - check out the STEM listings poster in the Resources section for an example of what's going on across Ireland and encourage their teachers to avail of our free STEM career talks.
*Survey conducted by Accenture in 2013.
Due to the current shortage of suitably qualified STEM graduates, both in Ireland and Europe, the demand for these graduates is high. STEM graduates can choose an area they feel is best suited to them while making a positive difference to society.
Science is one of the key sectors in Ireland that has continued to thrive despite the economic downturn. With 16 of the world’s top 20 biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies operating in Ireland, now is the ideal time to consider a career in this rapidly-growing sector. Companies and institutions in Ireland and around the world are investing more in research and development than ever before.
Many technology jobs are in the field of IT (Information Technology). However, technology is not constrained to positions in IT and many opportunities are available to students who complete a degree in a technology based programme. Such positions include a programmer, a web developer, a games developer, a software engineer and a multimedia producer.
There is currently an abundance of employment opportunities for students that have gained a relevant engineering degree. Such opportunities include careers in the biomedical sector, the manufacturing sector, the aeronautics sector, the IT sector and many more.
Mathematics provides pathways into a various number of college courses and career paths. Completing a degree in mathematics can lead to exciting prospects in statistics, data analysis, cybersecurity, aeronautics and more. The studying of mathematics can lead to a variety of exciting opportunities that students may not be aware of, despite the high number of interesting careers available through this subject.
If your child has an aptitude and interest in one of the STEM areas, there is much you can do to guide and nurture this interest.
An important aspect to note here is that, whatever career path your child decides on, a greater understanding of STEM subjects will better equip them for adult life, especially with the rapid pace of technological advancement in today’s world.
Check out our parent's guide below and get involved in the many free science, technology, engineering and maths festivals, events and activities happening all over the country.
Check out a new science-comedy quiz called Eureka! on RTE or the RTE show for teens 'Insiders' which investigates lots of cool science, technology and engineering experiments and research that shows students just how exciting and diverse the world of STEM can be!
Be sure to encourage your teens to explore the many different STEM career paths mapped here - from biotechnology to data analyst, to electronic engineering and much, much more!