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Drawing the Connection Between Classroom and Careers

How to attract young people to STEM to fill the jobs of the future


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Despite the career prospects and obvious economic opportunity, not enough students are pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to fill open positions in the marketplace.

One challenge is that students don’t have a clear understanding of what STEM professionals do. A Randstad study found that 76 percent of middle and high school students are unsure about what engineers do and 52 percent say they don’t know someone with a job in STEM. Another challenge to keeping students engaged is how these topics are taught to the corresponding age group.

There is immense value in the bridging the gap between learning and the careers students could have in the future, many of which don’t even exist today, as well as how skills learned in the classroom apply to life after K-12.

At the heart of STEM subject matter is problem solving and processing skills that apply to everything young people do for the rest of their lives, in any number of careers. In addition, a large part of being a STEM professional is adapting to new technologies, identifying problems and coming up with creative, technology-driven solutions. We need to make sure we’re teaching and engaging young minds in a way that cultivates a passion for inquiry among students.

As teachers, parents, business and civic leaders, what can we do to encourage curiosity?

  • OFFER HANDS-ON EXPERIENCES

Students need the opportunity to get messy real-world applied STEM. Consider incorporating an online resources like UL Xplorlabs’ Fire Forensics module to give students an opportunity to step into the shoes of STEM professionals in a safe, exploratory way, that gives them choices about how to solve a problem.

  • HIGHLIGHT STEM CAREERS

Giving students the opportunity to meet and engage with STEM professionals gives them a better understanding of how the materials they are learning can be applied in future jobs and opens their eyes to how classrooms connect to work in the real world around topics they already care about Consider incorporating “STEM career day” for middle-school students to give them an opportunity to “look under the hood” at your company.

  • ENCOURAGE CURIOSITY
    Instill the passion of inquiry in students by allowing them to be curious about the world and find their own answers to problems. Let’s lead by example and discover with them. The next time a student or child asks a question that stumps you, try saying, “I don’t know.  Let’s find out together.”

Whether a student decides to pursue a career in STEM not, every student will need a fundamental level of technology competence and critical thinking skills in our technologically focused world. As the pace for STEM jobs continues to rise, it is critical we provide students with the opportunity to explore STEM topics and careers early on to help them see career paths for the future. 


Kelly Keena Phd, Blue Lotus Consulting & Evaluation and former science teacher/instructional coach.

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