With the CAO deadline of 1 February looming, Science Foundation Ireland has urged students and their parents to consider the broad spectrum of career and life opportunities STEM offers.
In particular SFI, which is the leading science authority in Ireland, urged those considering their CAO applications to avoid ruling out science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) courses simply because of misperceptions or stereotypes.
Despite the evidence of thousands of available well-paying jobs with international travel opportunities, and the success of entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg, there is still a disconnect because parents buy into ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ stereotypes and still think about the dot.com bust of 14 years ago.
And the question of whether career guidance teachers, students and parents have enough information to inform them of opportunities a STEM education offers, SFI has instigated the Smart Future Programme, which involves 50 industry partners.
The Smart Futures programme, which is managed by SFI Discover and coordinated in partnership with Engineers Ireland, is an online resource for students and parents, featuring real life career stories and video interviews with people working in a range of industries. Parents are encouraged to visit www.smartfutures.ie to help support their children in making CAO and career decisions.
Students worry about fitting in
A study by SFI on attitudes to STEM among secondary students has proven to be quite revealing.
Perhaps because of stereotypes or insufficient information some 62pc of all secondary students identified feeling whether will “fit in” as the most important factor on deciding what to study at third level.
“Fitting in” was a factor that was more prevalent among female students with over 65pc saying it was the biggest influencer.
Career prospects are deemed the second most important factor (56pc) with the entry requirements and academic reputation of the institution less important at 23pc and 28pc respectively;
When queried about their positive perceptions of STEM subjects, 51pc of students felt STEM courses offer good career prospects, with 84pc of STEM third-level students surveyed confident that they will find a job they enjoy after college;
When asked about negative perceptions about STEM subjects, there is a perception that STEM courses are difficult (51pc) and 49pc believe they require too many hours’ commitment per week.
Some 91pc of students agree that STEM is important for the development of the Irish economy.
The next six weeks will be crucial for CAO choices
Dr Ruth Freeman, director of Strategy and Communications at SFI said that between 2004 and 2014 employment in ICT companies in Ireland grew by 30pc at a time when overall employment growth in the Irish economy was 1pc.
Salaries in ICT companies are 29pc above the national average.
She said the next six weeks will be crucial in terms of students and parents deciding on courses that will be personally as well as professionally rewarding.
She agreed that negative stereotypes associated with science and technology, nerds and geeks, has unfortunately coloured many students decisions in the past.
“The iron is that STEM has the breadth of every kind of people working across the broadest range of industries – agriculture, food, science, energy …
“Technology and science today touch on everything we do and they are fundamental aspects of our lives.”
Freeman said that a significant proportion of students who have made STEM CAO choices have engaged in extra-curricular activities like Engineering Week and most recently CoderDojo.
In making CAO choices Freeman said that STEM can be the gateway to a broad portfolio of careers.
“The idea of a job for life is redundant and people will have a series of careers in their life time. Different opportunities arise and it is important that we educate students and make them aware that they have a range of choices available in their lives in terms of good core skills that will serve them well during the course of their life.”
STEM career image via Shutterstock