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Teens See Value of STEM Jobs; Concerned They Won’t Measure Up

ASQ survey based on responses from 713 young adults

Published: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 12:23

(ASQ: Milwaukee) -- While teens rank some STEM-related (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers as offering the best chance of getting a job in the future, 67 percent of youth in grades 6–12 who are interested in pursuing a career in STEM say they are concerned about the obstacles they would face, according to an American Society for Quality (ASQ) survey conducted online in December 2011 by Harris Interactive.

The survey was fielded among 713 youths in grades 6–12, and a complementary survey was fielded online among 327 parents of children aged 10–17. Both studies polled respondents on their attitudes about STEM careers and study, in anticipation of National Engineers Week, Feb. 19–25, 2012. ASQ has more than 14,000 member engineers who say they are concerned about ensuring a highly skilled work force and educated engineers for the future.

STEM: Where the Jobs Are

Many students in grades 6–12 agree that certain STEM careers offer the most job opportunities when they graduate from college; 34 percent believe a career as a medical doctor, and 26 percent say a career in engineering provide the most job prospects when they are done with school. Careers that fewer students cite as offering the most job opportunities include:
• Teacher—19 percent
• Lawyer—17 percent
• Entrepreneur—16 percent
• Sales and marketing—11 percent
• Accountant—11 percent

Obstacles to pursuing a STEM career path

Students who indicate interest in STEM careers are equally concerned with three main obstacles to pursuing a STEM career path:
• The cost and time to get a degree in STEM is too high compared to other subjects—26 percent.
• Their grades in STEM subjects of math and science aren’t good enough—25 percent.
• STEM-degree careers involve too much work and studying compared to other careers—25 percent.

More than half (53 percent) of parents of children between 10 and 17 years old who are interested in STEM careers also expressed concerns about their children pursuing a STEM-related career path. The biggest issue, reported by 26 percent of parents, is that their child is not being prepared enough by teachers in STEM subjects. Eighteen percent also worry that their child’s grades in STEM subjects aren’t good enough, and that the cost and time involved in getting a STEM degree is too high compared to other degrees.

Computer time trumps studying

Pursuing STEM careers requires a pointed focus on education. While 55 percent of students say they spend more time doing schoolwork than extracurricular activities, many admit to spending more time on other activities than schoolwork, which may play a factor in concerns about studying and grades needed to succeed in STEM. According to the report: 
Students: 51 percent say they spend more time after school on the computer, browsing the Internet or playing games, than on schoolwork, such as studying and reading. 
Parents: 54 percent say that their child is spending more after-school time on their computer than on schoolwork. 
Students: 54 percent say math is their most challenging subject compared to other subjects, while 44 percent say science is the most difficult. 
Parents: 56 percent say that math is their child’s most challenging subject compared to other subjects, while 44 percent say that science is their child’s most difficult subject.

“It’s encouraging to see that more students see the value of STEM careers like engineering, but clearly STEM professionals and educators can be doing more to support students along this career path,” says Jim Rooney, ASQ chair and quality engineer with ABSG Consulting in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Girls and STEM

Some interesting gender differences arise in the study, especially as students enter crucial high school years. Among youth ages 16–18:
• 30 percent of girls strongly agree that math is their most challenging subject, compared to 19 percent of boys.
• Girls interested in pursuing a career in STEM are four times more likely than boys interested in pursuing a career in STEM to believe that their teachers are not preparing them well enough in STEM subjects (33% vs. 9%).

Among youth in grades 6–12, 19 percent of girls believe that engineering will offer the most job opportunities when they graduate compared to 33 percent of boys.


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The American Society for Quality (ASQ) is a global community of people dedicated to quality who share the ideas and tools that make our world work better. With millions of individual and organizational members of the community in 150 countries, ASQ has the reputation and reach to bring together the diverse quality champions who are transforming the world’s corporations, organizations, and communities to meet tomorrow’s critical challenges. ASQ is headquartered in Milwaukee with national service centers in China, India, and Mexico. Learn more about ASQ’s members, mission, technologies, and training at http://asq.org