Why science & maths?

Supporting and advising young people with school subject choices can be a complex and daunting task. Add to that navigating your way through the vast number of careers websites to find out the implications of subject and career choices and the whole process can be mind blowing!

In the following section we have tried to expose some of the myths that surround science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers, and outline the key facts, whilst giving you the links and places to go to find out more information.

Subject choice

The first thing to understand is that choosing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects will more than likely widen options later in life rather than narrow them. A wide number of careers would be open to someone who continues with STEM subjects post 16, whilst someone who discounts STEM subjects after 16 may find that it is very difficult to go back and study them later on. Science and mathematics are valued and useful for the majority of careers – and they are not by any means limiting.

Employment prospects

People with STEM qualifications are very employable e.g. mathematics skills are very appealing to a variety of employers; and there is a perceived degree of difficulty attached to STEM subjects that differentiate students with these qualifications. Similarly good grades in STEM subjects are highly valued by university admissions tutors and further education establishments.

Engineering in particular is often associated with large-scale manufacturing and that sector is perceived as becoming less important to the UK economy. In fact, both these assumptions are incorrect. Engineering applies to all industries – from record producing to the financial services. Engineers in the manufacturing, production and construction industries actually represent over a quarter of the UK’s economy and accounted for nearly 60% of the UK’s exports in 2006.

In its 2008 ‘Taking Stock’ report the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) stated:

“The demand for highly numerate and analytical STEM-skilled individuals is expected to grow dramatically in the future… By 2014 demand for science, engineering and technology-related occupations is expected to have expanded by 730,000 and net requirement for these jobs, taking into account those leaving the labour market, is predicted to rise to 2.4 million.”

Salaries

In general careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics ( STEM) lead to good salaries later in life (particularly important if university is an option and paying tuition fees off as quickly as possible is a concern). Chemistry and physics graduates will earn on average over 30% more during their working lifetimes than other ‘A’ level holders as this PriceWaterhouseCoopers report illustrates.

Place of work

Not all scientists wear white coats or work in labs. Equally not all engineers wear dirty overalls, hard hats and work in factories. Scientists and engineers can be found in all types of employment areas from the more traditional – offices, laboratories, building sites and factories to the less conventional – up a mountain, on an oil rig, at a water treatment plant, at an airport and under the ground.

Most use technology and mathematics daily in their job and although some do wear white coats a great many more do not – nor do they have wiry hair, glasses – and STEM professionals rarely work alone. In fact many scientists and engineers work as part of team; often they are specialists in a particular area but constantly liaising with a number of skilled colleagues on a daily basis.

STEM careers may also lead to periods of working abroad; largely because STEM skills are highly sought after – not just here in the UK, but internationally as well. Many science, engineering and technology companies based in the UK are seeking out opportunities to expand their businesses abroad and replicate successful projects in a variety of new locations overseas. Skilled STEM professionals are required to solve some of the world’s environmental problems such as finding new energy sources and reducing pollution; but also to develop local solutions such as improving water supplies and developing immunisation programs for common diseases.

Opportunities for women

Science, technology and engineering careers are not just for men! Although numbers of women in these types of careers are still small by comparison, the proportion of women pursuing STEM careers is now growing steadily. STEM roles can be just as challenging and varied whether you’re male or female. STEM careers can take place in a variety of locations and can lead to wider opportunities way beyond the more traditional work that women have become associated with over the past 50 years.