One of the age-old questions of any graduating college student is that of how to find a job upon, or even before, graduation. Ask any typical college senior and they’ll tell you that this question is constantly on their mind and something they’re actively working toward during their final year of schooling.
This concern is especially prominent for students today. Aside from fulfilling passions and dreams, a steady job provides recent grads a way to combat piles of student debt, defy unemployment rates, find monetary security and succeed in a workforce that requires head-start experience. Fortunately, there is one thing that can set students’ minds at ease, give them a leg up on the competition and increase their chances of being hired: having a knowledge base and skill set in the STEM sciences.
What is STEM?
STEM is a common acronym that many people have heard of, but don’t fully understand. It refers to the fields of science, technology, engineering and math and is typically used in educational reform to encourage learning in these areas. However, it is also used as a buzzword in the workforce and economy to describe specialized jobs and skill sets.
According to changetheequation.org, 38 percent of companies say at least half of their entry-level job applicants in the U.S. lack even basic STEM skills, revealing that not enough of today’s college graduates are literate in STEM disciplines. Not only will having some knowledge in these areas increase an applicant’s chances of getting a job, it could make all the difference in being employed or being unemployed in the future. This is supported by a U.S. Department of Education report, which projects that between 2010 and 2020 STEM jobs will increase 14 percent.
“The whole goal of STEM is to have students gain exposure to deep technical curriculum and not to be afraid of learning about, and working in, those areas,” said Jason Pierce, manager for the Utah Center of Excellence at the Utah division of EMC, a Fortune 200 tech company that hosts a large number of STEM-centered jobs. “The majority of today’s highest-paying, high-demand jobs are STEM-related. Having some sort of understanding about STEM areas qualifies students to be eligible for those jobs and gives them higher profitability.”
Why does it matter?
But before you go changing your major for the 57th time, it’s important to understand the wide application of STEM skills in all fields. More than likely, you can apply some STEM skills to what you’re already studying.
“Understanding and gaining exposure to the STEM sciences doesn’t necessarily mean all students must major in a STEM-focused field in order to get a job and succeed in their career,” said Robert Rose, director of EMC Utah’s Remote Reactive Customer Service. “STEM has a wide application to all industries, including areas like business, fine arts, liberal arts and the social sciences, especially with technology and engineering.”
Because technology is so heavily integrated in today’s society, all industries use it. This means that understanding technology and the way it’s used in your area of study gives you a skill that most in your field don’t have.
“Because of the way the world has changed, technology is a core competency for the workforce that all students should have, but most don’t,” said Pierce. “For example, take a student studying music. Music uses technology for recording, mixing, composing, editing and storage. You can’t be in the field of music, or at least get very far in it, without understanding the technology in that field.”
The STEM fields also cultivate and share a core of critical thinking and problem-solving skills. These skills are not only needed in highly technical fields, but are also valuable for all industries. If demonstrated by new hires and recent graduates, these skills will help advancement and success in any career.
How to become STEM-literate
So how does one become more knowledgeable in these fields? What is the first step? According to Rose, Pierce and Greg Thompson, director of professional services at EMC in Utah, there are several things that students can do to increase their STEM knowledge without actually majoring in it.
- Take a STEM-related elective
Most college programs have specialized technology-related electives, Pierce noted, and it’s a good idea for students to take at least one of these to become more familiar with how technology is used in their field of study. For example, if you’re a business-related major, you could take an IT or information systems class. Or for theater students, a technical theater class is always a good idea.
- Minor in a STEM area
Still looking for a minor? Look no further. A minor in any STEM-related field that compliments your major area of study will likely put you ahead of the job competition and make you a forerunner. Your ability to work in an ever-changing technological world and to think critically will be a highly valuable skill to future employers.
- Pay attention in general courses
Many general courses required by colleges focus on STEM areas and help students develop their critical thinking skills. It’s important that students don’t take these courses for granted as they can be the foundation upon which their careers are built.
- Find a STEM-related hobby
Most universities have clubs and extracurricular activities that center on STEM areas. For example, the VEX Robotics Team at Utah State University is an organization that builds its own robots and then uses them to compete in a number of national and international competitions. It’s a good way to develop new skills, while making new friends and having a good time.
- Read STEM-related literature and keep up on STEM-related advancements
Much can be absorbed in what we read, view and follow these days. There are great resources online, especially in a college setting, for making STEM a part of how we live and think.