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More than 60% of teenage girls have said they regret not studying science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) for longer, according to research.
A study by Accenture showed that 62% of girls aged 14 or over wish they had studied Stem subjects longer, and 31% of those who regret their choice to drop Stem said the subjects are more relevant than they had previously thought.
About 30% of girls who regret not studying Stem for longer say they now realise that doing so would have given them more career options, but almost half of the girls and young women surveyed said they find Stem subjects too difficult to learn.
Emma McGuigan, group technology officer for Accenture’s communications, media and technology practice, said girls lack confidence in Stem skills, despite young people having a growing understanding of how Stem will affect future jobs.
“At Accenture, we believe that businesses – in collaboration with the education sector – have a key role to play in helping to expand girls’ perceptions about how Stem skills can be applied,” she said. “We are at the forefront of the digital revolution that is rapidly transforming society, and we have a responsibility to ensure that young people understand and are prepared for the jobs of tomorrow.”
In the study, more than 80% of young people said they think Stem will play a big role in future jobs, and with automation increasingly taking over systematic jobs, creativity is becoming an important factor in many tech roles.
But only 32% of girls and young women associated a Stem career with being creative, despite 52% naming creativity as a leading aspiration in their future career.
Very few parents want their children to pursue technology careers, with a majority preferring them to look into more traditional roles. Some 44% of teachers and parents said it will be hard to predict what jobs will be available in the future, with past research showing many children currently in education will have jobs in the future that do not yet exist.
Almost 70% of teachers claimed to have seen girls drop a Stem subject because they were pressured to do so by their parents, while half of parents and almost 70% of teachers admitted gender stereotyping Stem subjects.
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There are still misconceptions about the technology industry that can put young people off Stem roles, including how creative these roles can be. This is something McGuigan believes is holding young girls back from developing Stem skills.
“It is important to challenge traditional notions around Stem careers to show girls that the creative application of Stem is increasingly relevant to jobs across a range of industries that have been disrupted by technology, from fashion to music and sport,” she said.
Teachers also lack the confidence to teach Stem subjects, and 25% of teachers surveyed said they do not understand the skills the digital economy is creating.
Young people who are studying Stem subjects are more optimistic about their future job prospects than those who are not. Some 52% of young people who are, or hope to be, studying Stem at degree level think they will have good job prospects, compared with 33% who are not studying Stem and do not plan to.
Young girls have said they want more encouragement from role models in the technology industry to inspire them in Stem careers, but Accenture’s research found young people are less likely to turn to employers to find career inspiration than parents, schools and universities.
More than half of parents look to employers for career inspiration for their offspring, and 48% think children should get work experience at companies with a focus on Stem skills.
Many people believe collaboration between industry, education providers and the government is the only way to close the Stem skills gap. One-third of teachers think more information should be provided about Stem career paths, and 36% think industry professionals giving talks in schools would make Stem subjects more attractive to young people.
Firms such as Accenture, Fujitsu and CA Technologies have tried to create this collaborative approach to closing the skills gap by partnering schools and education providers to give teachers new skills and make children more aware of the roles that could await them in the future.
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