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Intimidating, boring, and male dominated: why Sheffield’s young people are still avoiding STEM subjects

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As young people in Sheffield enter exam season, new research reveals that they are shunning STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) because they consider them intimidating and boring.

School students are failing to choose subjects and potential careers in this area, despite the UK facing a skills shortage with 39 per cent of UK firms struggling to recruit workers with STEM skills according to the CBI.

New UK research from Mondelēz International, manufacturer of brands such as Cadbury, Oreo, Bassetts and Kenco, reveals that amongst 220 young people aged 14-18 in Sheffield the decision to shun a future job in STEM starts when choosing subjects at school.

The top reason young people in Sheffield avoid STEM subjects at school is because they find them boring – 48 per cent consider them uninteresting.

People in Sheffield are particularly likely to find STEM subjects difficult; 60 per cent feel STEM subjects are harder than humanities (against a national average of 54 per cent, versus only 13 per cent who think humanities are harder.

Conversely humanities subjects are seen as “more fun” by 45 per cent of young people compared to 31 per cent for STEM subjects.

Misperceptions about what a job in STEM entails are negatively influencing the choices of young people in Sheffield:

  • Over two thirds (71 per cent) believe that only people with the highest IQs can work in a STEM related job, while over one in five (21 per cent) think you need to be a “geek”
  • 60 per cent believe you need a degree to obtain a job in STEM pointing to a lack of understanding about the range of opportunities available to young people post-GCSE and A-Level
  • 40 per cent would rather do something which they view as creative
  • 51 per cent fear they are not ‘technical’ enough for a job in STEM

Nationally, girls are particularly likely to be deterred from choosing STEM subjects and jobs with only 49 per cent of girls considering a STEM focused career, compared to 64 per cent of boys.

Breaking results down further, girls across the country are especially put off by engineering with only 19 per cent saying they would consider a career in that field versus 51 per cent of boys.

The research shows that, according to young people in Sheffield, men outnumber women in STEM due to gender stereotyping from a young age (60 per cent) and a lack of famous female role models (43 per cent).

When choosing subjects at school:

  • a third (34 per cent) of girls believe that careers advice is pushing young women into non-STEM subjects;
  • while 54 per cent of people see STEM subjects are ‘more male’ than humanities (four per cent) and;
  • 33 per cent of girls are intimidated by the perception of STEM as a male dominated area.

Despite being intimidated by STEM subjects and jobs, 52 per cent of young people in Sheffield recognise that STEM subjects would be more useful than humanities subjects compared to 21 per cent who consider humanities more useful. 

In addition, 58 per cent believe STEM subjects would lead to a better paid job than humanities subjects.

To encourage more young people to choose STEM subjects, 50 per cent in Sheffield want the opportunity to carry out work experience in a STEM job and (48 per cent) would like a greater understanding of “real world” applications of STEM subjects.

Also, 47 per cent would like to receive a better understanding of the types of jobs available in STEM, and 34 per cent want people who work in STEM to visit their school to give career guidance talks.

Vanessa Smith, head of manufacturing at the Mondelēz International Sheffield site, said:

“Science, technology, engineering and maths skills are the backbone of our Sheffield factory, and indeed Mondelēz International’s entire business. Attracting and developing these skills in our employees is essential for future business growth as well as for Sheffield’s economic success.

“If we do not prioritise these subjects we face being left behind.

“It’s dispiriting to hear that young people are intimidated by STEM subjects as jobs in STEM can be hugely fun, creative and inspiring and companies nowadays offer great career opportunities with training provided in the more technical aspects.”

Mondelēz International is calling on UK businesses and local communities to play their part in:

  1. Ensuring that no child finishes education without having visited a STEM workplace or being given careers advice by a person working in a real STEM-related job
  2. Reaching out to local schools to provide careers guidance and workshops to highlight the interesting and fun nature of modern STEM jobs
  3. Training and supporting high achieving females working in a STEM job to reach out to young people to combat negative gender stereotypes

To lead the way, Mondelēz International, in addition to reaching out to over 10,000 young people in the UK in 2013, is expanding its unique “Taste of Work” programme, funded through the Cadbury Foundation.

This programme has already seen success in Sheffield, with a 30 per cent increase in students looking to pursue STEM subjects following involvement in the initiative in 2013.

It is also growing its school outreach and careers guidance through its ‘School Ambassadors’ programme to encourage even more young people to consider a future in STEM. Also, strengthening its position as a key employer of young people the company has committed to doubling its early careers intake by end 2015.

Gary Drabble, STEM strategy manager at Sheffield City Council said:

“Programmes like ‘Taste of Work’ offer a vital opportunity for students to get a flavour of what it’s like to work in a real science, engineering or manufacturing role.

“It helps young people to understand what a job in a STEM subject actually looks like and how they can follow that career path.”

 

 

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