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Let’s Talk Science and the Royal Society of Canada have partnered to provide Globe and Mail readers with relevant coverage about issues that affect us all – from education to the impact of leading-edge scientific discoveries.

Craig White is an Education Specialist with the Professional Learning team at Let’s Talk Science.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) have a huge impact on our day-to-day lives including in the workplace. Since the Industrial Revolution, STEM has transformed work by modifying tasks and made some jobs, like elevator operator, obsolete. New jobs, some that we could not even have imagined, have also been created like digital content creators and almost everything related to autonomous vehicles.

It is difficult to find a job that does not require some level of STEM skills or knowledge. In fact, 70% of Canada’s top jobs require a STEM education. Approximately half of university, college and apprenticeship programs are closed to students who do not have grade 12 math and/or science. Actions by the Canadian government, to promote STEM careers and STEM innovation, also point to the importance of STEM and STEM careers to Canada’s economic well-being and quality of life.

Skills acquired through STEM learning open doors regardless of the sector. These include the ability to analyze and interpret data; develop and test hypotheses; engage in creative and complex problem solving, and conduct and summarize research. People with STEM backgrounds are highly prized by employers, even in non-STEM jobs.

In spite of the demand for STEM skills, research conducted by Let’s Talk Science indicates that while most students (more than 90%) recognize that a background in STEM can lead to a well-paying job, only slightly more than half (56%) plan to study for a STEM career.

In secondary school, many students either opt not to take any additional STEM courses beyond the minimum required or do the bare minimum to pass required courses. This leaves them with few options. They can either change their post-secondary plans, start working without post-secondary preparation or return to secondary school to make up missing prerequisites.

Many graduate high school with only a general notion of what they want to do as a career and do not have a “Plan B” if they do not get into their preferred program. Changing to another program is often tricky and starting a program, only to drop it because it is not what they thought it would be, costs time and money. Starting work without completing a post-secondary program can mean poor job security, poor pay, and a dead-end job. Students who return to high school may not be able to get into the courses they need, resulting in further delays that mean lost earnings and lost contributions to their communities and the economy.

Secondary school students need a pre-graduation plan that includes an analysis of their strengths, interests, and skills. It should also take labour market needs into consideration because no matter how much you want to be an elevator operator, no one is hiring! A career exploration/career development course at high school allows students to identify potential career paths.

When asked what influences their decisions about education and career aspirations,

86 percent of 13 to 17-year-olds cited their interests. However, most youth have only very limited and stereotypical awareness of aligned careers. To help students explore a variety of careers, Let’s Talk Science has created a library of career profiles. Submitted by volunteers across Canada, these profiles present careers through the eyes of the person living them. Students with a passion for a broad range of interests can learn about related STEM careers and make informed choices.

In a survey of 13 to 17-year-olds, students reported a lack of knowledge of potential post-secondary pathways related to their interests and plans. Sixty percent of students reported their belief that the only post-secondary pathway to a STEM career was university. While there are many great university STEM programs, there are also great programs offered at colleges and technical schools that lead to well-paying, challenging and satisfying careers in skilled trades, technology and many other sectors. In this survey, more than three-quarters (76%) of teens also indicated that their parents were the greatest influence on their post-secondary choice. We need to ensure that students are aware of all career opportunities and the educational paths that can take them there so they can have rewarding and prosperous futures.

Presented by Let’s Talk Science, Skills/Compétences Canada and Chatterhigh, the Let’s Talk Careers Competition is a another great way to get students in Canada exploring existing and emergent careers in skilled trades, technologies and STEM. Learn more about the competition-taking place this fall from October 25 to December 3; it’s free and easy for all Canadian schools to get involved.

Helping our youth plan for career success is a shared responsibility. Recognizing the importance of STEM is a necessary ingredient for success. A STEM background opens doors to many post-secondary programs. Students who have a quality STEM education will be highly employable – in both STEM and non-STEM-related sectors – and in occupations, they might not have envisioned, or which may not even exist yet.