The global pace of technological progress and global integration suggests that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is almost upon us and that these technologies are bridging the gap between physical, digital and biological spheres of development, and profoundly changing the way people live, work and generally interact with each other. This changes cuts across disciplines, industries and are completely changing the landscape of entire skill sets and knowledge base that are vital to success in today’s world. The skill sets required will be largely predicated on STEM – an acronym that refers to the academic discipline of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. It is for this reason that STEM education has assumed increased importance in national planning and in sustainable development as they will be critical to addressing the challenges of the future such as climate change, food security, global health and epidemic, and global energy poverty.
Despite the rise of STEM education and careers, there still remains a global shortage of STEM professionals. Companies in Africa are already struggling to find skilled employees with basic STEM literacy, and the government are outsourcing the high STEM jobs to multinationals from China, India and the U.S. Expert consensus has shown that a way to address the growing skills gap is to build adequate workforce by encouraging students and young adults to go into STEM disciplines. STEM fields are predominately male dominated and as a UNESCO women in science report avers that women account for less than a third (28.4%) of those employed in scientific research and development across the world and further make up 30% of STEM professionals in Sub-Saharan Africa.
This above statistic is further supported by research that shows that women are more likely to leave technology intensive business roles. The low participation of girls and women in STEM fields cuts across all levels of the STEM career “pipeline,” from interest, to majoring in a STEM discipline and to building and sustaining a STEM career.  This is why there is a lot of concerted efforts by countries and global organizations to ensure that opportunities exist for young girls and female students to grow and nurture interests and their capabilities in the science and technology fields. Some of the intensive on-going efforts to promote women in STEM, is driven at the United Nations level which recently adopted a resolution to establish an annual International Day to commensurate the role girls and women play in science and technology. The World Bank World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development (2012) and the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report (2016) have also both tracked and released data to show that there are real social and economic benefits and progress in countries where more girls have access to higher-level technical education that can lead to STEM careers.
A STEM education offers real time career opportunities and is profitable to the overall development indices of nation. This is why there is a need for early planning towards helping young women (and men) to shift their thinking towards the future of work in the emerging economies and the benefits not just to themselves but to society as a whole. To achieve this and ensure that careers in STEM are more plausible for young women and men especially for those in Sub-Saharan Africa, a number of things must be in place. Here are some recommendations:
- Redefining values based problems: It is important to define issues around poverty, health access, and agriculture in unique ways that reflect the role that technology and science can help ameliorate or bolster these issues. There is the need to shape the positive perception of one’s ability to do well and solve real world problems in a way that are values based and align them with core STEM careers. Even core humanities and social sciences disciplines are integral to solving problems and contribute to how technologies are shaped today. Therefore try to define your value proposition to tilt towards a STEM career.
- STEM Education/Degree. The easiest entry route into a STEM career is either through a university degree or through an apprenticeship program. It is important to quickly identify what qualifications or experience will make you employable in a STEM field. It is also important to identify what disciplines or field of practice or profession where such education or experience can be applied to so as to have a more strategic and structured career growth in the STEM field.
- STEM Internships: As with most other professions, internships in a STEM field can help with exposure to areas of practices and in building expertise in a way that gives you a head start in the job market. The value of internships also lies in its ability to help candidates sharpen their edges in that work environment, build new contacts and learn more about the industry or the career field they want to enter.
- Get a Mentor: Having a career mentor in the same field is quite beneficial, as your mentor will be able to guide and offer first-hand advise on your career goals and aspirations. In cases where the mentorship relationship is a good one, a mentor can also become an active promoter of a mentee – ensuring to look out for growth opportunities in the field for the mentee.
- Join an Education or Career Resource Centre: Joining an education and career resource center can help STEM candidates build skills, and network with other STEM professionals towards new career-related opportunities. In the same vein, joining professional associations in your fields and communities of practice is important in enabling one build out their STEM networks and explore new opportunities in the desired field of practice.
- Networking: Networking is all about opportunities and connections, using professional and social gathering to increase your professional leverage and opportunities. Networking by itself does not automatically open up career doors, but it certainly allows you to meet new people and hear about the interesting work they are involved in. Analogous to networking is researching things learnt from the networking session or people you meet in the networking session to learn more about their work and their interests. If there are public figures at a networking event, follow them on their social media channels and engage with them as frequently as you can on issues related to the field you are interested in to build more insights and a more personal-professional encounter with them.
Having STEM qualifications and building out a career in STEM today puts you in a stronger position for a variety of exciting and rewarding career opportunities. It also enables you to be part of the global change movement to solve many of the big challenges facing society today.
Contributor- Ify Malo. Renewable Energy Expert and Expert.
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 United Nations. (2015) International Day of Women and Girls in Science 11 February . Available at: http://www.un.org/en/events/women-and-girls-in-science-day/background.shtml
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 World Economic Forum. (2016). Global Gender Gap Report. Available at: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/GGGR16/WEF_Global_Gender_Gap_Report_2016.pdf
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