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What are STEM fields?

Read our guide to find out more about what STEM fields are and why you should consider taking a degree in these fields.

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As the world becomes more connected and advanced, so do science and technological industries. Graduates in Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering (STEM) fields are highly sought after abroad especially in the US, UK and Australia. Students in these fields will develop transferrable critical skills that are extremely desirable across several sectors. Let us explain to you more about STEM fields and why there is an increasing demand for skills in this field.


What are STEM fields?

STEM refers to the subjects within these four fields- Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Conventionally taught as separate, discrete subjects, these four areas have been merged into a singular teaching curriculum that  focuses on interdisciplinary and practical skills with ‘real-world’ application. This is especially advantageous for those graduating with a related qualification when it comes to finding that first job. In Australia, the UK and US, there has been a notable decline in enrolments in STEM courses, despite the multitude of advantageous career paths available to graduates in these courses.


Why study a STEM course?

A STEM education will equip you with specific skills applicable to technical roles, and aids in fostering a wide range of generic skills that are useful across several disciplines. The broad knowledge and versatile skills gained make graduates more employable than others. Potential areas for employment in STEM areas are endless as science and technology fields are constantly evolving.


Global career prospects

Did you know that nine out of ten UK organisations employ STEM graduates? Skills such as numeracy, analysis and critical skills are applicable across a wide range of industries and can lead to specialisations in fields including Mechanical Engineering, Computer Technology and Programming, PhysicsFood Science and Software Publishing. Jobs in the finance and business sectors also value STEM graduates for their logical problem-solving skills and high-level, applied analytic capability.

UK’s economy is set to have more growth in its technology and science sectors in the next few years. According to the Centre for Business and Economic Research, one in every four new jobs in the UK until 2017 will be created in these fields. An estimated 140,000 new jobs will be created in STEM fields, making STEM jobs accountable for 7.1% of total jobs across the entire nation.

Likewise, the US will also see 2.1 million new STEM jobs created between 2010-2020, mainly in fields of Computer and Mathematical Science, Engineering, Architecture and Social Science.

Current STEM graduates are best represented in areas of professional and business services (21%). It is predicted that there are will be 4.2 million jobs in Computer and Mathematical Science by 2018, 1.5 million of which have yet to be created. Engineering fields are also forecasted to generate about 522,000 job openings by 2018.

In Australia, about half  of all professional skill shortages have been identified to be within the STEM areas such as Engineering. Amongst STEM-qualified professionals, the employment rate is currently 81%. The amount of STEM employees grew by 14% from 2006-2011 compared to an average of 9% in other fields. Employment areas with highest degrees of growth were Design, Engineering, and Information Computer Technology.


International demand and the current state of STEM

To address the growing demand for scientists, engineers and technologists, the UK government has recently created a STEM agenda. This initiative will target schools and universities to inspire students into studying these fields and to ensure that graduate skills and knowledge are of a working standard. Approximately 72% of all businesses in the UK rely on the STEM skills of its employees, whilst 58% of all new jobs in the coming years will be STEM related.


In Australia, there is also a similar shortage of STEM skills. The country is facing a lack of qualified teachers in these fields. Only one in eight school STEM students were found to be working in a STEM-based job by their mid-twenties. Whilst the number of students studying STEM is in decline, the proportion of STEM students moving into a career in a relevant field has remained steady and consistent.

It is also interesting to note that an additional 16% of non-STEM school students were working in a STEM field by their mid-twenties, but two-thirds of those studying STEM at a post-school level do not continue on to employment in the sector. Above all, those who work in STEM fields earn over AUD 100 (US$ 90.55) per week than those in non-STEM jobs. National talks are currently underway in developing a national STEM curriculum strategy.

The US is also confronted by identical issues. At university level, better teaching methods are hoped to increase retention in STEM study programmes, and educate 30,000 more engineers in four years. From 2000- 2010, the amount of STEM jobs rose by 7.9%, a growth three times higher than those in non-STEM sectors (2.6%). It was found that in 2010, approximately one in every 18 employees was working in a STEM field.


Visa opportunities in the US

The US is one of the most desirable locations for international graduates seeking employment and thus changing their lives. International students on an F-1 student visa who have completed a STEM Bachelors degree programme or higher may apply to complete Optional Practical Training (OPT) in the US. OPT allows students up to a year of temporary employment in your field of study for each degree level you complete. For instance, a student may complete a year of OPT during their Bachelors study, and an additional year at Masters level. Students can undertake OPT either before (pre-completion OPT) or after (post-completion OPT) the completion of their study programme.

Students undertaking post-completion OPT and receive job offers from the company that you are working in, may apply for a STEM extension. You will then be able to accept the offer and work in the US for an additional 17 months. Students must apply for this extension directly with their host institution. For example, New York University and the New Jersey Institute of Technology both have comprehensive sections on their websites that explain the application process.


Inspired to study a STEM field? Browse courses in Applied and Pure SciencesTechnology Engineering and Mathematics now!

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About Author

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A fan of anime and all things Japanese, Khai has been writing professionally since 2010 and “unofficially” for much longer. In her free time, you will often find her baking, reading, travelling and doing everything else in between.

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