Study finds parents still don’t understand STEM job opportunities

Jul 19, 2015 by


By Joyce Gannon –

While a clear majority of parents in the U.S. believe it’s important to educate students in the so-called STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and math, many hold misperceptions about how gaining expertise and degrees in those fields can boost job options.

In recent study commissioned by the Alcoa Foundation, 77 percent of those surveyed were “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to encourage their child to pursue a career in manufacturing industries, but 67 percent don’t consider manufacturing jobs ripe for advancement. About one-fifth, or 21 percent, of respondents associate manufacturing and trade jobs with minimum wage salaries that provide no benefits or health insurance.

“These perceptions could not be further from reality,” the foundation said in a news release detailing the survey results.

The foundation cited statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce that show the average annual salary for entry-level manufacturing engineers is $60,000 and 90 percent of manufacturing workers have medical benefits.

Yet 55 percent of survey respondents thought the average wage for manufacturing employees was $15 per hour or less.

Eric Gearhart, special projects consultant at SkillsUSA, a Leesburg, Va., nonprofit that partnered with the Alcoa Foundation on the survey, wasn’t surprised by the wide discrepancies in the responses.

“Changing public perception about technical education and adding economic value to employers and employees has been a long, uphill climb,” he said.

The survey, conducted online in late April, sampled 1,035 parents of children ages 6 to 17. The Alcoa Foundation, based in New York, said the survey can help “debunk stereotypes about careers and education within STEM fields” and raise awareness about high-potential jobs for engineers and other skilled workers.

About one-third of survey respondents thought jobs in manufacturing industries don’t require a college education and about two-thirds said manufacturing and trade jobs don’t provide opportunities for advancement. Still, 87 percent of those surveyed agreed STEM education is critical to succeed in the global economy.

Mr. Gearhart said manufacturing executives and schools need to better educate parents about the wide range of opportunities for technical workers. Many good-paying manufacturing jobs require a two-year degree or industry certification, he said.

“Clearly in this day and age, regardless of your career pursuits, you need to engage yourself in lifelong learning, and that doesn’t stop with a diploma because technology changes very quickly,” he said.

A survey commissioned last year by the Carnegie Science Center also found a wide lack of awareness about STEM education and its connection to careers.

In that study, funded by Chevron Corp. and Nova Chemicals, less than half, or 42 percent, of parents had heard of STEM and only 25 percent said their children’s schools are emphasizing such education. People in rural counties had the least awareness of STEM education, according to that survey, which included respondents in 17 counties in the Pittsburgh region that includes Western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and northern West Virginia.

The Alcoa Foundation is among the sponsors of a SkillsUSA team that will compete next month in a global competition in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Eighteen students from the U.S. will compete in categories including auto technology, welding, Web design and mechanical engineering. The foundation’s funding supports two students from Tennessee in a manufacturing team challenge.

Source: Study finds parents still don’t understand STEM job opportunities | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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