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Getting Europe’s youth into STEM

Minna Melleri, Chief of Advocacy and Growth

Policy-makers have for decades set out goals to get more young people, and especially girls, to choose STEM education and STEM-related careers. A series of policy recommendations and objectives have been drafted and implemented to bridge the gap between the labour market’s needs and the numbers of STEM graduates entering the job market.

Just recently, the European Commission has launched 2023 as the European Year of Skills, through which it aims to boost competitiveness, participation and talent. One of the objectives is to address the low representation of women in tech-related professions and studies, “with only 1 in 6 IT specialists and 1 in 3 STEM graduates being women”.

So how can we accelerate change in order to reach the policy targets for more STEM education, especially for girls? At JA Europe, we believe that fostering the interest for STEM education and careers from an early age is key. Getting girls and boys hooked on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) through experiential learning opportunities, regularly giving them ideas on how they could use STEM skills to solve real-life problems, and encouraging them to explore the vast range of career possibilities with a STEM education, will make a difference.

From theory we need to move to practice. STEM education and careers have to be marketed in an innovative way to raise interest among the youth population. Social media campaigns can reach youth on the very same platforms where they spend a big proportion of their time daily. Youth also spends significant time at school every day, therefore offering STEM learning opportunities at school is crucial. These opportunities should be hands-on learning experiences connected to real-world problems that concern the young people.

Let me present JA Europe’s work to get youth excited about STEM education and STEM careers!

1. Connect STEM education programmes to solving real-life challenge

Sci-Tech Challenge initiative of JA Europe and ExxonMobil is an example of such innovation where STEM skills are used to solve a real-life problem with an entrepreneurial approach. Experimental programmes are more likely to spark the interest of youth than theoretical STEM courses that don’t have a connection to the world surrounding them. Today’s youth is concerned about climate change, energy transition, food security and many other global challenges that require deep STEM knowledge in order to be addressed let alone solved, in combination with an entrepreneurial mindset and skillset. Teaching STEM skills with an entrepreneurial methodology is also more likely to result in innovation and new solutions that our global challenges require.

2. Inspire youth through role model

Young Europeans need role models to widen the horizon of their future career possibilities. It is extremely important to give youth the opportunity to learn from STEM professionals about the huge variety of careers available to STEM graduates. And it is especially important to provide young girls with female STEM-related role models. JA Europe and the European Institute of Technology (EIT) partner in the GirlsGoCircular aiming to equip 40,000 schoolgirls aged 14-19 across Europe with digital and entrepreneurial skills by 2024 through an online learning programme about the circular economy. Such initiatives will create a new generation of role models, sparking the curiosity of girls to choose STEM education and careers in the future, but such initiatives require scale in order to achieve tangible impact.

3. Showcase & explain the STEM career path

Then what is a STEM career path and how are young people to know what it consists of? Communications campaigns showcasing the variety of options and how to start and develop in a STEM career are critical to make young people choose these careers and for Europe to develop enough STEM talent to remain competitive. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math careers may seem as “rocket science” to youth so it is imperative to break down the process and outline the steps to build more knowledge and experience in these fields, ultimately to become a STEM professional working to solve global challenges. Mentoring by business volunteers working in STEM-related fields is at the core of JA’s programmatic offer, and gives youth invaluable access to adult role models to discuss career choices. Together with Johnson&Johnson and Arcadis, JA Europe has initiated “The Women in STEM Chat Series” aiming to emphasise the fact that education or gender background do not define the professional path by bringing young people in touch with female role models pursuing careers in STEM.

4. Leverage the digital natives’ attraction for technology, the Metaverse

Finally, the ongoing digital revolution can be seen as an accelerator of STEM careers. The time spent by youth online for communication, entertainment, learning or work is significant, and the next level of the internet in the form of the Metaverse is being created as we speak. Let’s leverage this interest for technology by the generation of the digital natives to direct their attention also towards STEM education and careers. By seeing the interconnections between the technology they are already familiar with, and its real-life applications in different professions, is already a step in the direction of creating more STEM graduates and professionals in Europe.

Creating virtual opportunities for youth to develop and showcase their ideas will motivate them to deep-dive into STEM. As an example, discover the Virtual Expo of the finalists in the Sustainability Challenge developed by JA Europe in partnership with Johnson & Johnson: https://www.sustainabilitycompetition.com/

It is not enough that a few young girls per year get interested in STEM careers, we need a step change. STEM education stakeholders across Europe such as the EU STEM Coalition need a coordinated strategy to scale initiatives that have proven to work.

We should empower the youth to innovate and accelerate the digital transition of different sectors of the economy. STEM IS rocket science, and together we can support Europe’s schools in sparking the interest and opening the eyes of today’s youth to the endless possibilities that exist for those who possess the right skillset and mindset to solve the problems of tomorrow.

About JA Europe

JA Europe is the largest and leading organisation in Europe dedicated to inspire and prepare young people to succeed. For over 100 years, JA Worldwide has delivered hands-on, experiential learning in entrepreneurship, work readiness and financial health. In the last school year, the JA Europe network provided over 6.6 million learning experiences for youth in online, in person and blended formats.

Category : Policy & Research Posted : 25 January 2023 10:29 UTC
About the Author
Minna Melleri, Chief of Advocacy and Growth

Minna joined JA Europe in September 2018 as EE-HUB Director. For the past three years, Minna has been CEO of JA Iceland in Reykjavik where she established a new Board and re-launched the organization in 2015. Besides consolidating the JA Company Programme in the Icelandic education system, Minna worked with a broad range of Icelandic stakeholders to further develop entrepreneurship education in Iceland. JA Iceland also took part in a Nordic Council-funded research project and signed a new membership agreement with JA Worldwide.
Before moving to Iceland Minna worked for 10 years in EU Government Affairs at two Brussels-based associations, as well as at Hyundai Motor Company Brussels office. At Hyundai she coordinated two pan-European projects with JA Europe (Skills for the Future and Brilliant Young Entrepreneurs).
Minna holds a Master´s degree in International Affairs from Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences-Po Paris) and a Master´s degree in European Political and Administrative Studies from the College of Europe in Bruges. She speaks fluent Finnish, Swedish, Estonian, English, and French.

Email: minna@jaeurope.org

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