Preparing Learners For STEM Careers

Ask your students what they want to be when they grow up. What might they say? It will likely depend if you teach kindergarten, 7th grade, or 12th grade. Forty years ago, common answers might have included a nurse, a lawyer, a firefighter, or a teacher. Those options still exist for young people, but it is likely that career interests may look a little different in 2020.


With all the advancements that technology and innovation have provided, particularly in the last decade, students today may have different responses. Students might express interest in being a “YouTuber”, a video game designer or an entrepreneur. As more STEM-related fields are introduced to students both in and out of school, they are recognizing the vast career possibilities that STEM learning can provide. Students might gravitate towards a career involving engineering or invention. They might consider a job in design, art or digital animation. Some might demonstrate an interest in programming or robotics.


Threads of science, technology, engineering, and math run throughout many potential careers. As our students explore the STEM careers that might be of interest to them, we can provide guidance and support in the classroom. Schools can provide career exploration early on in the educational journey, ensuring that students understand all the possibilities that exist and the pathways that might lead them to those careers.


Types of STEM Jobs


STEM careers come in lots of different shapes and sizes. Some STEM jobs are more involved in research, while others are focused on innovation and development. Jobs may be centered around large global corporations, while others may be more local.


With all that is changing in technology and society, STEM jobs are always evolving with new innovations. As we prepare students for college and career, we need to think flexibly about the different types of career pathways that our students may take, as well as the potential skills they will need to develop in order to be successful. We can provide career relevance within the classroom, better preparing students for the future.


Thinking about the variety of STEM jobs available, not to mention the unlimited amount of jobs that may be developed in the future, many fall into one of these categories: service, creation, or innovation. Some STEM careers may involve just one category, but many will encompass more than one. Whether a job focused on using STEM knowledge to provide a service or focusing a career on creating and producing things, STEM careers can be a pathway for students who are interested in a versatile career with the ability to help, build, and invent.


Here are 3 types of STEM careers we can prepare learners for:


  • Service

The idea is that some STEM jobs are meant to serve others. Consider jobs in the medical fields or those connected to animals or the environment. STEM jobs can be very service-oriented in the way that they connect to people, provide care, or work in an effort to help others. Jobs related to sustainability and conservation can also be considered service to the environment. Service STEM jobs require that we develop empathy and understanding within our classrooms so that our students are able to move into careers that allow them to serve others.


  • Creation

Some STEM jobs focus more on creation. Think about the daily work of designers, engineers, or app developers. Their goal is to brainstorm, sketch, and create something out of the resources available. Students who engage in STEM thinking in your classroom need experiences that promote creative thinking skills and imagination. They also need to be willing to try new things and persevere in the face of failure--dispositions that will help them to be in creative STEM fields.


  • Innovation

Does your school have a STEM lab or a makerspace? Embedded courses and classroom spaces where students are encouraged to engage in innovation has been a trend over the last 10 years. As students learn about the engineering and design process, they begin to build an innovator’s mindset where they look for problems to solve and design solutions in response. This innovative type of thinking in schools helps to prepare students for jobs that will require similar thinking and processes.


What Classroom Teachers Can Do?


As we prepare learners for STEM jobs in service, creation or innovation, it is important for schools to continue to support the 4 Cs at all levels. Developing ongoing opportunities for students to build skills for critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity will serve students well as they move onto college and careers. Offering courses in STEM-related work and weaving STEM learning into multiple subject areas can support the development of the 4 Cs. Providing opportunities for hands-on learning and project-based learning can also provide career readiness development for students.


Maybe your students aren’t sure what they’d like to do in the future. Or perhaps that have lots of ideas and interests. Fuel their STEM thinking by promoting all types of careers. Whether students have a passion for service, creation, or innovation, there will be a STEM pathway for them to explore.

About the author:
Dr. Jacie Maslyk is an Assistant Superintendent focusing on curriculum, instruction, and professional learning. She has served in public school as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, elementary principal, and Director of Elementary Education over the last 22 years. She is passionate about STEM education and is the author of STEAM Makers: Fostering Creativity and Innovation in the Elementary Classroom. You can contact Jacie through her website at


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