Who Seeks A Career In STEM, When And Why?

Year: 2015

Author: Gore, Jenny, Holmes, Kathyrn, Smith, Max, Lloyd, Adam

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) industries are a vital part of the economy and as we move further into the 21st century there are signs that there will be insufficient skilled workers to meet the needs of these industries, unless action is taken now. Declining enrolments in STEM subjects at high school, in addition to insufficient numbers of people studying STEM at the tertiary level or working in STEM areas are contributing to this shortfall (Marginson, Tytler, Freeman, & Roberts, 2013). In many countries, including Australia, students are not choosing mathematics and/or science based subjects for reasons including prior achievement, perceived relevance, and/or a lack of interest in STEM careers. This has prompted government agencies, both in Australia and around the world to call for greater emphasis to be placed on STEM at the school level, with a particular focus on strategies to widen participation from traditionally marginalised students, such as females and students from low socio-economic backgrounds (Office of the Chief Scientist, 2013). Drawing on data from a four year (2012-2015) mixed method longitudinal study of over 6,000 students (and additional focus groups involving more than 500 students) in Years 3 – 12 in New South Wales public schools, which explores the career aspirations of young people, we examine the views of those students who signal interest in pursuing STEM studies/careers (Gore, Holmes, Smith, Southgate, & Albright, 2015). We compare factors (i.e., gender, family variables, and prior achievement) that are related to student’s interest in STEM across socioeconomic quartiles. We find that the number of students naming STEM careers is low in comparison to other careers and that there is also evidence of gender-type aspirations appearing in the early years. The analysis is critical in informing the activities and strategies that schools and universities undertake to attract and retain students from diverse backgrounds into STEM pathways and also in designing interventions that challenge the gender stereotypes on careers.


Gore, J., Holmes, K., Smith, M., Southgate, E., & Albright, J. (2015). Socioeconomic status and the career aspirations of Australian school students: testing enduring assumptions. Australian Educational Researcher. doi: 10.1007/s13384-015-0172-5
Marginson, S., Tytler, R., Freeman, B., & Roberts, K. (2013). STEM: Country comparisons. Melbourne: Australian Council of Learning Academies (ACOLA).
Office of the Chief Scientist. (2013). Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in the National Interest: A Strategic Approach. Canberra: Australian Government.