In recent years, there has been an increasing demand for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals globally. STEM fields are growing at an unprecedented rate, with the emergence of new technologies.
Despite this, Africa has been lagging in producing enough skilled professionals in these fields to match the global demand. However, it is essential that Africans consider a career in STEM as it can provide significant benefits to both the individual and the continent as a whole.
The Times reported earlier this year, in February, that the United Kingdom (UK) is planning to restrict international students from bringing immediate family members like spouses and children unless they study “high-value” degrees.
According to the report, only international students studying science, mathematics, and engineering will be able to bring their dependents to the UK. For African students aspiring to pursue higher education abroad, there is no better time to enrol for STEM-related programmes.
While men largely outnumber women majoring in most STEM fields in tertiary institutions around the world, women continue to be underrepresented in the STEM workforce. So, choosing to study a STEM course as an African woman offers advantage and prestige since according to a March 2023 report by National Girls Collaborative Project, Latina, Black and Indigenous women represent less than 10 percent of the STEM workforce [pdf].
In this article, Edugist highlights 10 reasons for Africans to consider a career in STEM.
- High demand: STEM careers are in high demand globally and have been identified as the fastest-growing career sector, with a projected growth rate of 13 percent from 2017 to 2027. This growth rate is much faster than the average for all other non-STEM occupations, which is projected to be around 9 percent.
- Job security: One of the most significant benefits of pursuing a career in STEM is job security. STEM professionals are more likely to be employed full-time, with better pay and benefits, providing a stable income and financial security for the individual and their family.
- Innovation and impact: STEM professionals have the ability to develop new technologies and solutions to tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems. For instance, African scientists and engineers can work towards developing sustainable energy solutions to combat climate change, improve healthcare through innovative medical technologies, and increase food production through advanced agricultural technologies. These solutions have the potential to improve the quality of life for Africans and people around the world, making a positive impact that can be felt for generations.
- Personal and professional growth: STEM careers provide opportunities for personal and professional growth, including continuous learning, advancement, and exposure to different cultures and ideas. This continuous learning can lead to personal growth and a sense of fulfilment as one advances in their career.
- Diversity and flexibility: It is worth noting that STEM careers are not limited to research and development or academic institutions. STEM careers provide various options, including software development, data analysis, engineering, and cybersecurity, among others, allowing individuals to choose a career that aligns with their interests and skills.
- Improving quality of life: STEM professionals can work towards developing sustainable energy solutions, innovative medical technologies, and advanced agricultural technologies, which can improve the quality of life for Africans and people around the world.
- Networking and collaboration: STEM careers offer opportunities for international collaboration, networking, and exposure to different cultures and ideas, which can broaden one’s perspective and enhance their creativity and problem-solving skills.
- Challenging stereotypes: Pursuing a career in STEM can challenge societal and cultural stereotypes that discourage, for example, women and girls from pursuing STEM careers and promoting gender equality in STEM education.
- Representation: Increased representation of African STEM professionals in leadership positions can serve as motivation and inspiration for the younger generation, thereby leading to a higher racial representation.
- Future-proof: STEM careers are future-proof, as emerging technologies and trends will continue to drive demand for skilled professionals in these fields.
Despite the benefits of pursuing a career in STEM, many African students, especially girls and women, shy away from these fields due to various factors, including inadequate resources, societal and cultural expectations.
These factors have contributed to the under-representation of Africans, women and girls, fastidiously in STEM fields, which is a significant loss for the continent’s development. It is crucial to challenge societal and cultural stereotypes that discourage women and girls from pursuing STEM careers. This can be achieved through mentorship programs, role models, and advocacy efforts to promote gender equality in STEM education and careers.
To address these challenges, African governments and institutions need to prioritise and invest in STEM education and research. This includes providing adequate resources such as laboratories, equipment and funding for research and development.
Additionally, there is a need for increased representation of African STEM professionals in leadership positions, as this can serve as motivation and inspiration for the younger generation. A career in STEM can provide significant benefits for Africans, including job security, opportunities for personal and professional growth, and the potential for innovation and impact. STEM education and research should be prioritised and adequately supported by African governments and institutions to ensure the continent produces enough skilled professionals to meet global demand.
With increased representation, resources, and support, Africans can lead the way in developing innovative solutions to tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems, making a positive impact on the continent and beyond.