What Skills Are Needed For STEM Careers?

Lucy Bell-Young

by Lucy Bell-Young

2nd October 2020

When pursuing a STEM career, be it in science, technology, engineering or maths, you will need to possess the relevant skills. STEM skills are necessary in these fields, and are used by professionals to comprehend and solve the complex problems encountered on a regular basis. 

Sometimes, these are logical-mathematical problems that most of us are already equipped for; other times, these problems require specialised knowledge that can only be gained through years of study and practical experience. STEM skills are thus a crucial foundation for these careers, as well as for ensuring that our technological civilisation continues to advance. 

What Is The Definition Of STEM Skills?

STEM skills are a set of technical skills that are needed to perform various tasks and solve problems, particularly within scientific disciplines. Any professional with a college education, a Bachelor of Science, or a more advanced STEM degree is expected to possess this skill set, which includes:

  • Numerical skills: These refer to mathematical aptitude and knowledge that has practical applications in various areas of civilisation, from building skyscrapers to sending robotic probes into space.
  • Logical skills: These equip you with the ability to think methodically about different solutions to a problem, by teaching you to use deductive and inductive reasoning.
  • Critical thinking skills: These allow you to weed out false, unreliable, or unnecessary information. They work by optimising objective analysis in order to improve your objective and rational judgement or assessment.
  • Scientific research skills: Research skills mean you can apply scientific methods when researching new information, concepts and theories, encouraging you to use available data. 
  • Creativity and innovation skills: These skills are critical, as they give you the ability to think outside the box. They are synonymous with inventiveness, and open your eyes to unique approaches to solving problems with various levels of difficulty. 
  • Communication skills: Professionals must also be able to convey technical concepts to those who aren’t scientifically trained. For example, climate scientists must be able to educate the public about climate change and dispel any myths or misconceptions. The ability to simplify and communicate complex scientific concepts in this way becomes especially critical when it’s translated to public policies that have national and global impact.

Specialists in STEM disciplines  are expected to not only have these technical skills, but to also apply them, along with theoretical concepts, to complex issues that need addressing. However, sometimes this level of problem-solving goes beyond technical knowledge. In these cases, creative STEM skills are needed to facilitate innovation – and, in rare cases, breakthrough discoveries are made in the process. 

STEM isometric compositions with classroom activities teacher at board vector illustration

STEM education teaches all the skills needed to pursue STEM careers

Why Are STEM Skills Important?

STEM skills are important because they make up the backbone of our digital and technologically advanced society. Without these skills, nobody would have the technical knowledge to operate power plants, program computers, design industrial machines, build infrastructures, heal the sick, or continue creating new inventions that drive humanity forwards. Technology has made the world better and our lives more convenient, from mingling online to understanding space. Digital technology and artificial intelligence have crucial roles to play, and STEM skills are what enable them to play out.

Indeed, digital technology and AI permeate virtually all aspects of our daily activities, making technologies more efficient and the impossible more attainable. As a result, they’ve had enormously positive economic, social, and political impacts. Professionals who have the right STEM skills and specialisations are the ones who ensure that this kind of advancement is maintained, so that industries, communications, energy production, transportation, finances, and the economy in general all run as smoothly as possible.

But having the aptitude or natural talent for STEM subjects is one thing – developing practical skills from studying these subjects is another, and takes time, dedication, effort, and sacrifice. For example, chemical engineers usually need to have at least five years of formal education, and must often undertake an apprenticeship before becoming fully qualified. The same is true for physicians, who typically have to study for four years in college, another four years in medical school, take the professional licensure examination, and then complete at least two years of a hospital internship in order to be considered qualified. To become a specialist in a given field, even more training and experience is expected to be completed in addition to all this.

What Are The Top STEM Careers?

STEM careers start with mastering the core subjects. These may vary slightly from one country or school to the next, but in general they include:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Mathematics
  • Architecture
  • Civil engineering
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Electronics

With a solid foundation in core subjects, the combination of which will depend on the career being pursued, a student is then able to apply their knowledge and skills more effectively to specialised, professional fields. The level of experience gained through STEM education and skills can make you highly sought after in any number of industries. Here are some examples of top-paying STEM careers and their corresponding average annual pay:

  • Aeronautical Engineering (£51,448)
  • Civil Engineering (£47,503)
  • Computer Science (£47,197)
  • Chemical Engineering (£45,527)
  • Life Science (£43,872)
  • Statistics (£43,731)
  • Electrical Engineering (£43,412)
  • Mathematics (£38,125.00)

While aeronautical engineering has the highest annual salary, it also has the fewest jobs available in the UK. By contrast, a career in mathematics is the least lucrative STEM career, but a general approach offers a broader and more accessible range of jobs – so it all depends on what’s most important to you. 

Young female with wrench fixing part of jetliner

Aeronautical Engineering is the most lucrative STEM career

What Is The STEM Skills Gap?

Despite the high demand for qualified STEM professionals, about 89% of companies in the UK are having difficulty recruiting the right candidates. There is a significant gap in terms of qualified professionals, and this translates to a shortfall of around 173,000 skilled workers.

The skills gap is so serious that approximately 48% of UK companies are looking for candidates from abroad. This means that it takes longer for companies to fill job vacancies, and they spend more money on recruitment and training. On average, all of the setbacks imposed by the skills gap equates to £1.5 billion every year.

If this STEM skilled worker shortage isn’t filled, it could have a devastating impact not only on the economy, but also in the way that society functions. This is because fewer skilled workers means that some of the technological conveniences we take for granted could become expensive, difficult to access, or stunted. In some cases, they could even stop altogether. Now more than ever, we need to place an emphasis on STEM education so that humanity can continue growing into the future.

Find out more in our careers in chemistry resources hub.


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