From education to employment

Education system failing to properly prepare STEM students for the working world

The inability of chemistry to recruit new STEM students is a crisis for the industry according to more than a third (36%) of 180+ chemistry professionals from academia and industry, in a recent survey carried out by Elsevier’s Reaxys team. A further 51% said that if this situation continued, it would could reach crisis point. The research also found that chemists believe university curricula to be problematic, with just over three fifths (61%) firmly of the belief that because too little time is spent solving real-world problems, students are graduating without being fully prepared for the working world.

Other key findings include:        

  • The top three skills for chemists seeking to succeed in the work-place were; cross-disciplinary knowledge (26%), the ability to collaborate with researchers in other fields and geographies (21%), and being able to present a commercial case for research funds (16%).
  • When asked about the causes of the STEM student crisis, 38% of responses highlighted the lack of funding, inability to do interesting research, and poorly designed curricula.

“These findings suggest academia needs to work more in sync with industry to produce the types of skills required for graduates to succeed in the future,” commented Tim Hoctor, Vice President of Life Science Solutions Services at Elsevier. “The question is not whether educators are aware, but whether what is being done is enough. Current curricula should be examined to ensure that knowledge and theoretical basics are balanced with learning to think creatively and scientifically about how to solve practical problems.

“Preparing students for jobs and problems that are changing as technologies transform industries is a challenge – but equipping students with tech expertise will be crucial. Further, incorporating cross-disciplinary knowledge and collaboration skills into the curricula is key. Schools and universities should be willing to embrace change to address these concerns.”

The research also found that technology is increasingly playing a critical role in climbing the industry ladder, with an overwhelming majority (84%) of chemists stating that being ‘technologically savvy’ with new digital tools is either ‘crucial’ or ‘very important’ to career progression. Academic institutions, as well as professional settings, must become digital-first environments that give chemists – both novice and experience – access to technologies that help them remain productive and innovative.

“While these figures suggest that universities need to make some changes, there is also plenty for industry to think about as well,” said Christina Valimaki, Senior Director for Chemicals at Elsevier. “A quarter of those surveyed said that a career in chemistry could involve uninteresting work and poor remuneration – unless such perceptions change, it doesn’t matter what educational institutions do.

“Companies need to ensure chemists have the creative freedom to pursue potential breakthroughs and support them with the tools and technology they need – even as they ultimately drive commercial impact. Adapting to these expectations can provide a significant competitive advantage in the competition for young talent, and failure to do so could see companies being left behind.”

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