STEM careers are on the rise, and for good reason! They offer stability, high-paying jobs, and a chance to make a real difference in the world. If you’re thinking about exploring a different STEM career, having to retrain or go back to school for additional formal qualifications can feel overwhelming.
Why are people so focused on STEM careers?
Careers in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics are proven to have much higher than average salaries, as well as strong starting salaries. Average salary is an important indicator of future career progression. For example, the average IT manager’s UK salary is £62,050 which is leaps ahead of many other industries. Such earning potential is super attractive to many people. The initial challenge though is that STEM careers often require a decent educational investment to learn the right skills. However, the long-term payoff is worth it! STEM careers are also in high demand because they offer a chance to make a real impact and contribute towards solving global problems. But what if you’re already working and want to explore other options within a STEM field? Many people don’t feel they have the money or the time to do further education. They often talk themselves out of making a change because they feel it’s too much to handle. But the good news is that there are some small, easier steps you can take to start exploring a different STEM-based career path. Here are five first steps to get started:
Reflect on your interests and values
What do you enjoy doing? What kind of work environment do you thrive in? Do some soul-searching to understand what motivates and drives you. This will help narrow down potential STEM career paths that align with your interests and values. When considering your interests, try to think about specific STEM-related skills or tasks that you enjoy. This will also help inform your search for potential career options. What skills do you currently have? What did you learn to do when doing the things you enjoy? Identifying these transferable skills can give insight into potential STEM career options that may be a good fit for you. For example, if you enjoy baking and have learned to use different equipment, you may want to consider a STEM career in food science or engineering. All those fields follow precise systems to construct an object. Then you also need to consider your values. Do you want to work in a team or do individual problem-solving? Do you want to work with the public or on research projects behind the scenes? Would having a flexible schedule be important for you, or do you prefer more structure and predictable work hours? Do you need autonomy in your work? What kind of working culture do you want to be part of? The working cultures vary by field, so it’s important to think about what type of workplace environment will make you happiest and most productive.
Research STEM careers
Take the time to do some research into different STEM careers, what they involve day-to-day, their earning potential, required qualifications or skillsets, job outlooks, etc. This can help you determine if it’s a good fit for you and what steps you may need to take in terms of retraining or education. While “STEM” can make it sound like there are only a handful of different fields, in reality, there are hundreds of different lines of work spanning across industries. Researching hundreds of industries will be impossible to do well. Therefore it makes sense to focus on the core areas that pique your curiosity the most. Perhaps you already know a rough area that you would enjoy more than your current work. One way to start is by looking into STEM career clusters such as biotechnology, computer and information technology, engineering and architecture, health science, and environmental science. Then you can narrow down to specific career paths within those clusters. If possible, try to speak with people who are currently working in those fields to get a better understanding of what it’s really like.
Don’t underestimate the power of networking! Connect with people who are already working in your desired STEM field and ask them about their experiences, challenges, advice, etc. This can give you valuable insights into whether it’s the right fit for you and also help open up potential job opportunities. You’d be surprised how readily people are willing to help if you simply reach out and ask. By being afraid to ask questions or ask for help, you have zero chance of gaining any advantage. But even if you ask 20 people and only 1 says yes, you’re dramatically increasing your odds of gaining new opportunities. One way to reach out to someone completely new, for example on Linkedin, would be to ask for recommendations rather than something more specific. When reaching out, try asking for advice on who to speak with further, and letting the person guide you, rather than dictating to them what they should do. When you’re asking for a favor, you are rarely in a position to dictate what type of help the other person should give you. Try also asking your existing network about people they might know in the fields you want to learn more about.
Take a MOOC or online course
There are some great tools to help with exploring new careers. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are a great way to start learning about STEM topics without having to commit to a full degree program. They can also be affordable or even free! Look for reputable universities offering STEM-related courses and see if any pique your interest. The other main advantage is that doing a small online course is far easier than enrolling in a formal college and having to visit to set location. Most universities make a selection of their content available online to do in your own time. This side hustle approach to further education can fit far better into a busy schedule. Doing a little and often is almost always the best approach. Even if you only have 15 to 20 minutes at lunch or in the evening, squeezing in a quick video and taking some notes will mount up over time. Further education is not the time drain it used to be with all the platforms out there.
Gain practical experience
If possible, try to gain some practical experience in your desired STEM field through internships, apprenticeships, or volunteering opportunities. This will give you a better idea of what the job entails and whether it’s something you want to pursue long-term. It can also potentially lead to job offers or references for future opportunities. Internships don’t automatically mean junior positions. There is a rise in paid internships for feeder roles that are designed to be a testing ground for potential new employees. Apprenticeships are far more targeted and also often better structured than internships. They tend to be very specific and so choosing one means you need to already have committed to a certain field. However, if you’re already more experienced and looking to make a career change, volunteering is probably a much better route. Volunteering can get you into most fields and isn’t always restricted by your level of knowledge. Many volunteers are highly trained people looking to use their skills in new and different ways. You can do the same with your existing skill set by offering to volunteer in a field related to your target area. You will have to view it as time investment as part of developing new experiences. The people you will meet will also prove invaluable to your network and also as potential references for future roles.
Just get started now
Finally, just get going. Start exploring now. Procrastinating or waiting for “the perfect opportunity” to come along won’t be productive. But even a small step taken every day will help you climb any new mountain.
Written by Naomi Rothwell-Boyd.
Naomi is the founder of Tribe And Seek and an EMCC and CIPD accredited career and performance coach. She has coached people from a variety of backgrounds and industries, from graduates to senior executives, advising them on career change. Naomi was also the first in-house learning and development lead at the HR consultancy Lane4 (the leading L&D consultancy in the UK). She worked alongside olympic athletes to support clients like Kraft Heinz and TUI to develop their senior leaders. She also designed training at the Duke Of Edinburgh’s Award for both young and adult leaders. No stranger to change, Naomi left a previous career in international development consulting behind and also fully overcame an accident that broke her neck.