Starting in STEM and skilled trades: Career paths for success



Another school year has started and kids of all ages will begin or continue exploring possible career paths for the future. Learn some ways to start the conversation with kids of all ages about a fulfilling career in STEM or the skilled trades.

Like never before, STEM and skilled trades careers are in high demand and continue to grow in Canada and the world. STEM refers to a wide umbrella that covers careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics - think developers and programmers, doctors and nurses, statisticians and scientists, and engineers of all types. Skilled trades on the other hand include electricians, mechanics, arborists, and more.

Despite this high demand, Canada is currently facing a talent shortage in STEM and skilled trades careers due to a variety of factors including the underrepresentation of women in both. In fact, the energy sector is one of the least gender diverse industries, with women making up only 22% of workers. 

Employers in the energy sector as well as schools and charitable organizations are doing what they can to encourage children to pursue a career in STEM or skilled trades, but there are a few ways that parents can help spark an interest within their own children.



Getting girls and women interested

In 2022 Hydro Ottawa’s Think Energy podcast hosted award-winning author and educator Erin Twamley, who aims to share the careers, stories, and superpowers of women in STEM to spark interest and build girls’ confidence in STEM. That eye-opening interview from the perspective of an educator focuses on the energy sector, but some of the information shared can apply to all STEM and skilled trades careers.

“I think what's happening is that young girls and young women don't see themselves in these energy careers, because they don't see role models who look like them,” offered Twamley, when asked why women are so underrepresented in the energy sector. “They don't know how expansive these energy and career opportunities are.”

Twamley speaks about making a connection to what she calls “everyday superheroes”. Real life stories help kids make a connection, she says, especially when that connection is close to them - like a family member or neighbour - and they don’t realize it. She uses an example of a girl not knowing her aunt is actually a nuclear engineer. Those types of connections close to home can help spark an interest in what possibilities await girls in the world of STEM.

In short, talk to your daughters, nieces and granddaughters about the wide variety of career opportunities that may suit their interests. Introduce them to the women in STEM or skilled trades who are already in their lives by talking about what these women do for work, and encouraging them to ask questions.

Planting the seeds early

It’s never too early to spark an interest within young children. In fact, according to Erin Twamley, earlier is better.

“I hate to say it, but by the time kids are in second grade, they're already making decisions about whether or not they like STEM, whether or not they have an interest,” said Twamley. “So the research and the data just shows the earlier the exposure, the better the outcome.”

Books are a fantastic way to encourage young minds, including the Everyday Superheroes series geared towards girls. Bookstores like Indigo have options for kids of all ages and special interests too. 

Recognizing skills that your children have and talking about their skillset may help encourage them into STEM and skilled trades. Twamley points out that skills like observation, collaboration, communication, problem solving - which she calls superpowers - can grow and help inform possible career choices. 

“These superpowers are kind of just a way for kids to think about themselves, what skills they already have, and what skills they want to grow or learn more about,” she said. “What kid wouldn't love learning about superpowers and cultivating their own superpowers?”



Helping teenagers explore career paths

By grade 11 or 12 your teenager will already be making decisions about what they want to do after graduating. Before they get to that point, talk to them about what skills they have, what their favourite classes are, and what type of career they see themselves enjoying. What are they passionate about? Would they prefer a desk job, or do they enjoy working outdoors?

Careers in STEM are extremely varied. Some are in the field, working outdoors all day while others are your typical office job at a computer. Some opportunities are based in a laboratory or medical environment. Help your teen understand the variety of careers that are available to them in STEM, aside from the obvious ones. Ask your own contacts if they know of any careers that your teen should consider based on their interests. Neighbours or friends may be able to help connect you too!

In short, it’s never too early or too late to talk to your kids or teens about their options in STEM and the skilled trades, two areas that are in increasingly high demand as the years go on. Start conversations early and learn more with your children about what their futures could hold.

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