Top 5 STEM Skills for 2021 & Beyond

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STEM encompasses some of the fastest-growing careers in the world and a cornerstone of 21st century education, so why is that? Let’s take a step back from the buzzwords to take a closer look at why STEM is important for kids and what it’s all about. 

Let’s start with the basics: what does STEM mean? STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (and don’t worry, you are not alone if you needed a quick refresher on that!). 

After all, we see “STEM” everywhere nowadays: in schools, as focuses for curriculum, in jobs reports projecting 13% growth by 2027, in the news—the list goes on. Knowing what it actually stands for, we can pinpoint the areas of expertise that are so essential to the modern world.   

In a nutshell, those science, technology, engineering, and math skills are in-demand today, and projections show that there is simply not enough supply of talent to meet that demand.

Particularly in the “T” department. 

"The need is enormous right now—there is a massive skills gap between the needs that major tech companies have, and what we are teaching our kids every day. Gaining deep exposure to STEM topics on a regular basis at an early age is absolutely vital to the future of our kids, and to the future of our country," said Pete Ingram-Cauchi, CEO of iD Tech, and father of three. 

I think I can guess what you’re thinking. “Great! So… how do I support my child in developing these skills?”

It’s certainly a lot to think about! Fortunately, this topic is a specialty of ours at iD Tech, and we’ve distilled the top 8 skills to focus on in preparing kids for a STEM-driven world.

STEM Skills for School & Careers

There are more ways than ever to develop science, math, technology, and engineering skills, which will be great news to parents, as each kid is different. 

These skills are not prescriptive; rather, they can be developed in ways authentic to each child and connect with the STEM areas each child finds interesting.

Iteration

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” is perhaps the most commonplace iteration advice out there, and it’s an essential mindset in STEM. 

Whether coding an app or testing out a new invention, honing and improving the outcome is an inevitable part of the process. Iteration means planning, testing, and improving, then rinsing and repeating. Any engineer or programmer will tell you that the patience and meticulousness involved in iterating is a lot easier said than done, so it’s a great skill to develop early in life!

The capacity to have great ideas is just the beginning; the real skill lies in the tenacity, adaptability, and willingness to improve. So, encourage kids (read more: The Importance of Encouragement) to embrace the iterative process as they create something they’re excited about! 

Ideas for developing iteration skills:

Coding

Let’s face it: the demand for STEM workers simply isn’t evenly distributed across all fields. By 2024, 73% of all STEM industry growth will be in computer science professions. The Department of Labor estimates another whooping 546,200 coding jobs will be added by 2028. 

Not only that, US World News Report, estimates software developers’ median salary was $103,620 as of 2018, with still more projected industry-wide growth of 26% by 2028.

Clearly, familiarity with programming will carry kids far into this bright future! Even if kids don’t find their passion and future career in coding, it’s a topic worth exploring in and of itself as a high-tech learning experience. 

Think about it : how many people can actually explain how computers work? The internet? We will certainly need more of them to power tech-infused life, making coding key for all kids to know

Plus, coding offers something all young people need: the opportunity to express themselves. Every child has interests, passions: a voice that can be amplified by learning to code. Whether developing their own video game or building a passion project website, it’s amazing what strings of 1’s and 0’s can become—it might just be a matter of selecting that perfect beginner coding language for your child.

How to get coding experience

Check out this comprehensive guide on how to get coding experience, or dive right in with a little expert guidance:

Creativity 

Long gone are the days when STEM and the humanities and arts are considered separate entities. Welcome to the era of STEAM: science, technology, engineering, art, and math.

If you ask me, this updated acronym is long overdue. 

Kids develop multiple creative capacities while coding, doing math, and exploring other STEM-related areas; amazing how many different skills synchronize at once. While learning, kids can build logic alongside the creativity of a game designer or  UX engineer, and other hybrid STEAM skills, an unstoppable repertoire of skills.

Plus, as of last year, the total market value of the gaming industry was $151.06 billion dollars, with steady growth predicted through 2027. That’s billions of dollars worth of game artists, designers, animators, and other creative professionals needed to keep up with the gaming world. 

Throw that in with the 500 hours of content uploaded to YouTube per minute, and you get the picture: creativity and STEM go hand in hand, and likely will continue interweaving in interesting ways in the future! 

Ideas for infusing STEM with creative skills:

Problem-solving

Science, technology, engineering, and math can all be leveraged to tackle real-world issues, so naturally, the problem-solving skills needed to get there are a must! To succeed in STEM, kids should develop inquiry, perseverance, and critical thinking skills.

Not only will these skills be essential to debugging code, solving math problems, and approaching engineering challenges, a problem-solving mindset will help kids tackle all sorts of challenges that arise from creating innovative solutions. 

Like computational thinking, problem-solving skills are both practical to have and versatile across STEM disciplines. Memorization can only get students so far; the really exciting learning happens when kids discover things for themselves. Encourage kids to be curious, try out different solutions, and become creative problem solvers! 

Ideas for building problem-solving skills:

Collaboration

Speaking of dispelling STEM-related myths, these fields are much more collaborative than many people think. So, it’s crucial to give communication, teamwork, and interpersonal skills the attention they deserve. 

Case in point: US World News Report ranks IT managers among the fastest growing jobs in tech. These leaders are at the helm of navigating the ever-changing world of technology and ensuring organizations’ have what they need for success and leverage the human power behind making it happen. 

Esports is another highly collaborative STEM field to take notice of and a great way to explore the collaborative potential of gaming. Gamers can build leadership skills and learn sportsmanship outside the traditional setting of a court, track, or field and reap the benefits in an area of authentic interest to them. (Read more: Are video games sports?)

To succeed in these career paths and in other leadership positions, kids will need strong people skills as well as technical savvy.

Ideas for building collaborative STEM skills:

Math

It gets its own letter in the STEM acronym for a reason. Foundational to engineering, and top tech careers in artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge fields, math is an essential building block within the STEM family. 

For instance, data science relies heavily on math and is one of 2021’s best STEM careers. With an average annual salary of $100,560, data science is blowing up both in types of job opportunities and overall demand. In the past 10 years, the field has experienced a 650% growth spurt and is still growing. 

For some kids, math practice can feel a bit like pulling teeth, but by exploring these everyday ways to make math fun or perhaps trying out a few interactive math games, this STEM area becomes a lot more exciting!

Ideas for building math skills:

Leverage STEM skills and set kids up for success 

STEM-readiness is about much more than general tech-savvy; it’s about developing a repertoire of skills and mindsets that maximize each child’s options for their future.

Whether your child is looking to get started with STEM or level-up their skills, these skills are key to unlocking both in-demand careers and lifelong learning. Our experts can help guide their journey, and there’s no time like the present to get started with online tutoring or virtual summer camps

A photo of Virginia

Virginia started with iD Tech at the University of Denver in 2015 and has loved every minute since then! A former teacher by trade, she has a master's in education and loves working to embolden the next generation through STEM. Outside the office, you can usually find her reading a good book, struggling on a yoga mat, or exploring the Rocky Mountains.