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Podcast: When to have that career chat with your child

The Buzz about STEM podcast returned this month for a conversation on when to chat careers with your child, the role of AI in disrupting careers and the jobs of the future

The following is an edited transcript of the show. Listen to the full episode here.

Welcome back to the Buzz about STEM. I’m Charis Palmer, new managing editor of Careers with STEM, and I’m really excited to be joining the podcast as we do some regular ‘in conversations’ with guests. 

I’m joined today by Heather Catchpole, co-founder of Refraction Media. 

CP: Students today are under a lot of pressure at school. When should parents begin discussing careers with their children? 

HC: Yeah, it’s so true. We tend to think about just getting our students through school and studying hard and it’s important to get those things right, but we’re not really talking to them about what sort of subjects are going to lead to what and where they might go next.

And I think it’s really important to start discussing careers really early because STEM stereotypes start to form even when kids are as young as primary school. They get it from the movies, from cartoons.

We’ve all seen that stereotypical mad scientist. And they’re getting these at a very young age. If they adhere to these kinds of stereotypes, they might not see themselves in STEM, particularly if they’re coming from diverse backgrounds or if they’re not seeing enough women in STEM, or role models out there, and it just begins to not really fit with their identity. They start to see themselves in other areas, but not really connect to STEM in that way. They’re actually not getting that exposure to STEM and what that is until science and maths classes in year 7 and 8. 

But STEM is really part of so many different things.It’s a part of food technologies, it’s a part of digital technologies. It’s even a part of arts and creativity these days. 

RELATED: Who says STEM careers can’t also be creative?

So I think when they’re starting to choose their electives and think about what they want to study, as well in year 7 and 8, that’s another great opportunity to connect with them and mention, oh, you know, food science, that’s cool. You know, you could be a chef, but you could also be a dietitian who deciphers the exact kind of requirements for people working in the military. There’s just so many huge areas to explore.

CP:  And of course there’s lots of role models on the site, which I think is probably really helpful for parents to show to their children.

HC: Yeah, absolutely. I think students find it hard enough even explaining what their parents do. Jobs are becoming so diverse and complicated and some are really specialised. So it just really helps them to see people near their age just to understand a little bit more about how they got into their jobs. We have 800 and counting role models on the website.

The reason we’ve dedicated so much time to this and to putting this whole site together is this massive challenge that we face in filling these STEM roles in the future. 

Australia’s looking to build the technology workforce, for example, to 1.3 million tech workers by 2030.That’s a massive increase. It’s almost doubling our tech workforce. And at the same time, we’re not getting the kind of interest in technology and engineering, particularly for girls. So it’s about really showcasing just what it looks like to get into that and giving them kind of easy ins to think about what that might look like for them.

HC: Charis, you did some deep diving into AI recently, it’s such a disruptive technology. What did you find about how AI is going to disrupt careers?

Yeah it’s really fascinating because there’s this transition going on. 

So a recent study with the World Economic Forum, they looked at 803 companies and a bunch of executives working for them and asked them how they thought jobs would change over the next five years, and they basically found that 42% of tasks of those companies are going to be automated. And that’s, partly because of the role of AI in doing things for us, which means jobs will be lost. They’re talking about this idea of 83 million jobs disappearing, but at the same time, the reality is that there’ll be millions and millions of new jobs.

Coming up to about three quarters of that number of jobs lost will be created in new jobs. 

Some of the really interesting jobs that they see coming through are things like robotics engineer or machine learning specialist, and business intelligence being at a whole different level, so new types of jobs there. And of course, as you alluded to before, this idea of cybersecurity, because the more data and the more information that we share with this AI world, the more you actually need to protect that data and you need people to secure and lock that data down.Which is where we’re seeing a lot more interest from employers. 

RELATED: 10 in-demand job skills becoming more important

And it’s all about problem-solving. We’ve spoken to a lot of students who tell us how they got into data science is they were into gaming. So they were into building games, starting to play around with a little bit of code, and also solve problems when it came to gaming. And that was a pathway into ultimately becoming a data scientist, which just goes to show, you can start out doing something that you’re really interested in, in terms of just having fun, and then you can realise that that’s actually a skill that can be used in the workforce. 

HC: As a parent it can feel really kind of overwhelming when you’re like ‘I don’t know what job you might do in 10 years’. It might not exist yet. So how do we go about preparing our children for that future where disruptive technologies are changing society in that way?

I think there’s a certain level of counselling of just dealing with constant change that we’re all having to manage. But one of the interesting things that the World Economic Forum study found was that employers are looking for more cognitive skills. So things like creative thinking and analytical thinking. 

Even now, analytical thinking is a really important skill to have. And analytical thinking is something that is enhanced if you like, by learning maths. So it’s certainly a benefit to be able to do maths for the whole of your high school, because it does create these skills that actually are transferrable and useful in the workplace.

But also the interesting thing with the World Economic Forum study was that they found that creative thinking was becoming more important, and they thought that over time, over the next five years, that that will become more important because it reflects this idea of increased complex problem solving.

So being able to think creatively means that you can address fast, rapid, change a little bit faster, and find solutions to things that may not be the traditional solutions. And so I think that’s interesting in that yes, you’ve got these skills that are really important to most employers that are useful and and are enhanced by doing maths, but you’ve also got this idea of creative thinking because in the future, when you’re talking about quantum computing and some of these more advanced AI technologies as well, the machine will be able to do things, but the human will still need to be able to be creative. 

And so I think the message there for parents is that really, you don’t have to be worried if your child is kind of a certain kind of maths brain or a certain kind of arts brain, actually a combination of those things or some of those things will be valuable in all contexts.

And so suddenly, you know, it’s not, oh my goodness, my child can’t do math, so they won’t be able to deal with this, this kind of high technology AI environment, because actually some of those other skills are just as important in those environments.

HC: We recently looked at just what the top emerging career areas are. So for 2023, what’s the list? What are the kind of careers that are out there right now? 

CP: Yeah, so it’s no surprise I guess that AI specialists are becoming really more important. So this is a list of emerging careers in tech from LinkedIn, which has obviously got a high amount of really valuable data on where the hiring’s going on.

RELATED: Future tech jobs in Australia

So AI specialists, really important, cybersecurity, as we alluded to before, data science. I mean, there’s just no hold up to the demand for data scientists just as a result of the sheer amount of data that we are dealing with every day. and the need for people to understand and use that to make important decisions.

And that’s not just in for-profit business environments. It’s also in NGOs, it’s in government, it’s in a lot of different workplaces where being able to actually analyse data will help. Those different groups make really informed decisions. And likewise, there’s no shortage of need for coders, full stack engineers.

One of the interesting things there is that there’s this new kind of movement going on in tech with something called no code, which is this idea of piecing together bits of code without having to be able to be a coder yourself to build new products, which we’re gonna cover more in the upcoming issue of careers with STEM technology, but also, there’s another movement of self-taught, so we’re seeing an increasing number of kids taking an interest in coding at school.

Obviously learning some coding at school, but also then taking that further and going out there and finding courses online and spending their spare time learning how to code, which means they can really fast track into some kind of coding career.

HC: And it’s interesting that you talk about coding at school because they all do learn coding. 

You might have noticed kids doing animation programs or even presenting in PowerPoint, but there are little bits of code that they’re adding to that, or they might be working in Scratch, which is another great technology.

It’s really easy to learn. It’s really fun to play with. I recommend hopping on there with your kids and if you can’t use it, getting them to show you how they’re using it as well. But there’s a lot of other great ways that you can really help your students foster an interest in STEM careers.

There’s often clubs that they can join in their school holiday activities. You can do STEM as an elective. That’s really fun. It’s all about things like how you can like drop an egg using various things to protect it on the way down.

RELATED: Coding resources to help your child get started with code

So it’s about that kind of practical problem solving, which I know my son really loves. He just loves kind of putting his brain to a practical challenge like that. There’s engineering challenges. There might be at the local university where you might find things like that.

There’s the tech girls movement, which is a really great way of getting young girls in primary school into technology. They get to play different roles and they get to be business managers and come up with an idea to help their community. So many different kinds of ways that you can really get your students started.

You can find a few in the careers with STEM site, or you can also check out the chief scientist. Star Portal, which has a searchable database of programs, which you can find from your local area as well. 

CP: And Heather, what about something this generation we’re seeing coming through now has really close to their heart,  this idea of social good?

HC: So, it’s inspiring the kind of work that can happen in social good. You can search through that on the Careers with STEM website. You can go to the X of social good and find a whole bunch of stories and people who are just doing such inspiring work in this area, but really, as you said, it’s about problem solving and we’re gonna need to problem solve some pretty serious global challenges in the future.

Everything from renewable energy engineering, to mitigating against climate change and the Pacific. There’s so many ways that STEM can be a part of that. There’s some really exciting things happening in seaweed, and scientists who are developing ways to create medical products and even 3D printed components that they can make out of seaweed.

So there’s just, there’s some really cool science and really cool technology in there, and I think letting kids and particularly girls understand that, STEM is a way to create that social change, you don’t have to go into law, you don’t have to go into humanitarian studies.

CP: You’ve done hundreds of profiles on careers with STEM so far. What are some of the other things you’ve learned from those that it might be good for parents to share with their kids?

HC: I think the main thing is that there’s no one pathway to stem. It’s not about being really good at science and maths and being good enough to go to university. You can find a pathway into STEM through military recruitment, you can find it through VET studies. 

There’s amazing private colleges as well that do great work in technology careers. There’s different ways to get into uni. If you are gonna go to uni, there’s so many pathways into that as well. There’s great double degrees that you can do to really connect with, say if you’re interested in the environment, but you know, you think you might be interested in this kind of problem solving engineering aspect as well.

I really want to just encourage people to know that you don’t need to be good at it. 

I hear so many people saying, you know, I’m not good at maths and therefore I can’t go into STEM. You don’t need to be good at it. You just need to kind of keep it up so that you can follow the pathway that you are interested in. We’re not all doing linear algebra, but surprisingly, if you’re kind of into gaming and you want to create character rigging, you might need linear algebra and, and not know that.

So it’s all about just sticking with it, but you don’t need to be an expert. And I think the other really, really critical and important thing to share is that we need everybody in STEM. We need people of color, we need people of different genders, we need people of different ages, different ways of thinking. People who come from rural and regional areas. It’s really, really important to get into STEM, even if you haven’t seen people like you before. 

And there’s also heaps and heaps of support. There’s amazing programs and mentors out there to help people. Give it a shot and you find your people along the way!

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