Austrian companies constantly complain about the lack of STEM-specialists. Jobs are difficult or almost impossible to fill. Qualified applications are either not forthcoming or rare. And this is despite the fact that - and this should not go unmentioned here - Austria should actually have an advantage in the field of technical education due to its HTLs, a type of school that is specific to Austria and does not exist in other countries.

For years, attempts have been made to increasingly steer young people into corresponding STEM apprenticeships. STEM - short for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics - stands for fields of education that are generally considered difficult. And indeed, the average drop-out rate of students in the 1st year of study is sometimes high at 50 percent.

But despite many initiatives - daughters' days, scholarships, expanded study places, the knowledge of extremely well-paid and secure jobs (HTL graduates are in great demand and it’s not uncommon for STEM students to receive permanent job offers from companies even before completing their studies) - the shortage of skilled workers in the STEM sector has not yet been sufficiently curbed.

So what is the problem? There is no single right answer to this question; several factors come into play here. Of course, there are also those skilled workers who migrate abroad because of better offers. Then again, there is sometimes an overqualification, a "matching problem": even in STEM apprenticeships, young people often strive for the highest degrees, while companies are often looking for corresponding qualifications, but with intermediate degrees. And one should not forget the still more difficult conditions of young people coming from families with lower socio-economic status.

And the women? As is well known, a lot has been done in recent years to make the long male-dominated STEM education and career fields more attractive to girls and young women. Currently, the share of women in STEM training subjects is 25 per cent. However, the sobering current empirical data looks like some STEM graduates eventually do not feel quite comfortable in the working world - for example, as the only woman in a male team - whereby the proportion of women can be quite different in the individual fields of study, such as there is a quite high proportion of women in the chemical field. The main reasons: Macho cultures and self-doubt. So there is still some "rethinking work" to be done. Despite training, role clichés do not disappear overnight.

So much for the status quo. But how is it possible to meet the growing demand for STEM professionals? How can young people be inspired to take up the relevant training and the occupational profiles that are in demand? Just because young people are informed about the excellent opportunities in the field of STEM obviously does not mean that they see their professional future in it. HILL International Managing Director Markus Mülleder makes some important points clear. For example, that imparting knowledge in the form of lessons is only one thing. It is much more important to awaken a sincere interest in the natural sciences at a young age than to use the so-called "education club" to try to impart knowledge to children and young people. Not abstractly by memorising complicated formulas at school. But through playing, experimenting and the joy of research and discovery," says Mülleder, who is himself the father of a daughter.

And according to Markus Mülleder, another aspect will become even more important in the future: "In times of increasing world climate debates and possible subsequent scenarios, young people are becoming very aware of their own actions and their own responsibility. As a motivation to become enthusiastic about STEM, not only altruistic aspects will play an increasingly important role, but also the question of one's own active contribution. For example: How can I make my contribution in view of the current global challenges?

Markus Mülleder, like so many other industry experts, clearly sees the origin of a solution in the families: "The STEM orientation of the children is decided in the families - through the conversations held, but also through joint occupation." So it is up to us as parents to encourage our children - girls as well as boys - to show them their potential and possibilities, to enlighten them according to our own possibilities, to support them and to reflectively not hold on to entrenched role patterns ourselves. This then also includes showing the daughter - and not only the son - how the drill works. As one example among many. So that one day when someone asks the daughter in disbelief: "What, you as a girl want to be a technician?" she can answer confidently and quite naturally with a simple "Yes". And at some point, even this question will become superfluous.

Mag. Catharina Fink, Guest Author
Guest Author

Great things never come from comfort zones.