Survey: Teens fear failing in STEM careers

An American Society for Quality (ASQ) survey indicates that 46 percent of teens are afraid of taking risks or failing. The fear of failure, ASQ believes, may turn students away from a STEM career because of their awareness of a higher potential risk involved in those careers.


While 95 percent of teens agree that risk-taking is required for innovation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics - or STEM - careers, 46 percent say they are afraid to fail or uncomfortable taking risks to solve problems, according to an American Society for Quality (ASQ) survey conducted by Kelton Global.

The survey, which was fielded in January in advance of National Engineers Week Feb. 17-23, reveals that students' pressure to succeed may be driven by parents, of which 81 percent say they are uncomfortable if their child does not perform well in sports, extracurricular activities or social situations. Of those parents, 73 percent say they feel uncomfortable when their child gets bad grades.

While nearly half of students are afraid or uncomfortable about failing, Cheryl Birdsong-Dyer, an ASQ member and professional process engineer, said failing - and more importantly, trying again - is a pivotal skill in problem solving.

"If one does not take risk, they risk not solving the problem," she said. "As educators, professionals and leaders we need to reinforce to teens that every failure is an opportunity to learn and grow.

"Teaching teens that it is OK to take risks and sometimes fail will build their confidence and ultimately their knowledge base of science, technology, engineering and math," she said.

Birdsong-Dyer is one of 14,000 engineers who are members of ASQ. ASQ provides engineers and professionals in other STEM-related careers the quality tools to help them succeed.

According to the survey, 88 percent of students say they feel the pressure to succeed, of which 71 percent say failing a class make them feel they have not succeeded. Seventy-eight percent of girls feel unsuccessful when they fail a class, compared to 64 percent of boys. Other reasons teens feel like they have fallen short in achievement include:

  • Nailing a test - 62 percent
  • Not making the honor roll - 37 percent
  • Not making a sports team - 35 percent
  • Not being accepted into a club - 25 percent
  • Not being popular - 24 percent 

Girls more afraid to fail

When faced with a difficult problem to solve, only 11 percent of students are happy because they enjoy solving problems, according to the survey results. Fifty-eight percent of girls say they feel uncomfortable or afraid when facing a difficult problem in school. In comparison, only 34 percent of boys feel uncomfortable or afraid when asked to solve challenging schoolwork.

Quality professionals, such as engineers, work in an environment full of risk. They use quality tools to mitigate risk and boost creativity and innovation needed to solve challenging problems. As a result, engineers and other quality professionals are uniquely positioned to mentor students, according to ASQ CEO Paul Borawski.

"We need to teach today's students how to take risks and fail so they feel comfortable when faced with challenging work," Borawski said. "If students are going to cure the next deadly disease, solve the energy crisis or end world hunger, they have to be prepared to fail and learn from those failures."

Problem-solving 101

Nearly all of the students surveyed - 98 percent - say they have learned some problem-solving skills. Of those, 27 percent say they learn these skills from teachers at school.

Other areas of influence include:

  • Technology (computer games, Internet, video games) - 22 percent
  • Parents - 20 percent
  • Friends - 17 percent
  • Sports teams - 6 percent

Help wanted: Risk-taking required

Being afraid to take risks may steer teens away from choosing a STEM career. Ninety-five percent of teens surveyed agree that risk-taking is imperative to solve problems for jobs, especially in STEM-related fields like a scientist (66 percent), doctor (55 percent), or engineer (51 percent).

In contrast, teens feel the following careers need fewer risk-taking skills:

  • Lawyer - 47 percent
  • Computer programmer - 44 percent
  • Teacher - 41 percent
  • Entrepreneur - 41 percent
  • Accountant - 17 percent

Maturity matters

According to the survey results, older teens understand that certain professions require more risk taking. In fact, 58 percent of teens ages 16-17 know that a doctor needs to take chances to solve problems compared to half ages 12-15.

Fifty-four percent of teens 16-17 know engineers need risk-taking skills to solve problems, whereas only 46 percent of youth 12-15 know that.

Older teens also are more likely to feel challenged by problem-solving in a positive way, than the younger students (43% vs. 34%).

American Society for Quality (ASQ) 

No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2013 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
Sister act: Building on their father's legacy, a new generation moves Bales Metal Surface Solutions forward; Meet the 2015 Engineering Leaders Under 40
2015 Mid-Year Report: Manufacturing's newest tool: In a digital age, digits will play a key role in the plant of the future; Ethernet certification; Mitigate harmonics; World class maintenance
2015 Lubrication Guide: Green and gold in lubrication: Environmentally friendly fluids and sealing systems offer a new perspective
Drilling for Big Data: Managing the flow of information; Big data drilldown series: Challenge and opportunity; OT to IT: Creating a circle of improvement; Industry loses best workers, again
Pipeline vulnerabilities? Securing hydrocarbon transit; Predictive analytics hit the mainstream; Dirty pipelines decrease flow, production—pig your line; Ensuring pipeline physical and cyber security
Cyber security attack: The threat is real; Hacking O&G control systems: Understanding the cyber risk; The active cyber defense cycle
Designing positive-energy buildings; Ensuring power quality; Complying with NFPA 110; Minimizing arc flash hazards
Building high availability into industrial computers; Of key metrics and myth busting; The truth about five common VFD myths
New industrial buildings: Greener, cleaner, leaner; New building designs for industry; Take a new look at absorption cooling; Offshored jobs start to come back

Annual Salary Survey

After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.

The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.

Read more: 2014 Salary Survey: Confidence rises amid the challenges

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.