Diversity & Inclusion, Learning & Development

Why Measuring Aptitudes Is Critical When It Comes to Careers, Especially for Women

America is facing a job problem. It’s not the creation of jobs but filling them – and especially filling jobs in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. Added to this challenge is the fact that people are leaving the workforce in droves: in November 2021 alone, 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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STEM jobs are projected to grow more than two times faster than all other occupations combined over the next decade. However, while STEM jobs are forecasted to have high employment growth, interest in these types of jobs isn’t keeping up. This lack of interest by our emerging workforce can be attributed to many reasons, such as societal norms pushing people into jobs they “should” go into, cultural biases, or even self-bias. Sometimes even pressure from social media can impact decision-making around job interest. Women, in particular, tend not to see themselves in STEM occupations, or many other high-paying, in-demand careers because of a lack of exposure and perceived acceptance. This “career exposure gap” is gaining attention from educators and career counselors.

The career exposure gap is simply that: a lack of exposure to the broad range of career opportunities that a person might pursue, especially where natural aptitudes or talent exist. The career exposure gap exists because too often a person’s view of potential jobs is limited to those held by family and friends. For those students in small towns or rural outposts, this gap can be more like a career chasm. Even for those students in cities, exposure to a broad range of career opportunities, especially those related to STEM, can be limited. What this career exposure gap means is that we have students who are naturally talented and have the aptitudes for a variety of STEM careers, but they are not pursuing them because they don’t even know the careers exist.

Knowing Your Talents 

People are asked from an early age what they want to be when they grow up. The truth is, picking a career truly starts to take form when an individual is in middle school. According to the Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE), middle school is a time when students benefit the most from career exploration, a process of building self-awareness, learning about potential careers, and developing a plan for reaching future goals. However, that exploration typically comes later, if at all.

Nashville State Community College (Nashville State) is proactively addressing this gap between career fit and potential, and career knowledge. Working closely with students as they enter their first year, the Student Success and Career Guidance teams at Nashville State uses YouScience Discovery to help students identify their natural aptitudes, or talents, and see how that translates to a myriad of career opportunities. As a result, students are exposed early on in their college career to fields that they are well-suited for and can choose their courses accordingly. 

Women and STEM

It’s been widely known for some time that women and minorities are underrepresented in certain sectors of the labor market — particularly occupations in STEM. According to findings, women comprise only 29 percent of the STEM workforce, yet 52 percent of the college-educated workforce. Oftentimes, women aren’t even being directed into STEM education pathways. A University of Missouri Research study found that education pathways to some in-demand, high-reward careers are being bypassed by women because of lack of exposure – particularly those jobs in technology, construction, and manufacturing.

These lost career opportunities can lead to wage gaps for women, as well as create long-term career dissatisfaction, as women end up in jobs that don’t align well with their natural talents. Having students understand their aptitudes and connecting those talents to in-demand jobs is one way — if not the main way — to help alleviate the career exposure gap. This is especially true for those students who overlook STEM and other in-demand jobs, which can be some of the highest-paying opportunities for workers.

At Nashville State, the Career Services team proactively works with students to understand the results of their aptitude assessments and how their strengths are described. After working hard to complete the assessments, the students, especially women, feel empowered by how their strengths are described, as well as how their talents match up to a plethora of job opportunities and potential.

Hiring in STEM

When it comes to the hiring process, the lack of women in STEM fields and pursuing STEM careers creates a variety of problems. The most obvious is the absence of diversity. Another is that employers miss out on hiring those who are naturally wired to perform these types of jobs well, who would have high job satisfaction, and who would remain in their jobs, thus reducing employee turnover.

We need to close the STEM talent gap, and the first step is to help young people see beyond the career exposure gap. We need to start thinking about ways that we can change the educational system so that individuals with the aptitudes for STEM are directed to in-demand, high-paying STEM jobs. Nashville State takes career preparation seriously. The community college has career and employer fairs, but goes well beyond that, working with high schools in the area to ensure that they are utilizing tools, like YouScience Discovery. Nashville State also works with employers to create IT positions on campus where students can get exposure to, and learn how to do, high-demand IT jobs.

It’s important that we take a critical look at how we guide students into careers and educational pathways. It’s especially vital that we expose students and those early in their education to how their natural talents translate to career success and satisfaction. Aptitude isn’t based on gender or background, and we can use real data and real science to help students quantify their abilities and build on a strong foundation of natural talent.

Edson Barton is the Founder and CEO at YouScience, and Dr. Julie Williams is AVP of Student Affairs at Nashville State Community College.