STEM graduates have the edge as we rise through the digital age

digital transitions
Digital transitions are everywhere in the education sector. Source: Shutterstock

The Sumerians, architects of the world’s first civilisation, began to develop a complex system of metrology from 3,000BC. From 2,500 onwards, these ancient people wrote multiplication tables on clay tablets, producing intricate geometrical exercises and division problems.

In the Pyramids of Giza, the Ancient Egyptians built one of the world’s seven wonders and arguably created the greatest feat of engineering currently known to man.

Ibn al-Haytham, a known pioneer of Iraq’s ‘Golden Age’, lived between 965 and 1039 AD. Inventor of the world’s first pinhole camera and trailblazer of the laws of refraction, al-Haytham is often touted as mankind’s earliest scientist.

These are the first representatives of the disciplines commonly known as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). They gifted us with logic, intellect and infrastructure, and now these fields have progressed in ways they never could have dreamed.

STEM is the academic force behind the most revolutionary inventions and discoveries of the modern era; from the lightbulb to the aeroplane, penicillin to IVF, the battery to the large hydron collider, and just about every ground-breaking revelation found in between.

The most monumental impact of STEM today lies in its role as an engine for global digitisation. Without qualified graduates of these specialised subjects there would be no internet, no automation and no wonder surrounding the fascinating developments in the field of Artificial Intelligence.

“STEM is about being able to describe and interact with everything in the universe,” Jeremy Renwick, CxO and co-founder of Agilesphere, a company dedicated to digital transformation, told Study International.

“Its relevance in a contemporary, digital world is total and this is most true of software engineering. “Software is eating the world,” said Marc Andreessen in 2011 – and it’s even more true now.”

Renwick points to the car as the perfect example of this. Starting as a mechanical invention in which an electronically-controlled distributor was deemed state-of-the-art, the cars of 2018 are now controlled by software – even those models that hold internal combustion engines; society’s dominant prime mover since its inception in the 19th century.

“All STEM disciplines are now so complex, they can only make its concepts real/usable through specialist software,” he says.

The daily operations of Agilesphere rely on virtually every aspect of STEM. Here, an expert team designs, writes and deploys complex software products. These tools are used across crucial sectors like government, healthcare and investment banking, highlighting both the influence and relevance of this core STEM discipline.

“Mathematics – particularly statistics – is another STEM discipline we use regularly,” Renwick explains. “Financial services clients use complex statistical models to assess market risks and predict trends, while Monte Carlo simulation helps us understand whether software delivery is on track.”

But Agilesphere represents a microcosm of the world’s booming tech industries, with the most successful companies consistently demonstrating digital dominance. Year after year, these subjects are cited as the highest-compensated majors, with engineering and computer science graduates taking home the most impressive salaries pretty much worldwide.

And with Moore’s Law dictating that the speed of computer processing doubles every 18 months, growth of the digital age takes place at an exponential rate. Opportunities are arising and will remain for STEM graduates on every corner of the globe, demanding a constant pool of qualified technical talent to feed the rapid surge.

Some continue to argue that STEM misses the critical human element gained through liberal arts and social science subjects, stating that the acquisition of ‘soft-skills’ ultimately makes graduates of these fields more employable. But the skills in question are inherently interpersonal, covering everything from communication to attitude, even to teamwork and networking abilities.

Fact is, you don’t need to invest in a university-level education to gain such expertise. These traits can be both acquired and refined in the general course of life. But in 2055, when 50 percent of all occupations have been automated, will soft skills be able to fix complicated technical problems in the systems and processes the world will come to depend on?

“By their nature STEM courses tend to be hands-on, so this field of study helps to foster cross-cultural skills and problem-solving abilities that help graduates stand out,” says Renwick.

“These personal development opportunities and life experiences are transferable, invaluable and in-demand. If an international student’s visa allows, studying STEM abroad…helps to build an international commercial understanding. This ensures you’re ready to enter and thrive in the workforce when you graduate.”

The future is undeniably digital. In light of this, the world needs a constant flow of science, technology, engineering and maths graduates to fill the opportunities that will be given life.

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