About 91 percent of teenage boys and girls ages 13-17 know what kind of job they want after they graduate high school. This, according to new research by Junior Achievement of Southern Pennsylvania — an organization that dedicates itself to giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to plan their future.

Christy Tighe, director of College and Career Readiness, says the data also shows that 36 percent of boys want to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (referred to as STEM) versus only 11 percent of girls. So why the big gender gap?

“A lot of young females lack mentors in STEM fields because the majority of people right now are men in STEM careers.”

She says the mission of J-A is to focus on connecting high school girls in New Jersey with these mentors or role models in STEM careers which consist of life sciences, technology, manufacturing, engineering and much more.

Girls need to visit colleges and universities that offer degrees in stem fields. Companies that focus on those fields need to allow girls to come in and make those connections and see what careers in STEM fields look like.

Tighe says it’s all about making connections when it comes to getting more girls involved in STEM careers.

“When we connect young people, especially girls who might have an interest in STEM careers, with female role models who are successful in those careers, it really makes a difference.  It’s going to help us fix that gender gap we are seeing here in New Jersey.”

According to the latest Census data, 26 percent of STEM workers in New Jersey were women. But there is going to be increased demand. For example, STEM jobs are expected to grow about 9 percent in the next decade, according to the Department of Commerce.

Kids are smart, says Tighe. They are tech savvy. They are exposed to so many more career paths than in generations past so they really do know what they want at a young age.

Mentorship is key, Tighe says. In New Jersey, she says there are major companies in those key STEM industries. It is crucial to prepare these young people for careers where they can be successful.

Besides STEM careers, the new research found that 26 percent of girls plan to study for careers in the arts versus only 10 percent of boys; 24 percent of girls favor careers in the medical and dental fields while only 6 percent of boys are interested. Tighe says that’s mainly because girls often tend to want to help people. Boys are more interested in careers where they can make money.

Other key data:

— Only 9 percent of boys and girls aspire to start their own business.

— Only 7 percent of boys and girls have chosen to work in public service.

— The three top influences on career choices are parents and societal influences/TV/media, followed by a class or teacher.

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