After school programs play a major role in providing meaningful STEM learning experiences to diverse groups of students.

According to the Afterschool Alliance, after school programs offer innovative ways for students to cultivate their interest in STEM, build real STEM skills and connect STEM to their lives and communities. They also help to make STEM more accessible to all students, regardless of their background or socioeconomic status.

Despite these benefits, many program leaders are still hesitant or “on the fence” about incorporating STEM into their after school program. Here are four important facts to convince you to take the leap:

1. STEM jobs are in demand.

According to a recent Forbes article, STEM skills are the most coveted skills in 2018. Not surprising, STEM job growth is outpacing growth in non-STEM jobs. In fact, STEM jobs are projected to grow 13% between 2017 and 2027 compared to 9% for non-STEM jobs.

As program leaders, you have the opportunity to prepare students for a promising STEM career. STEM skills are needed in the millions of jobs that will have to be filled in sectors such as energy, manufacturing, food production and health care. And as science and technology continues to advance, the skills your students learn will give them an advantage as they enter the workforce.

2. STEM fields lack diversity.

Diversity is important in all fields, especially STEM. Without it, we miss out on untapped talent, different perspectives and potential solutions that make a real difference in the world.

But according to the Pew Research Center, women are underrepresented in engineering (14%), computer (25%) and physical science (39%) occupations. And blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented in the STEM workforce across all job clusters, including math, engineering and computer science.

After school programs can help close the gap by introducing STEM to all students early on and sparking their interest in pursuing a STEM career. And representation is key! Give your students an opportunity to meet women and minorities in STEM to help them see themselves in those roles.

3. STEM fosters creativity and innovation.

STEM education encourages students to look beyond the obvious solutions and come up with creative ways to make something work in a new or different way. As a result, STEM professionals are equipped with the skills needed to solve the world’s most challenging problems, like climate control, health issues and food and water security.

And as students learn core science, technology, engineering and math concepts, they’ll also feel empowered to tackle real-life problems and use their budding skills to create innovative solutions now and in the future.

4. You don’t need a STEM degree to teach STEM.

STEM may seem like a complex subject, but don’t let that dissuade you from incorporating it into your after school program. Starting out, it only takes simple, hands-on activities like exploring heat conduction or building a waterscope to tap into students’ natural curiosity and spark their interest in STEM. To get started, browse our collection of STEM resources, including this STEM activity set, programmable robots and building blocks.

STEM education will help shape the future, and you can help prepare students by incorporating STEM into your program. Need help rallying support from others? Check out the Afterschool STEM Hub for talking points, communication tools and research to make your case for STEM in after school.