09/12/2013 10:56 am ET Updated Nov 12, 2013

Teens Need More Awareness of High-Growth Careers in STEM, Medical and Dental Fields

We frequently hear about the U.S. unemployment rate, particularly when the monthly jobs report comes out. Yet another frequently cited statistic says that there are nearly 4 million jobs currently unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants. As our young people contemplate various job opportunities and choose career paths that align with their interests and aspirations, many may not be considering careers in fields that offer them significant opportunity.

Junior Achievement USA (JA) and the ING U.S. Foundation have just released the results of the 12th Teens & Careers Survey, which takes the teen pulse around this generation's career aspirations and confidence. The 2013 results indicate a 15-percent decline in the number of teens interested in careers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and medical fields.

We see this as an awareness-building opportunity. Teens need to be made aware of the career opportunities in high-growth sectors such as STEM and medicine. These industries can help drive U.S. competitiveness and innovation in the global economy, and it is critical that we educate our youth about how they can succeed in these fields, and ultimately, create secure financial futures for themselves.

How can teens learn about STEM, medical and dental careers, and identify a rewarding job that aligns with their interests and skills? Nonprofits such as Junior Achievement have volunteer-led programs for students in kindergarten through high school which not only provide students with hands-on learning opportunities, but also with important role models. JA volunteers share their professional experiences with students, which add a real-world dimension to our program content. So, while students are learning how to conduct a job search and how to create a resume, the JA volunteer can tell students about his or her job and how it is rewarding.

Other key findings of our survey underscore the need for more work-readiness education for our youth. While 83 percent of teens are confident they will have their "dream" job, they aren't taking the relatively easy steps now to get that career later on. A majority of teens surveyed, 53 percent, indicated they had not taken any steps to pay for schooling required by their career choice, or did not know if they had taken any steps. The financial aspect of work readiness is an important one--young people will want to consider whether their paycheck will be able to support repaying student debt they might incur.

There are many rewarding career opportunities available to our youth, but we must do a better job of educating them about those opportunities. The results of the 2013 Teens & Careers Survey demonstrate the need to help young people identify and pursue careers that help contribute to our nation's ability to compete in the global economy and to their own financial well-being.