A new study conducted by Atlanta-based Randstad US puts a new focus on STEM education and shows that students lose interest in science, technology, engineering and math as they get older.

The study hits home for school districts across metro Atlanta, where schools can spend years working to become STEM-certified by the state.

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The study shows younger students are more interested in STEM studies and have more confidence in STEM skills than older students.

For example, students from 11 to 14 years old are 18 percent more likely than students from the ages 15 to 17 to consider math to be one of their favorite subjects.

Almost half (49%) of students who took part in the study said they don’t know what kind of math jobs exist, 76 percent don’t know a lot about what engineers do.

Here are more key findings:

  • 87 percent of students think people who study STEM work at companies like NASA, but far fewer associate them with mainstream consumer brands like Instagram (40%) and Coca-Cola (26%).
  • 56 percent of young people also said knowing how STEM skills relate to the real world would make STEM classes more interesting.
  • 52 percent of students say they don’t know anyone with a job in STEM, and more than 1 in 4 students (27%) say they haven’t talked to anyone about jobs in STEM.

“The term ‘STEM’ needs a rebrand and awareness campaign to get the next generation of talent excited about pursuing these careers,” said Alan Stukalsky, chief digital officer for Randstad North America. “Young people are self-selecting out of higher STEM education classes because they can’t see how these skills apply to different professions and employers they’re excited about. It’s a misperception and a serious economic problem, as a rapidly growing number of jobs now require STEM competencies. If we don’t find a way to guide and prepare the future workforce for these positions, we run the risk of the need for these skills escalating and the hiring gap expanding.”

The Randstad study revealed students don't know what types of STEM jobs exist or how they're defined.

  • 64 percent of students rate creating video games for a living as very fun, while 90 percent rate it somewhat fun.
  • 54 percent of respondents think it would be very fun to earn a living working with marine life, with 89 percent rating it as at least somewhat fun.
  • 47 percent think it would be very fun to make websites for a living, with 86 percent saying it would be at least somewhat fun.

The study shows a major gender gap still exists in STEM subjects.

  • Girls are 34 percent more likely than boys to say that STEM jobs are hard to understand.
  • Only 22 percent of young women name technology as one of their favorite subjects in school, compared to 46 percent of boys.

Randstad's Stukalsky is working to give students a better understanding of STEM through his role as president of STE(A)M Truck, an organization that brings a mobile makerspace directly to kids in Atlanta.

The Randstad STEM survey was conducted online using Toluna’s online panel in the United States between July 20 and July 30, 2015 among 1,000 11- to 17-year-old students. Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who had agreed to participate in Toluna surveys.