How to Get a Good Job in STEM WIthout a Degree

How to Get a Good Job in STEM WIthout a Degree
Jessica Edwards Dowding

5 mins

How to Get a Good Job in STEM WIthout a Degree

Discover how to get a good job in STEM without a degree with Jessica Dowding, Account Manager at Synergy, as she explores alternative pathways into STEM careers

Key learnings:

  • 75% of UK professionals considering a career change don’t feel qualified to work in STEM
  • An increasing amount of apprenticeships are making STEM careers more accessible for people from diverse backgrounds
  •  A strong set of soft skills, and a clear motivation to succeed in science are crucial for career success.

Despite STEM being one of the most profitable industries to work in, an overwhelming 75% of UK professionals considering changing jobs don’t think they have the qualifications for a STEM career.

In the UK, new apprenticeship pathways and ‘T-Level qualifications’, which focus on establishing technical expertise in a specialist subject, are helping to change the ‘university narrative’ surrounding creating a career in STEM.

This is in turn is increasing diversity in the wider field – the UK government report that in the first quarter of 2022/2023, 13% more women started STEM apprenticeships than they did the previous year. 

In this article, I’ll reveal the key benefits, and challenges apprentices in STEM often experience, and highlight the most important transferable skills for career success.

What routes are there for apprentices in the lab?

Most often, the two routes that apprenticeships in clinical science offer help apprentices become Lab Scientists or Lab Technicians. 

These two roles offer a wealth of career options in the long run, from working in drug discovery through to supporting clinical trials. 

At Synergy, as part of the STEM learning outreach, we have established apprenticeship routes in partnership with a global biopharma company with fair pay, and ample opportunity to gain experience across a range of functions and departments. 

Benefits of working as an apprentice in STEM

For many young people today, there’s a growing concern that tuition fees alongside living costs create an unfeasible amount of debt and financial pressure.

Apprenticeships offer an alternative that still includes exposure to a higher level education, alongside on the job training. In most cases, apprentices work on site 4 days a week, and have 1 day in college where they benefit from a more educational setting. 

This situation enables professionals, wherever they are in their career to build the experience they need to not only theoretically understand how to work in certain situations (as university degrees often do), but know the workplace environment, know which specialisms they’re most interested in, and create a clear and focused career path.

Apprenticeships can also offer a clear route to job security. In many cases, the company where an apprentice has been working will take the apprentice on as a permanent employee. In situations where this doesn’t happen, apprentices leave with a recognised qualification which makes them eligible to apply for other organisations, where they can bring the skills they’ve cultivated first-hand directly to the job.

Key challenges apprentices encounter

In my experience, you can hit a glass ceiling without a degree when working in science.

While there are clear routes to progression post-apprenticeship, including becoming an associate scientist, scientist or even a senior scientist, to rise past that level through to being a group leader, or department head a degree is often a pre-requisite due to the flat hierarchal structure clinical science laboratories can have.

To navigate this challenge, I recommend taking the time to reflect and understand what elements of working in STEM you most enjoy – if you find yourself more drawn to the technical and scientific side of things, your career route will likely be oriented around becoming a group leader or senior scientist to maintain that practical aspect.

If you’re more drawn to the operational, or ‘people’ side of the job, you may be more aligned with a managerial position. Speaking from my own experience, I initially worked as a senior scientist, before becoming a post-doctoral scientist before realising that I preferred the operational side of the job, and pivoted over to lab management and developed my career in that field. 

Key transferable skills for a career in STEM

Top 10 transferable skills include:

  1. Proactiveness
  2. Independence 
  3. Strong eye for detail
  4. Ability to work in a controlled environment (following regulations, etc.)
  5. Digital literacy
  6. Initiative
  7. Time management
  8. Adaptability
  9. Problem solving
  10.  Multitasking

In terms of educational requirements, most apprenticeships will require 5 GCSEs at grade 4 and above, including Maths, English and Science. However, some routes will require 3 A levels (including 2 in a science subject) alongside the GCSEs.

Advice and guidance for apprentices in STEM

It’s really important not to be afraid to ask questions – from checking what to do when you’re unsure, through to proactively asking what next steps after your apprenticeship are. There’s a huge need for young researchers in today’s scientific industries, and a shortage of STEM professionals. 

If you’re still in school, or perhaps have already worked in another field and want to make the shift over to STEM, I would recommend reaching out to apprenticeship providers to understand what your options are. 

I’d also recommend not being over-focused on a linear career path. When I left university after my Masters degree I took a few years out to figure out where I wanted to go in science. I initially went into the NHS for a few years, before venturing into the industry for a few years, where I realised that to get to the position I wanted to be in, I needed a PhD. My educational and working journey co-existed all the way through to my 30s. Making a career change and delving into STEM can be daunting, but it’s never too late to make the switch; oftentimes the skills you’ve developed in other environments can be of significant value in the lab.

As a final note, I’d say that to create a successful career in STEM it’s vital that you enjoy it. Whether you’re going into science, engineering or maths, STEM fields are full of change and variety, which means that you’re often going to encounter many challenges. You need the right mindset to approach these, and the right motivations for working in industry. If you do, the rewards can be huge in terms of job satisfaction.

Who are Synergy?

At Synergy, we employ teams of trained scientific professionals who work alongside your staff on-site, providing flexible and agile resource support.

If you are ready to develop your scientific career, working for Synergy could be an exciting way of moving forward while developing an invaluable variety of scientific experience.

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