A STEM Talent Gap Primer

Filling a gap usually means something needs to be fixed or directed back on track, and the wider the gap becomes, the more time, energy and resources are needed to make the correction. That’s where we are now in terms of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics talent gap — playing catch-up as these industries continue to outpace the rate of change for everyone else.

The best way to arm ourselves with solutions is to better understand the problem, so let’s see what we’re up against. Here are two statistics from STEM Education News that show it’s not just a matter of demand:

Between 2008 and 2018, the Center on Education and the Workforce projects that 1.1 million new STEM jobs will be created and an additional 1.3 million replacement positions will need to be filled as STEM employees retire, transition or leave the workforce for other reasons.

But also supply:

According to the National Center for Education, for every 100 undergraduate students, just 28 percent enroll in STEM degree programs despite the allure of high wages and low unemployment. Of those 28 percent, nearly half (48 percent) change course before graduating. In the end, for every 100 undergrads, only 13 earn a degree in a STEM-related field.

Like with anything of this magnitude, addressing the issue on many fronts is necessary because awareness is the first step toward fixing a problem. STEM programs are coming online in communities across the country and being led by school districts, employers, parents, student groups, government and civic organization, trade schools and universities, professional associations, and more. It’s also becoming a mainstream topic of conversation as we see Neil deGrasse Tyson is becoming a household name and Girls Who Code has Disney’s attention.

As staffing and recruiting professionals, no matter what client industries we serve, there are more jobs today that require specific technical skills, and those jobs will continue to grow rapidly in number. Administrative positions, marketing careers and others are further incorporating STEM-related knowledge into their job descriptions. All business is affected by STEM one way or the other.

Diversity Executive conducted a webinar at the close of last year on the topic of better equipping our searches for meaningful employment and addressing the STEM talent gap. Webinar speaker Nereida Perez, vice president and chief diversity officer of Ingersoll Rand, discussed how recruiting and staffing organizations can help improve this gap:

1. Look at existing business strategy.This means doing some research on things such as geographical location, business divisions and product lines, and what is currently working to promote high development.

2. Look at the current talent needs and patterns. Study filled roles by career stage — early talent, midcareer and experienced — research all recruiting sources, review hiring patterns over the past 10 years, and identify from where your talent is coming.

3. Create a plan. Find recruits and potential talent by creating and utilizing community relations. Engage business unit leaders, front-line employees, community leaders and educational leaders in different programs tailored to their respective groups.

4. Measure the strategy’s impact. Establish metrics based on needs to evaluate the effectiveness of your STEM strategy. Also consider the effect on the future workforce such as the number of students affected by the program or the number of students enrolled.

Continual professional development and understanding of leading marketplace indicators are innate among leading-edge companies, and it’s no different for the staffing industry. While the STEM skills gap will remain top of mind, approaching the issue in a smart and strategic way will help organizations avoid much of the maelstrom that it can bring if unprepared.

STEM isn’t scary — it’s necessary. How has your organization embraced this positive change?