Employers Must Step up to Close the STEM Gap

January 10, 2018

Employers Must Step up to Close the STEM Gap

In 2016, the U.S. had roughly three million more STEM jobs available than it had skilled workers to fill them. As companies search for qualified talent, all industries are feeling this pinch, and the accelerating pace of digital transformation means that many jobs —– even those that wouldn’t have been considered STEM-related a few years ago —– now require technical skills. How can employers help fill this talent gap?


According to Randstad’s STEM report, 87 percent of students aged 11 to 17 think people who study STEM go on to work at organizations like NASA, rather than familiar consumer brands they identify with, like Instagram, Coca-Cola or Major League Baseball. However, there are plenty of real-life, outside-the-box STEM jobs available beyond the fields named in the acronym (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) — roller coaster engineers, cosmetic chemists, exercise scientists, video game designers and marine biologists, for example — but the next generation of workers are not seeing the STEM connection. Employers must therefore rebrand STEM-related positions to create a connection to real-world applications of tech skills and get students excited about technology careers in areas they’re already interested in, especially industries feeling the struggle of the skills gap (healthcare, accounting, finance, etc.).


Are these STEM-related jobs positioned as the kind candidates would be compelled to pursue, or do they sound uninteresting?


One way to address this problem is to approach recruiting from a marketing standpoint. Some candidates may have a dry perception of what STEM jobs look like — such as the misleading view that accountants are crunching numbers alone in a room all day. Human resource managers should therefore carefully consider the language and messaging used in job descriptions and update them if necessary. Are these STEM-related jobs positioned as the kind candidates would be compelled to pursue, or do they sound uninteresting? Do they show the extent to which creative skills, like problem solving and critical thinking, play a role in the position — important, attractive qualities that candidates may not traditionally associate with STEM jobs? Consumer, mainstream or non-STEM brands particularly should pay close attention to job descriptions to ensure that they display how tech skills apply to positions outside of traditional STEM fields.


HR professionals should also ensure the language used on other company assets, like social media, speaks to job seekers in an enticing way. Even traditional recruitment efforts like help-wanted ads or website career pages should be scrutinized not only to make sure STEM jobs don’t come across as lackluster, but also so your company’s character comes through. A recent Monster.com study found 63% of candidates believe job ads don’t provide enough information about a company’s core values and culture. To make your company stand out and attract the best candidates, job postings should include information about corporate culture and mission and how a particular job’s tasks and duties involve teamwork and relate to that mission. Adding these details into job descriptions strengthens them as a tool to manage the employer brand, ultimately affecting an organization’s ability to attract top candidates.


When considering recruiting tactics and channels, HR professionals should look outside of the traditional STEM talent pool. Organizations can widen the job applicant pool by considering those with an interest in technology, or those that have related skills that could be applied to unfilled tech positions. Applicants with strong critical and creative thinking capabilities and those with a desire to enter a new field or change careers can be a great resource for employers who are looking to bring on new employees. With these applicants, HR should consider implementing specific onboarding practices, or new hire integration programs to bring talent up to speed. Employers should also focus on boosting learning and development programs to allow the current workforce to strength internal expertise or to acquire new ones in order to provide talent a unique experience to develop relevant STEM related skills.


Another approach employers can take to encourage interest in STEM positions is to create programs that foster interest in tech skills or recognize leaders in technology fields. For example, L’Oréal USA developed a Women in Science fellowship program to honor visionary female scientists and in 2015, Sephora launched an Innovation Lab to test new technologies for implementation in stores, online and within its app. These programs recognize employees for contributions to STEM initiatives, influence positive employee engagement and talent retention, and present an opportunity to strengthen an employer’s brand and attract new talent. 


Employers can also develop or support educational programs designed for students. For example, Randstad’s chief digital officer Alan Stukalsky is on the board of the Atlanta-based STE(A)M Truck, a mobile makerspace that travels directly to local children allowing access to hands-on building and tinkering. This type of interactive experience can make children of all ages excited about STEM and provide a broader scope for future career paths. Partnering with educational institutions is another great example of how employers can find and grow qualified talent. For example, many employers in the healthcare industry partner with local schools and nursing programs to provide a transition from graduation to employment. This type of feeder program provides guidance and experience to those entering the workforce and can be developed across industries to create a stronger talent pool, helping to ease talent gaps.


The next generation of workers are interested in STEM careers. But before they enter the workforce, students must understand the connection between what they’re doing in the classroom and how their studies can lead to interesting jobs and career paths. It’s not just up to educators — employers also need to have a vested interest in talent for the future workforce. Once employers understand their place in strengthening students’ interest in STEM and rebranding STEM jobs, we’ll see the skilled talent gap shrink.

The Authors: 

Angie Keller is the Vice President, Recruiting at Randstad Engineering, which specializes in the sourcing and placement of temporary and direct hire professionals in engineering, energy, utilities, petrochemical, manufacturing, information technology and other technologies industries. Within Randstad, Angie previously held the roles of regional managing director (Houston, Boston, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Milwaukee).