Scaling the Hurdles to Hiring and Retaining STEM Talent

While the digital age is driving innovation at a furious pace, it is creating a talent vacuum for STEM professionals that companies are increasingly struggling to fill. With the STEM talent shortage recently described by businesschief.com as “reaching crisis point,” is there something that organizations can do to attract, recruit, and retain the STEM workers they need?

The answer is yes, and it starts with learning what the key challenges to recruiting and retaining STEM workers are – and how to address them.

Hurdle 1: The Talent Pool is Too Small

Recent studies showed that seven out of 10 employers are struggling to attract and recruit STEM talent. Not surprising, since STEM talent is a much smaller and sought-after group in a job market that, thanks to low unemployment, heavily favors candidates. Fortunately, the STEM talent pool appears small only because it is still largely untapped.

Solution A: Practice Deliberate Inclusivity

Inclusivity is being forward-thinking in the kindest, fairest, and most open-minded way. What’s not to love? Craft, showcase, and be guided by your diversity and inclusivity statement to promote your progressive approach. Reevaluate your job ads to check against masculine language that exclude or turn off women (wisecampaign.com research found that terms like ‘coding ninjas’, ‘warriors’, and ‘rock stars’ “has resulted in fewer women applying and with a higher quit rate than men”). The beauty of inclusivity is that it improves the very heart of your brand culture as well as expands your recruitment pool.

Solution B: Incubate Talent Through Internship

Employers are increasingly investing in internship programs in an effort to secure emerging talent before they enter the job market. In addition to effectively calling dibs to nascent superstars, internship is also a great way to create positive relationships and brand identity through word of mouth – particularly among the interns’ peer group and their schools. Of course, there are many other, more immediate employer perks to be gained from internship: cost-effective workers who are eager learners, extra hands to finally get those deprioritized projects checked off, and digital natives who can give your social media presence a boost. 

Hurdle 2: Your Company Is Out of Touch

It’s easy to see how trying to engage and recruit STEM talent could feel like learning a new language; they are often from a different generation. There’s also that about-face from what previous generations were taught about job search – it not about the biggest salary or the most prestigious company and title any more. Think purpose over paychecks. Nowadays, how you stand in the community and how it sees you is a major bargaining chip.

Solution A: Learn the Lingo

Tech often involves highly specific terminology that could spell the difference between a job ad that attracts superstars and one that gets passed over for several painful days until a totally unsuitable candidate responds with an application. Learning the ever-changing platforms, systems, and processes that you’re suddenly hiring people to develop, operate, deploy, and maintain can be daunting and take up precious time. One workaround would be to task the open position’s Hiring Manager or supervisor to craft the job ad and description. For many companies, partnering with a STEM-focused recruiter is a smart two-fer solution that lets you get a crash-course on the tech terminologies while having a proven pro quickly zero in on the best candidate.

Solution B: Up Your Altruism

Do you support local schools through sponsorship? Champion LGBTQIA+ rights? Made significant investments to being ‘green’? These are examples of corporate altruism that today’s STEM workers look for in prospective employers. Opportunities to make a positive difference to the world and promote quality of life are more plentiful – and showing great interest and even investing in these strongly resonate with the new wave of STEM talent.

Hurdle 3: They Are Considering Other Jobs

With STEM workers receiving more job offers and having more options than ever before, retention is just as much of a challenge as recruiting. The upside is that, all tech-speak aside, STEM professionals value and aspire to the same as their less techy peers: they seek well-defined career paths that will allow them to stay challenged yet fulfilled and able to put down roots at home. Or, they want to have flexibility so that they can be there for their families’ defining moments. Telecommuting? Not necessarily every day, but yes, a definite plus.

Solution A: Encourage Ongoing Learning

STEM professionals chose their line of work because they relish the challenge of learning on a constant basis. With high-level STEM employees being found to receive less ongoing training than their non-STEM peers, many experts prescribe structured training and development strategies for companies positioned for growth – and want their tech talent to grow along with them. This can range from giving them opportunities for further education through schools, or even relevant workshops and other events, and conversely, to mentor – whether it is interns, new hires, or much younger students as a form of branded STEM outreach.

Solution B: Let them Live Their Best Lives

As the first generation to be fully wired and online, many STEM workers spent much of their careers working remotely and working flexible hours. Whether it’s to pursue their passions, or to spend more time with their families (particularly parents looking to curb daycare costs), not being locked into a traditional 9-5 work schedule is a highly favored perk. In fact, the AppleOne SCALE found that 73% of surveyed employees ranked flexible hours as highly desirable – some would even go as far as to take a pay cut to have it, but only 37% of employers offer this very appealing, cost-free perk.

Sources:

What can tech businesses do to address the STEM skills shortage? Menear, Harry (6/6/2019) https://www.businesschief.com/leadership/8167/What-can-tech-businesses-do-to-address-the-STEM-skills-shortage

How Energy Companies Can Attract (and Keep) the Best Tech Professionals Morris, Zoe (06/19/2019)https://www.powermag.com/blog/how-energy-companies-can-attract-and-keep-the-best-tech-professionals/

Gender Decoding Your Job Adverts WISE Campaign for Gender Balance in Science, Technology & Engineering(6/2018) https://www.wisecampaign.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/WISE_-_Gender_Decoding_Your_Job_Adverts.pdf   

10 Examples of Awesome Diversity Statements, Kelly, Rob (7/2018) https://blog.ongig.com/diversity-and-inclusion/10-examples-of-the-best-diversity-statements

2019 AppleOne Scale AppleOne (8/18) https://www.appleone.com/Employers/SCALE/2019/

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