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Growing Young Scientists with Corporate Assistance

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   Staffing Management News

Growing Young Scientists with Corporate Assistance

By Steve Taylor, October 2007

The nationwide shortage of science, technical, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates and what companies can do about it was among the subjects addressed during a recent Conference Board business and education conference held in Washington, D.C.

“Support and investment in education systems increasingly is becoming a prerequisite for developing a well-prepared workforce,” said Bayer Corp. President Dr. Attila Molnar, during the conference’s Oct. 2 opening session. As CEO of one of the nation’s largest health care and biotechnical firms, Molnar added, “To be successful, we need an employee population that brings a certain skill set and understanding to the table.”

But the population isn’t keeping pace with the need. For example, out of 1.1 million American high school seniors who took a college entrance exam in 2002, just less than 6 percent indicated plans to pursue a degree in engineering.

That’s down 33 percent from the previous decade, according to conference speaker Michael Tomasello, with MESA USA —a California-based organization that helps disadvantaged students graduate from colleges and universities with degrees in the STEM disciplines. “The number of engineering degrees in the U.S. has declined more than 20 percent since the peak year of 1985,” Tomasello said.

When To Start, Whom To Cover

Corporations and educators can’t wait until high school to try to interest children in STEM careers, declared Niel Tebbano, vice president of operations for Project Lead the Way . “It’s got to be earlier.” Tebbano’s organization provides STEM curricula for middle schools, high schools and community colleges in eight states.

Bayer, headquartered in Pittsburgh, was among the companies represented at the conference that is actively addressing this issue through its Making Science Make Sense initiative, which is designed to support advances in science literacy through hands-on, inquiry-based science learning, employee volunteerism and public education.

A big factor affecting the shortage is demographics. Rebecca Lucore, executive director of The Bayer Foundation , told conference attendees that women and minorities make up three-quarters of the U.S. population but hold only one-quarter of sci-tech jobs. “The STEM workforce is nearly 82 percent white,” she said, “and more than 75 percent male.”

“We know that if we don’t get more minorities and women, if engineering doesn’t look like America, we are failing,” Tebbano said.

Lucore said one program funded by Bayer has had great success at identifying students in danger of dropping out of high school in Berkeley, Calif., and then “nurturing and mentoring” them with academic help, job training, internships and co-ops, as well as with support services away from school. “Helping young people to succeed often means addressing issues that are not necessarily academic in nature,” she said.

Bayer’s Molnar said he is sometimes asked, “Where is the business rationale?” for such costly programs. “Can you show me the tangible payback?” Molnar said that the challenge of creating a competitive workforce is too big for educators or businesses too handle alone.

“The 21st century will be the age of alliances,” he declared. To corporate managers, he advised, “Learn to think about ROI differently…. You can’t expect to see an immediate impact on sales and the P&L statement. Educational investment is a long-term proposition.”

What HR Can Add

Molnar did say, however, that he is able to track other benefits to Bayer from its educational programs by surveying public perceptions of the company. For example, Bayer’s staffing professionals can record what job applicants are saying about the company and its reputation for social responsibility, compared to the competition.

“The recruiter tries to extract that information, and then feeds that information back to management,” Molnar said. “That information is extremely valuable.”

The conference ran through Oct. 3.

Steve Taylor, a freelance writer based in Arlington, Va., writes for Staffing Management magazine.

Related Articles:

Bernanke: Lifelong Learning Key To Success , SHRM Online Staffing Management Focus Area, September 2007

Report Shows New Workers Aren’t Ready for Prime Time , HR News, Oct. 3, 2006

Related Resources:

Workforce Readiness: A Look at Student Internships , SHRM white paper, June 2003

Workforce Readiness Advocacy , SHRM Online

Planting the Seeds for a Diverse U.S. STEM Pipeline, Bayer Corp. web site

Bayer Facts of Science Education Survey , Bayer Corp. web site

Bridging the Diversity Gap in Science and Engineering , Bayer Corp. web site

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