Even amid massive layoffs in the tech sector, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills are in high demand. It's a paradox that many employers these days are facing—even those finding themselves needing to cut back on staffing levels.
Travis Lindemoen is managing director of Nexus IT Group, a cybersecurity recruitment and career consulting firm in Overland Park, Kan. He has seen increased demand for IT roles, including data analysts, software developers, cloud engineers, cybersecurity specialists and computer science professionals.
There are, Lindemoen said, "rising strains on talent pools due to high competition among large companies such as Amazon or Google looking to fill vacancies quickly with highly qualified personnel." To combat these challenges, he said, "employers must leverage several tactics to ensure they are able to successfully recruit top quality candidates who can remain engaged within their organization."
A recent report from STEMconnector called State of STEM: Challenges and Opportunities offered insights and recommendations for organizations on how to support STEM talent and address gaps in STEM workforce development.
The five gaps identified were:
- A skills gap—a mismatch in the STEM skills employers need and the skills job seekers have.
- A belief gap—negative beliefs that limit employees' ability to see themselves in STEM careers.
- A postsecondary gap—a lack of college graduates with STEM skills and competencies who are ready to enter the workforce.
- A geographic gap—a lack of access to both STEM training and STEM jobs based on geography and lack of connectivity.
- A demographic gap—certain gender and race backgrounds remain underrepresented among STEM talent.
Jessica Lambrecht, CEO and co-founder of The Rise Journey, an HR strategy and organizational culture consulting firm focused on supporting diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging and accessibility, said, "We see challenges in hiring STEM talent with almost all of the teams we partner with." She said these challenges include:
- Struggles related to building up a reliable and robust sourcing pipeline.
- Difficulties staying competitive in terms of compensation.
- Diversity, particularly gender, as a concern for teams hiring for STEM roles.
"Despite women outperforming men in coding, interpersonal, and leadership skills, surging firings by technology companies last year disproportionately affected women and midcareer talent," according to a statement from Women Impact Tech, a firm based in New York City that offers conferences, collaboration and professional growth opportunities for women and minorities in technology.
The solutions outlined in the State of STEM report are great, Lambrecht said, particularly those related to "developing and diversifying education opportunities."
In addition, Lindemoen suggested that employers "consider forming powerful partnerships with postsecondary institutions offering STEM qualifications." Employers, he said, "can collaborate with universities offering technical degrees in order to gain access to thousands of talented graduates pursuing various career paths, including cybersecurity, engineering or artificial intelligence programming."
Another opportunity, Lindemoen said, is to establish relationships "with local startups in an effort to identify potential contractors that might not necessarily be open to more traditional job postings but would still be great additions given their specialized knowledge base or skill sets required for certain projects."
These efforts, though, shouldn't stop once STEM talent is on board, Lindemoen said. "Organizations should strive to foster an environment where collaboration among multi-disciplinary teams is encouraged so newer members feel both welcomed and supported throughout their tenure at a company, allowing them to contribute innovative ideas from day one," he said.
Another way to ensure the environment is appealing to STEM talent and serves to keep them on board and engaged is to focus on flexibility. Women Impact Tech suggests some steps that organizations can take to help women and racial minorities gain an edge in STEM-related roles, including:
- Providing more flexibility in work location and hours. They noted that "several tech companies requiring employees to return to the office are seeing a higher turnover."
- Providing leadership and skills-building opportunities.
- Designing workplaces with parents in mind.
Technology itself can allow for the flexibility that many employees are craving. It can also play a critical role in providing access to the training opportunities, support and resources that employees need to stay on top of technological advancements.
Learning and development is critical, Lambrecht said, because "this is a fast-moving space, and keeping STEM talent trained in new technology is important for retention and job security."
As the State of STEM report said, "Harnessing the power of new technologies, innovative learning models, and inclusive work environments is likely to have positive repercussions among those engaging in the STEM ecosystem."
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.