Building the STEM Workforce Today’s Talent Pool Can’t Provide

by / ⠀Startup Advice / April 22, 2019
How prepared are you for the next decade's hiring demands?

Today’s tight labor market is flipping the script on recruiting. Rather than job seekers trying to impress employers, the opposite is happening. Apprenticeship opportunities, in which employees are paid to be trained rather than incur student debt, have grown by 42 percent since 2013. And they’re no longer limited to blue-collar fields: Most of the growth has been fueled by companies in science and technology.

The global talent gap is expected to reach 85.2 million people by 2030; it’s not surprising that companies are looking for new ways to fill talent pipelines. Automation is displacing basic labor while high-tech skills are growing in importance, rendering the limited supply of qualified talent extremely attractive. Rather than try to recruit talent unicorns, companies are increasingly trying to cultivate their own stars.

Building talent from the ground up sounds like a huge undertaking. However, research suggests that present and future workers are uniquely enthusiastic about professional development. People born after 1980 — Millennials and Gen Zers — are three times more likely than Baby Boomers to embrace self-motivated reskilling. This drive for advancement will prove critical as the skills gap grows.

Recruiting won’t get easier anytime soon. Founders and startup leaders must ask hard questions about where talent will come from in the coming years. Given shifting generational attitudes, now is an excellent time to explore long-term approaches to workforce development. Here are three strategies for turning untapped ambition into tomorrow’s top talent:

1. Partner with schools.

Professional development doesn’t have to start in college. Schools are incubators for tech talent, yet kids often lack exposure to the full scope of STEM opportunities. Kristina James, director of marketing at MDR, Dun & Bradstreet’s education division, recommends educators as an entry point: “When businesses team up with teachers, they can show students what’s possible. Businesses can plant seeds of interest and get students started down these paths at a young age.”

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Partnering with secondary, middle, and elementary schools helps kids develop an early interest in subjects with professional applications, from coding to chemistry. The key is to introduce these topics in a way that’s fun and age-appropriate. One company, BrainPop, has developed a curriculum that introduces coding principles into school activities like science fairs and art shows. By working through these activities, kids learn how important coding is to every aspect of life.

2. Make Silicon Valley more diverse.

The Silicon Valley workforce has earned a reputation for being mostly white, straight, and male. According to Adriana Gascoigne, CEO and founder of Girls in Tech, “it’s a systemic issue,” meaning it’s not limited to a single company, industry, or bias.

Bringing more diversity to the tech workforce requires founders to be proactive about attracting minorities. Groups like Girls in Tech are trying to create networks of female founders to give lectures, serve as mentors, and advocate for women and minorities. Some forward-thinking companies have taken on similar initiatives. For instance, Vimeo is just one company that’s hired an HR executive to focus exclusively on diversity and inclusion.

Diversity is a worthwhile cause in and of itself. And from a talent standpoint, it increases the number of people excited about technology who see it as a realistic career opportunity. One reason talent shortages are so common in STEM is that large portions of the talent pool have been excluded. Founders can and must change that.

3. Upskill employees to advance workforce development.

Without continued training, today’s top talent could be made irrelevant in a decade. The nature of rapid technological advancement means that skills rise and fall in importance. As skills become outdated, it makes a lot more sense to reskill existing employees than to try to replace them from a small pool of available talent.

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C3 IoT, a company founded by Tom Siebel, has a strong reskilling strategy. Every employee who completes an online course through a provider like Coursera earns at least a $1,000 bonus. According to Siebel, “We like to think of our people as self-learners, and this is part of our core values to be inquisitive and always learning.”

Financial rewards are meaningful, but founders who are serious about reskilling need to go beyond that. Employees need the time, resources, incentive, and support to take professional development seriously. That may mean sacrificing some work hours in the present, but it also means having a multitalented workforce in the future.

Founders can bring ideas and vision to the table, but talent makes them a reality. When talent is unavailable, startups often end up stuck in place. Recognize this looming obstacle for what it is — pervasive but solvable.

About The Author

Kimberly Zhang

Editor in Chief of Under30CEO. I have a passion for helping educate the next generation of leaders.


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