The Growing Tech Talent Gap (And How to Fill It)

September 14, 2015

2:00 pm

It’s no secret that there’s a tech talent shortage. As emerging economies continue to catch up with developed countries’ GDP per capita levels, technological innovation increasingly becomes the main driver of global economic growth. Isn’t that a positive thing? There’s just one problem – the pool of STEM talent supply no longer matches demand.

Meet Scott, an experienced hiring manager for a leading tech company that specializes in aerospace technology. Although his company is well-regarded among graduates, he just doesn’t seem to find enough qualified candidates to fill each position. Lead times are increasingly long and VISA sponsorships aren’t satisfying either.

Scott is not alone in his struggle to find candidates with the right technical skills. ManpowerGroup’s tenth annual talent shortage survey of more than 41,700 employers worldwide found nearly 40 percent of employers reported difficulty filling jobs due to lack of available talent – engineers and IT staff being among the top 10 most difficult position to fill.    

With both the talent gap and the need for STEM candidates steadily growing, here are four tips companies can use to ensure they land (and retain) the right person for the job:

1. Start Looking Earlier

Rather than waiting until the moment you need to fill a position to start looking for the perfect job fit, always be on the lookout for potential future technical talent. Finding the next generation of engineers, technicians, and programmers begins with promoting internship programs, creating community partnerships, and collaborating with academic centers to reach students of all ages.

With nearly half (48 percent) of entry-level job postings relating to STEM fields and fewer than one-third of graduates having STEM degrees, according to Burning Glass Technologies’ STEM job postings survey, it’s essential for companies to invest in talent early on.

Take global manufacturing firm Emerson, for example. Their “I Love STEM” campaign includes a series of national network TV ads featuring YouTube star Hank Green. By partnering with Green – a self-proclaimed “science nerd” – Emerson is expanding its reach to inspire and empower the next generation of “science nerds.”

Whether it’s through partnering with academic centers (or YouTube sensations) or encouraging employees to become student mentors, get involved in building a talent pipeline for the future.   

2. Bridge Theory and Practice

The skills gap that exists within the tech industry isn’t solely due to a lack of students studying STEM, but rather partially due to the fact that these students aren’t graduating with the skills companies need.

In an effort to build a stronger talent pipeline, more companies are choosing to invest in mentorship programs designed to get students out of the books and into real-world situations. Not only does professional exposure instill interest within students, but also it allows them to get their feet wet.

Code.org founder and CEO Hadi Partovi wrote, “We teach elementary-school students long division or how weather works because these are relevant, foundational concepts. At a time when most first graders can already navigate through websites and apps, why aren’t we teaching them how the Internet works or how to program a computer?”

Internships are a critical aspect of student development, as they mold students into the future highly-skilled workers employers are actively seeking. If you’re struggling to find qualified candidates for STEM-related positions, consider implementing an internship program aimed at attracting and potentially hiring skilled candidates.  

3. Develop Existing Talent

To overcome today’s talent shortages, only one in five employers are adopting new people practices including providing training and development to existing staff, according to ManpowerGroup’s 2015 talent shortage survey.

To ensure employees have the skills and resources they need to succeed in their roles within the company and help bridge the skills gap, be proactive in providing opportunities for them to develop professionally. Companies like Pluralsight and Enki are addressing the need for continuous employee training in technical fields.

Fresh Tilled Soil, a user experience design company, took it a step further and decided to invest in new talent. They’ve built their own talent pool in-house through a custom apprenticeship program. Rather than hiring only the best of the best, they bring in decently qualified people and put them through a 110-day boot camp. Talk about investing in talent.   

4. From Generalist to Specialist

Cutting-edge innovation requires the brightest minds to focus on specific research through a hard-earned set of technical skills. While this need only applies to a small percentage of companies, they tend to be the ones breaking through barriers that allow the rest to progress, as well.

While at any given time there are only a limited number of excellent data scientist PhDs, for example, entering the workforce, that doesn’t mean that existing employees don’t hold the potential to move into fields parallel to their own ones.

Alongside the continuous employee development options mentioned above, companies like NineSigma provide the option of open-sourcing innovation or hiring part-time some of the best scientists and technical experts still involved in academia.

While innovation drives economic growth in developed countries, talent drives innovation within companies. Even though there’s no perfect recipe to get this right and success looks differently depending on the type of organization, the ROI of acquiring and developing outstanding employees cannot be understated. Beyond that, leveraging internal resources to help impact STEM education has long-term benefits for all stakeholders involved.

What are your thoughts on the growing STEM skills gap? What else can be done to help bridge that gap? Share your ideas in the comments!

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Alessandra Sollberger is the founder of Bright Mentors, an ed-tech nonprofit teaching coding and science in secondary schools through a network of technology professionals. She previously worked at Mosaic Ventures and Blackstone.

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