Over the years there have been many arguments regarding whether a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) shortage exists. The Bureau of Labor Statistics comments that the answer to that argument depends on which employment sector you are focused on. While there appears to be a surplus of STEM talent in some fields, others, such as software development, are faced with high demand and a shortage of talent. This is a challenge that more companies are struggling with every year. According to a recent CompTIA survey of IT business executives, almost 46 percent of those surveyed have seen a growth in the technical skills gap at their organization within the past two years. Although there are many reasons behind this skills gap, 87 percent of the executives surveyed believe that colleges and universities are not preparing students properly to be successful in this current technology landscape. What is even more alarming is that 89 percent believe this tech deficiency begins in K-12 schools.
Data from the ACT organization, a program that tests high school students for college and career readiness, appears to agree with these business leaders, revealing that only 26 percent of students met the benchmark for college readiness in STEM. This percentage decreases to 15 percent or lower for students whom ACT labels as “underserved learners,” meaning they are minority, low income, and/or first-generation students who often have limited access to high-quality educational resources. In light of this data, it is unsurprising that the National Science Board reports that computer science remains one of the least awarded degrees in higher education. For students who do overcome these challenges and graduate with a STEM degree, the US Department of Commerce reports that only a third of these graduates end up in STEM-related jobs.
The lack of sufficient tech-related education, along with the dependency on offshore talent sourcing, may very well complicate the situation even further. Traditionally, companies that have experienced a lack of technical talent have turned to hiring IT professionals internationally. This has been a commonplace practice that has helped to supplement the ongoing STEM shortage in North America. Now, as companies are challenged by immigration uncertainty, in addition to increased demand for technical talent, there is a renewed focus on how exactly the STEM shortage impacts the IT workforce and ultimately the success of companies nationwide.
The Impact of the STEM Shortage on Businesses
As the CompTIA survey suggests, one of the biggest challenges that has arisen from the shortage of STEM talent is a growing IT skills gap in the workforce. With a tight IT labor market that falls short of demand, companies are forced to become highly competitive in attracting and retaining this talent. Efforts to attract IT talent include making changes to a company’s culture and identifying how those changes may or may not attract talent. For example, many financial institutions require employees to wear suits or perhaps have little consideration towards flextime and work-life balance. Showing more flexibility in these areas could certainly help attract talent. Assessing your employer brand and applying some of today’s workplace trends could also help attract younger talent at a time when the new Generation Z will be entering the workplace.
In terms of retaining this talent, thorough evaluations of your company structure, benefit programs, workplace practices, and the type of technology you use can all be strategies to help prevent the growth of your company’s IT skills gap. Companies that do not adjust to this shift in the market will almost certainly struggle to attract and recruit the talent they need to execute IT projects.
Another area of impact due to the STEM shortage is diversity in the workplace. The ACT organization revealed that minority and low-income students are much less likely to meet the STEM benchmark for college and career readiness, usually due to a lack of quality education. This problem continues beyond high school. The National Science Board reports that although the percentage share of Caucasians with STEM degrees has slightly dropped over the years, the number of ethnic minorities in STEM is still drastically lower. As a result, the Center for American Progress reports that in Silicon Valley, the nation’s number one hub for technology, the tech workforce is only 2.2 percent African American and 4.7 percent Hispanic. Ana Mari Cauce, President of the University of Washington, comments that this diversity problem often begins before individuals even start kindergarten. She calls it a “cradle to college” challenge. Gender diversity is also an issue. Microsoft reports that a mere 6.7 percent of women are awarded STEM degrees, versus 17 percent of men. The National Science Board reports that since 2000, the number of women with computer science degrees has actually declined by 10 percent. The diversity aspect of the STEM shortage is important to consider because studies have proven that diversity in the workplace is essential. The Center for American Progress reports that diversity leads to greater innovation, higher employee retention, and a more significant impact on a company’s overall success.
Finally, as the STEM shortage continues to grow, IT and business leaders are all too aware of how their businesses may be negatively affected. According to the CompTIA survey, many leaders are primarily concerned with how the talent gap lowers productivity, decreases levels of customer service, and negatively impacts overall profitability. They recognize that speed to market with new products or services will likely be slowed down, preventing them from keeping up with competitors. Cybersecurity and disaster recovery are other big concerns prompted by the increasing number of cyberattacks, hacks, malware, and ransomware that appear in daily news headlines. Almost half of these business leaders realize that the skills gap may prevent them from effectively aligning technology with business objectives, therefore stalling digital transformation within their organizations. If the STEM shortage continues to grow, the impact on these businesses will be monumental, particularly in niche skill sets or geographic areas that are far from technical hubs like Silicon Valley, New York City, or Chicago.
How Companies Can Adapt to the STEM Shortage
An Indeed survey reveals that 56 percent of hiring managers and tech recruiters depend upon computer science degrees as one of the most important qualifications when hiring. For the businesses that require four year degrees, the continued STEM shortage will be the most detrimental. However, as the labor market shifts, particularly from a generational perspective, the question arises of the relevance of higher education in IT.
Stack Overflow is the world’s largest online developer community with visits of over 50 million professionals and aspiring programmers every month. Developers are able to learn, share their knowledge, and further their career through this online community. Stack Overflow’s 2017 Developer Survey consists of results from 64,000 developers. The survey shows that 23.5 percent of developers did not complete college-level computer science training. Of those who did study at a college or university, 20.9 percent majored in fields other than computer science. 32 percent of all developers claim that formal education is not important for career success. Instead, many are self-taught or have taken online courses and on-the-job training. Furthermore, a look at how Generation Z will shape the workforce reveals that they are disrupting higher education. Generation Z author and subject matter expert David Stillman suggests that this generation, soon to enter the workforce, is driven by a fear of student loan debt and a belief that a college education should be reserved for those with a clear sense of their future career. If they can gather knowledge through online classes and certifications, they do not want to “waste” their money on a degree.
Thus, in adapting to the STEM shortage, employers may want to consider being more flexible in their requirements for formal education. If an IT professional has the experience, technical skill sets and necessary soft skills, then is a computer science degree necessary? No matter what your answer, the CompTIA survey suggests that internships and apprenticeships, on-the-job training, opportunities to gain certifications and credentials, and better assessment of technical skills are top strategies for addressing the IT skills gap.
Finally, partnering with an IT staff augmentation firm like Resource 1 can significantly help you in addressing your talent shortages. Since 1982, Resource 1 has been providing clients with superior talent in order to ensure successful implementation of their IT initiatives. We differentiate ourselves through non-transactional relationships and deep technical expertise. Our success is built on a careful balance of time-tested strategies and innovative tactics that keep us ahead of evolving industry trends. Not only does our team keep a pulse on the current IT market, we are also active in the local community to help boost participation in STEM education, particularly among minorities and women. Let us know how we can help you today.