In 2016, the American Action Forum (AAF) predicted that should current trends continue, the US would be short 1.1 million STEM workers. By 2019, this figure was revised to a predicted 3.5 million. Fast forward through a global health crisis, and that number looms larger still.
As all organisations become increasingly dependent on tech, the number of STEM roles needed will only increase. So why is there a shortage of STEM workers? And what can we do about it?
The diversity problem
Diversity within STEM, and particularly within technology, is a complicated issue. There are studies which show the sector as diverse – Asian Americans, for example, are thought to be overrepresented in the workforce. However, Black and Hispanic workers are both underrepresented, with Hispanic workers making up 8 per cent of the STEM workforce, but 17 per cent of total employment.
Black and Hispanic women are also likely to earn less from their STEM careers compared to their male counterparts; here, Asian men, white men and Asian women come out on top. This suggests that equal opportunities are not given to all workers before they enter the sector, or during their careers.
Organisations need to consider their internal processes – are these fair? How are promotions decided upon? How do you attract a range of candidates? In such a skill-short market, companies need to ensure they can attract a diverse pool of talent.
Lack of female representation
From a young age, we subconsciously tell children what careers we expect of them. Though it might seem harmless, gender stereotypes are proven to impact our lives – they’re stereotypes for a reason, after all. In general, boys are encouraged towards careers in STEM, while girls are more likely to opt for Arts subjects. This is nothing to do with academic performance – in fact, studies show that low-achieving boys are more likely to choose a STEM subject at school than high-performing girls are.
Girls and women need to be able to see themselves within STEM roles, particularly in areas where they are underrepresented, such as technology. The entire sector is missing out on talent, so companies must ensure they can attract women. Think about your external image, are you known for championing women? Do you have networking groups within your business to support working women? 50 per cent of the workforce is female – it’s just good business sense to try just as hard to attract these candidates, aside from being the moral thing to do.
Poor understanding of candidate experience
52 per cent of students aged 11-17 don’t know anyone with a job in STEM, despite STEM roles making up 13 per cent of the total US workforce. There seems to a be a disconnect between what academics think of as ‘STEM’ and how schoolkids relate this to their future careers.
There’s also a misunderstanding when it comes to career paths within STEM. There are several routes to a STEM role, something we see a lot in software engineering, where many talented candidates are self-taught. There’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ career path, so think outside of the box when it comes to recruitment. Consider the skills and experiences that will add value to your organisation, not just those that might match a person's profile exiting the business.
Demand is growing faster than supply can manage
The STEM skills shortage isn’t just a problem in the US – countries around the world are struggling to fill roles quickly enough. In particularly short supply are Software Engineers – in fact, research shows that this is the most in-demand role in the world.
The simple fact is that companies that need Software Engineers now will need to stay at the top of their game if they’re going to compete – and use every tool at their disposal. One such tool is a specialist recruiter, so get in touch if you’re not already working with us.