How to Close Your Talent Gap by Supporting STEM Education

There has been a lot of talk about getting students excited about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education as a way of filling the talent gap, particularly in manufacturing. But many companies today are doing more than just talking about it. Some manufacturing CEOs are making it a strategic priority.

Consider Emerson, for example. The global manufacturing firm is so committed to STEM that it ran a series of national network TV ads a couple of years ago promoting its “I Love STEM” campaign.

Here are 6 ways that you can capture the best potential talent for your firm by supporting STEM.

1. Partner with state governments. As an economic-development priority that is increasingly vital to their futures, more and more states are backing programs to boost their STEM credentials, and they need manufacturers to help them out. For example, Michigan has a MiSTEM Advisory Council created by the state legislature that brings together business, education and philanthropic leaders to make the state a world leader in STEM education. And in Missouri, two years ago the state launched a new STEM curriculum called Project Lead the Way in nine school districts for kindergarten through 12th grade, providing curricula and teacher training with the goal of preparing students for eventual jobs in STEM fields.

“The highest-paying, fastest-growing jobs are in these fields, so we are intensifying our efforts to make sure students have the skills to succeed in the high-tech global economy,” Gov. Jay Nixon said.

2. Back science festivals. Philadelphia has one of the best-known, a city-wide science festival that draws more than 100,000 visitors each spring. Lots of local companies contribute financially and with their brainpower to a celebration that combines private and public might and passion into a platform that is boosting the City of Brotherly Love as a STEM magnet.

3. Reach out to the under-represented. Partly because STEM disciplines traditionally in the U.S. have been the preserve of white males, a whole passel of demographic group—women and African Americans among them—have been woefully under-represented, even as America needs to accelerate production of STEM graduates and experts. Many companies and other organizations are involved in trying to correct that problem, including digital giant Lenovo, which has partnered with The Kramden Institute to boost the ranks of girls in STEM disciplines; STEM NOLA, a not-for-profit in the New Orleans area that is forging partnerships between local companies and minority and low-income students; and the National Guard Youth Foundation, which conducts STEM programs for high-school dropouts and is partially funded by Michael Baker International, a leading global engineering firm, and EverFi, a leading technology-education concern.

4. Tap into Silicon Valley. America’s continued pre-eminence in digital technology is the thing most keeping the nation in the lead in STEM disciplines, and many in Silicon Valley are trying to press the advantage. For example, Make School, a startup enterprise in San Francisco, offers a two-year academic and hands-on program in computer science that aims to replace the traditional four-year computer science degree and thereby increase the flow of STEM graduates.

5. Sponsor robotics and other STEM programs. One of the best ways for manufacturers big and small to boost local STEM capabilities and beef up their own recruiting efforts is to sponsor high-school robotics competitions, both funding and hands-on support. About 200 of the Fortune 500 companies, for instance, back FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics competitions at the high-school level. Such programs are a “great stepping stone” for STEM-interested students, “and for students who want to work in one of the new high-tech manufacturing jobs in fields such as aerospace, specialized machinery, precision electronics, or automotive products, an understanding of robotics is a key skill,” Pradeep Amladi, vice president of global marketing said. Meanwhile, STEM Career Pathways is a program in Arizona that connects K-12 students in primarily rural areas to community college-led programs with a STEM-driven curriculum.

6. Fund higher-education efforts. Nothing interests college kids like scholarships, and so manufacturing companies and associated interests are putting more money where their higher-education needs are. The Association for Manufacturing Excellence, for instance, in early 2014 launched a new scholarship for students interested in manufacturing careers through the Dr. Sherrie Ford Manufacturing as a Career Path scholarship program, which awards scholarships to a handful of U.S.-based student applicants each year.

Keeping the United States ahead in STEM disciplines may rank as the biggest challenge—and opportunity—for American manufacturers over the next decade. There are plenty of ways for manufacturing chiefs to ensure that their companies, and their country, succeed.

You might also like:
How Manufacturers Can Learn from the Success of Emerson’s STEM Marketing Strategy
Could Women Help Manufacturers Fill the Skills Gap?
6 Ideas for Overcoming the Welding Skills Gap

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Dale Buss
Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other top-flight business publications. He lives in Michigan.

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