6 Ways You Can Close Your Talent Gap by Supporting STEM Education

Consider Emerson, for example. The global manufacturing firm is so committed to STEM that it is running a series of national network TV ads 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 Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed boosting the state’s investment in skilled-trades training and tech-career education by $30 million, to nearly $80 million. And Meanwhile, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon told Manufacturing Briefing that he is looking to build on the state’s recent job-creation momentum “by expanding opportunities for students in [STEM]. 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.”

3. 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 groups – women and blacks 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; STEMNOLA, 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.

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, global vice president of discrete manufacturing for SAP, told Manufacturing Briefing. Meanwhile, STEM 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. Sherri Ford Manufacturing as a Career Path scholarship program, which awarded scholarships to 15 U.S.-based student applicants.

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.

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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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