STEM: The War For Engineering Talent

STEM Facts:


80% – Jobs requiring technical skills set in the next decadeSTEM: The War For Engineering Talent

6% – 9th graders in the U.S. choosing a STEM degree

45% – 2011 U.S. high school graduates who are ready for college level math

30% – 2011 U.S. high school graduates who are ready for college level science

38% – students who start with a STEM major do not graduate with one

>50% – of U.S. patents in 2009 were awarded to non-U.S. companies because STEM shortcomings are forcing a hold on innovation

On needing 30,000 engineers on-site to support 700,000 factory workers in China:  “You can’t find that many in America to hire.  If you could educate those engineers, we could move more manufacturing plants here.”

– Steve Jobs

The SCTE states that “STEM education will be vital to the future of our industry as we work to drive increased engineering literacy and up-and-coming innovators to create the cable networks and technologies of tomorrow.” 

A few weeks ago at the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Atlanta, attendees could visit the “Robot Arena” highlighting the SCTE’s partnership with FIRST supporting the FIRST Robotics Competition and other STEM building youth challenges.  This was a great way to see how a professional association can support and participate in these important educational programs.

What is STEM?

The term STEM was coined at the National Science Foundation (NSF) as a way to encompass a new “meta-discipline” that combined science, technology, engineering, and mathematics subject areas. This new discipline was meant to transform traditional classrooms from teacher-centered instruction into inquiry-based, problem solving, discovery zones where children engage with content to find solutions to problems (Fioriello, 2010). It is a way of looking at and solving a problem in a holistic way, seeing how the components of STEM interact with each other. Put simply, it is the intersection of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It is problem based. It is student-centered. It is the applied convergence of these disciplines used to solve a problem.

Engineering Talent

As competition in the global marketplace grows for a highly skilled, highly educated workforce that has the ability to work independently and creatively, the STEM approach seeks to meet the challenge. By giving students the opportunity to solve real-world problems in context, students grasp a deeper understanding of the content and how to apply their knowledge in a meaningful way.  (“Engaging Diverse Learners Through the Provision of STEM Education Opportunities” by  Beth Howard-Brown & Danny Martinez)

The STEM Crisis – What Defines “Crisis”?

The STEM Crisis is an ongoing discussion.  For every published piece detailing the alarming shortages of STEM talent, there is a counter-piece calling the crisis a myth.  Highly reputable organizations and agencies release multitudes of studies with frightening numbers and statistics about our workforce being too shallow in STEM talent. But there are growing numbers of posts aimed at debunking the STEM Crisis reports, citing unemployment rates of STEM workers, stagnant pay, outsourcing, and the high numbers of lower paid H-1B visa holders.

There is a STEM Crisis, but perhaps it isn’t exactly one particular thing.

Increase in Demand for STEM Skills

President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology stated in 2012 that over the next decade 1 million additional STEM graduates will be needed.

What makes these predictions so difficult to get right?

  1. Not all STEM positions are filled by STEM graduates
  2. Not all STEM graduates go into STEM positions
  3. Not all STEM workers stay in STEM positions
  4. The highly competitive Science and Technology driven industries are volatile; predicting STEM supply & demand is an ongoing challenge

It is interesting to consider #3 above:  Not all STEM workers stay in STEM positions – for example, look at the demand for software developers in the Telecom industry.  All sizes of U.S. carriers are hiring software developers to create applications and platforms.  But senior management across product marketing and sales also recognize the value of those software skill sets.

AT&T’s Matt Beattie, who directs product marketing for the company’s fiber to the building program says that he likes to hire people who know software because of their critical thinking skills.  “We’re less interested in particular software development skills than in someone who can take a look at a particular problem that a customer is having and use that same kind of critical thinking that you use when you write code.”  (RCRWireless:  “The Telecom Talent Wars” by Martha DeGrasse)

Another consideration is that folks who start out in STEM roles may not be able to climb up the ladder the way they want. But that’s not about their lack of STEM skills or knowledge, but the ongoing challenge of being the best person for that higher level job.  Advancing beyond individual contributor roles requires exceptional skills and abilities that aren’t always in a STEM professional’s portfolio; at the top of the list are leadership and communication.

Under-representation of Women and Minorities in STEM

Not only are STEM fields better served when these populations are at the table and part of the conversation; their communities are better served.  It’s been widely reported by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Education and Bureau of Labor Statistics that students exposed to STEM disciplines are more likely to choose STEM careers, get higher paying jobs and in turn, have children who will attend and graduate from college in a STEM discipline.  All of these elements continue the cycle of success. (“STEM:  Raising Awareness, Expanding Access” by Concetta M. Stewart, Interim President, Mercy College, Oct 2013)

What can we do?

This isn’t about standing on one particular side of the STEM Crisis debate or getting political.  It is more about how can we, as an industry benefit from increasing awareness of STEM programs and become more involved in helping students/future workers see Cable & Telecom as a desirable place to apply these skills.

Some of our industry’s members who are leading the way:

Engineering Talent

TD Madison is known as the go-to firm for executive sustainability in information and technology talent solutions.  We welcome your thoughts and discussion.