The importance of workforce development
STEM skills are back in the public hot-seat after back to back news releases in as many weeks.  On December 3, 2014, the Business Roundtable released a joint press release with the White House-backed nonprofit Change the Equation. The title, “CEOs say skills gap threatens U.S. Economic Future,” framed a survey of 126 CEOs who participated in a survey on STEM skills.  In this survey, 97% of the CEOs reported the skill gap to be a major problem for their company with the bulk of jobs requiring basic to intermediate STEM literacy and a lack of candidates with fundamental STEM knowledge.  This survey reported an expectation of 1 million hires within the next 5 years requiring STEM literacy.
Just six days later on December 9, 2014, in an article published in the Wall Street Journal titled, “The CEO’s Top Priorities,” number one was the “21st Century workforce,” which called for employers to engage in partnership with schools even down to the level of early childhood education to encourage schools, parents and students to engage in STEM curricular activities and to improve focus on STEM and technical training.
The disconnect between the CEO’s office and metrics for the Human Resources department
Over the past year, we have connected with students, teachers, districts and colleges to identify promising practices and to better understand the challenges in connecting the classroom to careers.  What we’ve discovered is an ongoing disconnect, where studies and proclamations like the above press releases are rarely followed-up by meaningful engagement.
Part of the challenge is the disconnect between the CEO’s office and HR department metrics.  While Human Resources professionals are held accountable for statistics like turnover, retention and time to hire, there are few if any metrics to adequately incentivize engagement in longer-term workforce development activities.
Defining workforce development and it’s importance
First, what is workforce development:  Activities that create, sustain and retain a viable workforce that can support current and future business and industry. It is looking beyond the immediate hiring needs to recognize an organization’s responsibility in the larger economic activity of building and growing a STEM skilled workforce.  Most companies do little to none of this.
Top 10 signs that an organization should be invested in workforce development
Here’s a great checklist to use with local area employers that may be hesitant to create partnerships with you.  If they answer yes to any of the below, that’s a sure sign that they need to work with you in shaping curriculum and connecting their careers to the students in your classrooms:
1) You have long-term unfilled positions that are not due to involuntary turnover (these are usually technical positions).
2) You are constantly battling for key technically skilled workers at the level of pay rate.
3) You have positions that you will always hire for.
4) You struggle to attract top talent in key positions ( or have no idea what your key positions are).
5) You are shifting to a virtual employee base, not because you think it’s a better way to work, but because you can’t find the local talent.
6) More of your competitors are moving their base of operations due to talent shortages.
7) You rely on itinerant or agency workers to fill critical gaps.
8) Your head-hunting and contingency recruiting fees are two to three times your HR payroll.
9) You are vulnerable to federal audit due to the lack of diversity in key technical roles at your organization.
10) You rely on new employees having prior experience even for entry level positions (generally because you lack the capacity to develop your own talent).
The effect of broad, long-term disengagement of employers from workforce development
Economic cycles undoubtedly impact workforce strategy and trends.  We’ve seen significant staffing bubbles and talent wars create havoc on the talent pipeline from the manufacturing downturn in the 80s that has left a gap in middle-tier manufacturing leadership to the tech bubble in the 2000s.   Some of the greatest economic impact has been the broad disengagement of employers in the work of developing local technically skilled talent. Community colleges especially struggle to engage employers around workforce needs and partnership around curriculum development, but all levels of education have experienced the same disengagement by employers, which has lead to a rising technical skill gap.
The results:
  • 67% of all jobs requiring a majority of STEM skills by 2016
  • 1.6 million technical jobs unfilled every month
  • 74% of an incumbent STEM workforce that is white and male
  • 50-60% retirement eligible technically skilled workers with no back fill in sight
  • 93% of females and minorities that excel in STEM subjects in high school who NEVER pursue STEM education or STEM careers

It’s an issue we can and should solve.

Our mission and our challenge to STEM business leaders
At STEM Jobs, our mission is to engage and inspire students to realize their dreams by pursuing STEM careers.  We provide classroom resources that give teachers and counselors the tools they need to connect their classrooms to careers.  Most importantly, we are the collective voice of tens of thousands of teachers and students advocating for greater partnership with employers at the national, regional and local level.  It’s time to sponsor math class, it’s time to inspire the next generation, the STEM generation to pursue their dreams and #DoWhatYouLove.
Students have very little idea about the careers that exist, about the different kinds of opportunities an industry may have let alone an individual company … the more we can share information about the jobs that exist, and the pathways to get there, the more we can help students understand the importance of focusing on critical STEM skills throughout their formative years.
STEM Jobs works regularly with employers and colleges and high schools to establish viable partnerships around workforce development strategies that ultimate connect classrooms to careers. If you are interested in learning more, leave a comment below, reach us on twitter @stem_jobs and be sure to sign up for our newsletter!