Category Archives: skills shortage

Fix STEM Gap by Making Science Fun

Anything that encourages and inspires the mastery of science in this country raises my interest. I come from a long line of scientists who — aside from being brilliant heroes of mine — always found ways, and time, to give back to schools and students to encourage a love of science.

My late dad, an oceanographer, told me more than once that the key to the math and science problem in America (i.e., not enough college graduates entering the workforce with science, technology, engineering, and math mastery and career plans) is that too few schools are making STEM fun. How can you be inspired by something that     isn’t at least a little bit fun?

Which is why this release about the 11th Annual Arizona Regional Science Bowl held Saturday before last caught my eye and had me reading on, not just about Arizona’s competition, but the national one as well, the one that all regional meets feed. There’s even a National Ocean Sciences Bowl. Not sure my dad knew about that one. He would have loved it.

Organized and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy since its inception back in 1991, the National Science Bowl follows a quiz-show format, with a buzzer system in place for contestants to signal their answers. Students compete in teams starting in their regional middle- and high-school competitions with the goal of getting an all-expense-paid trip to the national bowl if they win. This year’s national event takes place in Washington from April 27 through May 1. (Here’s a video from last year’s national competition in case you’re as curious as I was.)

My sense of it after reading up on both the regional and national events is this bowl idea sounds far more exciting, engaging and competitive than most other organized attempts to instill the love of science in tomorrow’s workforce. It also sounds fun.

I guess you could say it feels like the difference between a health-risk and body-mass assessment and a wellness program that gets participants truly engaged and enthused.

At a time when employers, particularly those in tech-reliant industries, are bemoaning the dearth of STEM-educated job candidates (consider what we’ve written here on HRE Daily and on HREOnline.com, for instance), it makes a whole lot of sense for businesses to support these regional bowls, and our national one.

Not only are you helping your high-tech talent-pipeline, you’d also be doing something very nice for your reputation as a community/U.S./future-workforce supporter.

Still in Search of Skilled Workers

searching for talentAnd the talent shortage continues.

That’s the simple message found in survey results released by Manpower Group this week.

In its 10th annual Talent Shortage Survey, the Milwaukee-based Manpower surveyed 41,748 employers in 42 countries and territories, “to explore the extent of talent shortages within the global labor market, which job categories are particularly hard to fill and why, the impact of talent shortages on businesses, and how employers are responding to the challenges raised by the lack of available talent in specific job categories,” according to a press release announcing the survey findings.

Globally, the percentage of employers reporting trouble in filling job vacancies continued to rise, climbing from 36 percent last year to 38 percent in 2015. The shortage is most severe for organizations in Japan, where 83 percent of hiring managers said they encounter difficulty in finding the necessary talent, while 68 percent of employers in Peru and 65 percent of respondents in Hong Kong said the same.

The prognosis here in the States, however, seems somewhat better, with 32 percent of U.S. employers saying they struggle to fill positions due to talent shortages, compared to 40 percent who reported as much in 2014.

That’s not to say that closing the talent gap isn’t still a concern here at home, of course.

Indeed, 43 percent of respondents said talent shortages are taking a toll on their organizations’ ability to meet client needs, with 32 percent saying they’ve experienced increased employee turnover, and the same percentage reporting higher compensation costs and lower employee engagement. Forty-eight percent of the U.S. employers surveyed acknowledged that talent shortages have a “medium to high impact” on business in a broader sense.

More interesting, though, is the percentage of employers seemingly taking no action to blunt that impact. That number remains relatively small, but is going up.

According to the Manpower survey, 20 percent of U.S. employers are still not pursuing strategies to overcome talent shortages in 2015—a 7 percent increase from 2014.

What remains consistent this year is the trouble American companies face in filling skilled trade vacancies. For the sixth consecutive year, “skilled trade workers” topped the list of U.S. jobs most in demand, with drivers, teachers, sales representatives and administrative professionals rounding out the top five.

“Talent shortages are real and are not going away,” said Kip Wright, senior vice president of Manpower North America, in the aforementioned press release. “Despite impacts to competitiveness and productivity, our research shows fewer employers are trying to solve the problem through better talent strategies.”

These companies fail to address the issue at their own risk, added Wright.

“As the struggle to find the right talent continues, and candidates with in-demand skills get the upper hand, employers will be under pressure to position themselves as ‘talent destinations’ to attract the best workers that will drive their business forward.”

Could Gen Zers Help Solve STEM Skills Gap?

461252089 -- young scientistMore good news for employers when it comes to Gen Zers, the next generation — those now in high school and college — soon to enter the workforce en masse.

This just-released report from Chicago-based CareerBuilder says high-school seniors’ future career plans could very well clean up — or at least help bridge — that highly troublesome science, technology, engineering and math skills gap said to be barreling down the tracks.

According to the report, new research conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder and its subsidiary, Moscow, Idaho-based Economic Modeling Specialists International, shows nearly three in four of 209 high-school seniors polled already know what career they want to pursue, and STEM-related fields top their choices. (The survey queried 2,188 hiring and human resource managers, ages 18 and over, as well.)

The poll also finds the majority (97 percent) of high-school seniors plan to go to college to obtain a two-year or four-year degree or other training that may ultimately help close the talent gap. The most popular majors? You got it, mostly STEM-related. Here they are:

  1. Engineering
  2. Business
  3. Psychology
  4. Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  5. Physical Sciences
  6. Arts, Visual and Performing
  7. Computer and Information Sciences
  8. Health Professions and Related Clinical Sciences
  9. English Language and Literature
  10. Math and Statistics

And here are the most popular choices for profession among the 73 percent of high-school seniors who know what they want to pursue (again, STEM-heavy):

  • Teacher
  • Engineer
  • Psychologist/Psychiatrist
  • Scientist – Biological/Physical/Social
  • Artist/Designer
  • Veterinarian
  • Machine Operator
  • Computer Programmer
  • Physician
  • Government Professional
  • Nurse

This seems to work quite nicely alongside a news analysis I posted on HREOnline on Tuesday, the same day the first truly definitive study on Gen Zers was released by Millennial Branding, based in New York, and Randstad, with U.S. headquarters in Atlanta.

That study, Gen Y and Gen Z Workplace Expectations, shows Gen Zers are more rooted in prudent and pragmatic notions about how work gets done and what is needed to succeed than their Gen Y predecessors (ages 21 to 32).

“Gen Zers … appear to be more realistic instead of optimistic, are likely to be more career-minded, and can quickly adapt to new technology to work more effectively,” Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding and author of Promote Yourself, told me for that piece.

They’ve also seen how much their parents and Gen Yers have struggled in the recession, he said, so “they come to the workplace well-prepared, less entitled and more equipped to succeed.”

Basically, Schawbel told me, they’re willing to work harder toward goals and have fewer illusions about what it takes to achieve them.

As the daughter, granddaughter and mother of scientists and engineers, I’ve lived through the hard work, stamina and — yes — realism involved in and needed for such pursuits.

So I have to say, I foresee only good things when you put these two reports together.

Unemployment: Good News and Bad News

unemploymentThe jobs report for June, released today by the Labor Dept., has some welcome good news: Employers added 288,000 jobs last month, which is well above the rate of hiring recorded during the first five months of this year. The unemployment rate has ticked down to 6.1 percent, according to the DOL, which is the lowest it’s been since 2008, when the financial crisis hit.

This good news does not, of course, mean that we’ve finally left the economic doldrums behind. Two thirds of the jobs created in June were part-time, the DOL reports, and no doubt many of the employees who took those jobs would rather be employed full-time. As for the unemployment rate, that doesn’t include people who’ve simply given up looking for work. If these people were included in the official unemployment rate, it would actually be 9.6 percent instead of 6.1 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

More distressing still (apologies for being such a gloom-meister right before the national holiday) is a new study from the Boston Consulting Group, which projects that the U.S. will be one of the few economies that is projected to struggle with high unemployment through 2030. It is expected to have a “worker surplus” equal to between 10 percent and 13 percent of its labor force in 2020 (between 17 million and 22 million people) and of 4 percent to 11 percent in 2030. The U.S. must “find ways to better utilize its workforce or it will continue to face relatively high unemployment,” according to the BCG report. “Improvements in training and education, as well as incentives for individuals and businesses to produce workers with the necessary skills and education, are needed to counteract this trend.”

This is one area where our do-nothing Congress (which currently has a sky-high approval rating of 16 percent) might actually do something: As Kecia Bal reported this Monday on HREOnline, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act would reauthorize and amend the Workforce Investment Act with the intention of making it easier for states and local communities to match unemployed workers with the skills and training needed by today’s companies. As we’ve learned the hard way, there’s no magic wand that will solve our current unemployment problem, but maybe if we make better use of our existing resources so that jobs requiring specialized skills no longer go begging even as so many Americans have gotten too discouraged to look for work, we can at least make some serious progress.

NAHR’s 2013 Essay Contest

HR’s always talking about the importance of having a robust talent pipeline. But what about its own pipeline? Is the profession doing enough to develop the next generation of HR leader?

To that end, the National Academy of Human Resources launched its Ram Charan HR Essay Contest in 2011, aimed at recognizing thought leadership among university undergraduate and graduate students in the fields of HR, industrial/labor relations and related fields.

medallionThe contest is made possible through a generous donation by NAHR Distinguished Fellow Ram Charan to the NAHR Foundation.

For the 2013 contest—which has an Aug. 1, 2013 deadline—the students are being asked to address the topic of electronic technology and social media, and how these are affecting the employment relationship (from hiring to engagement to retention) between employers and employees; as well as the roles, responsibilities and contributions of HR organizations. Clearly a timely and relevant topic.

Prizes of $20,000, $10,000 and $5,000 will be awarded, with the winners being officially announced at the Nov. 7 NAHR Annual Dinner. (Essays will be evaluated and judged by a panel of HR professionals who are Fellow of the NAHR.)

Kudos to Charan, a respected author, speaker and business consultant, and the NAHR for providing students with this worthwhile opportunity. Details can be found on the NAHR site.

Future World College-Graduate Shortage Looms Large

college grad-122486537More bad news on the skills-shortage front since my last post on the subject. This time, the shocker comes in the form of a number, part of the McKinsey Global Institute’s recent World at Work report: By 2020, according to the report, the world could have 40 million too few college-educated workers.

Youch. That’s a huge shortage — as the late George Carlin might have said in his infamous oxymoron routine.

As Tracy McCarthy, senior vice president of human resources at Chicago-based SilkRoad technology, told the Society for Human Resource Management in it’s report (subscription required) on this matter,

This skills shortage, particularly for high-tech skills, has existed in the United States for some time now. If you look at the number of H-1B visa holders, you’ll find the majority are for high-tech skilled workers such as engineers.”

Yes, I’ve been aware of the skills shortage for some time now; I know about the scarcity of math-and-science-proficient engineers (something I keep telling my engineer son to bear in mind and use to his advantage as he plots his future); I just hadn’t seen a 40-million-shortage headcount by 2020 until now.

Ravin Jesuthasan, Chicago-based global-talent-management-practice leader for Towers Watson, says the future gap will come with some friction points too. As he puts it,

While there will be an overall shortage of college-educated talent, there will be dramatic differences across countries. Developed markets like the United States, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom will experience huge shortages, while countries like India and Indonesia will generate significant surpluses as the key drivers of education, demographics and immigration play out differentially. The challenge for employers will be how they tap into these surpluses; making the mobility of work essential.”

What the McKinsey report does not cover, Jesuthasan adds, are the specific skills that businesses will demand and the gaps relative to those within the current workforce. As noted in Towers Watson’s Global Talent 2021 report, he points out, employers expect to place increasing emphasis on four skill areas: digital skills, agile thinking, interpersonal and communication skills, and global operating skills.

I guess you can look at all this as more fodder for the battle cry to bring the best thinkers of the world together now — from employment, academic, even governmental sectors — to try and solve this thing before the global marketplace closes up shop.