Recruiting the Next Generation of STEM Employees

Companies should introduce several programs to reach students at the elementary, middle and high school level, experts say.

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How can companies find the next generation of engineers, production workers, and team leaders that will be innovative and create new products? By fostering internship programs, creating community partnerships, collaborating with universities and other initiatives that reach the youngest Lego fan to Ph.D. students. Hiring experts in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math presented their successful strategies for building a bridge from the classroom to the office at the U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference in Washington, D.C., on April 25.

Panelists included: Michele Aguilar Carlin, senior vice president for human resources and communications at Motorola Solutions; Michael J. Alvarez, workforce development initiative manager at Shell Oil Company; Samantha Dwinell, vice president of human resources at Texas Instruments; and Gwenne A. Henricks, chief technology officer and vice president of product development and global technology at Caterpillar, Inc. Kimberly Castro, a managing editor at U.S. News, moderated.

“Our focus is building a talent pipeline for the future,” Alvarez said. He and a handful of other coworkers were tasked with focusing on workforce development at Shell in 2004. Senior management at Shell, Alvarez said, recognized that 50 percent of people within their industry were eligible for retirement. A new workforce was needed.

Shell responded to the problem with urgency. Their outreach efforts include providing four-year and two-year scholarships and internship programs, partnering with science focused organizations such as the Chemical Educational Foundation and building a Web presence that gives students, teachers and parents resources for the next generation of potential engineers. The “Energize Your Future With Shell” web page includes online games for students and a description of STEM careers they can pursue.

[SPECIAL REPORT: The U.S. News/Raytheon STEM Index]

The other companies represented on the panel also have similar programs that teach students of all ages about STEM and entice them to join their organizations.

Motorola Solutions and Texas Instruments are involved in robotic competitions for students, and Caterpillar has established strategic partnerships with universities. “We do research work with faculty and students at those universities,” Henricks said.

But the dozens of program, partnerships and initiatives still have yet to solve some of the glaring problems for STEM companies.

The U.S. is not graduating enough STEM students, Carlin pointed out. Immigration reform has to go hand in glove with the continued efforts to grow STEM in the U.S., she said. “Otherwise we run the risk as businesses of losing those jobs elsewhere.”

And as a society, the U.S. could likely benefit from how we think about people interested in STEM.

Other countries, such as China and Singapore, beat the U.S. in terms of the number of STEM graduates, Dwinell said. “They don’t have STEM initiatives. They have strong science and math cultures in education,” she said. “How do we build that?”

Alvarez discussed more on-the-ground efforts that could be made with STEM students. Once they enter a STEM program, he’s not sure who’s keeping track of their progress. “Are these students staying in that pipeline?” he said.

Though the focus tends to be on students, keeping teachers and administrators engaged can help with STEM initiatives, an audience member said.

And once students make it through the pipeline and want jobs, how can employers convince supervisors within their companies to hire interns? Another audience member raised this question, highlighting that not all bosses are interested in training less-skilled employees.

“It has to start at the top,” Henricks answered, encouraging a trickle-down effect for getting lower level managers to bring in fresh blood.

If there’s resistance, kill them with data and hard evidence, Dwinell said. Use numbers to illustrate the dedication to a company from employers who were once interns, and find those supervisors within the company who started as interns, she said.

“They will be your biggest advocates.”

Corrected on May 27, 2014: A previous version of this article misstated the name of the Chemical Educational Foundation.

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