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How To Address 4 Common STEM Workforce Challenges

HR is challenging at the best of times, but HR professionals within the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) industries face unique challenges. In particular, it can be difficult to find skilled, diverse employees, retain them, and then plan for their succession.

Luckily, HR professionals in STEM don’t have to do it alone. There are a host of tools and resources to support HR professionals and managers in their efforts. Here’s how.

Finding a Skilled Workforce

Whether there is a shortage of workers with the appropriate skills and qualifications to work in STEM is hotly debated, but if you’re having trouble filling positions, there are a few things you can do.

  • Make recruiting easier. Recruitment software and services can simplify the hiring process, making it easier to find better candidates. Our clients are pleased with how much time they save by using a recruitment system — and also with the quality of the candidates they are able to find.
  • Reevaluate the qualifications required for the job. Do your education requirements truly fit the requirements of the job? A candidate with years of relevant experience may be more qualified than a recent graduate with a degree. Or a two-year degree, rather than a four-year degree, may suffice as a qualification. Think about what the necessary skills are and hire for those, rather than for a particular type of education background.
  • Offer on-the-job training. Sometimes, if you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself. If you’re finding that candidates and new hires consistently lack particular skills, offer on-the-job training to address this skills gap. (This has the added bonus of making your company a more attractive place to work.)

Culture and Diversity

In 2017, women drew attention to the challenges they face in being accepted in traditionally male industries like tech. Susan Fowler’s public account of the harassment and sexism she experienced as an engineer at Uber led to the firing of 20 Uber employees and the eventual resignation of CEO Travis Kalanick. This was called a “watershed” moment for women in tech.

A 2017 BCG survey found that 30% of women believed their workplace culture was a barrier to gender diversity, compared to 18% of men. Cases like Fowler’s demonstrate that many STEM companies have both a pipeline and a culture problem in establishing diverse workplaces.

Together, these challenges pose a big problem for companies. Even when HR professionals work hard to hire employees from underrepresented groups, a workplace that does not treat them respectfully will not be able to keep them for long. Indeed, women engineers are twice as likely as men to leave a company.

There are numerous HR tools to assist with attracting and hiring diverse employees, but retaining them is just as important. According to BCG, women say the following are the most effective in realizing gender diversity:

  • Increasing the visibility of women role models and leaders.
  • Empowering men to support gender diversity.
  • Supporting women at important moments in their lives, for instance, allowing flexible work arrangements when returning from maternity leave.

Such policies benefit all employees, not only women. New fathers can also benefit from flexible work arrangements. And they can be adapted to support employees from minority groups, too. For instance, increasing the visibility of minority role models can facilitate an environment more welcoming of underrepresented groups in general.

And once you’ve created a welcoming and inclusive company culture, tools like the BirdDogHR Brand Builder can help you present that culture to potential candidates, creating a feedback effect to attract more diverse candidates.

Retention

Retention can be a real challenge, and not just among women and people of color. It’s such a problem that the Society for Human Resource Management predicts that by 2022, employee retention will be HR’s most significant challenge.

Beyond strengthening workplace culture, STEM workplaces can improve employee retention rates by implementing robust onboarding processes.

According to a 2015 Equifax study, more than half of people who left a job in the previous year left that job within their first year of employment. Because turnover is particularly high among new employees, onboarding is one of the most important ways to improve employee retention rates.

If you have an existing onboarding process, evaluate whether it is doing enough for your company. And consider implementing onboarding software to automate and simplify the onboarding process.

Succession Planning

Which employees will hold key positions in your company in five years? Ten? If you’re not sure, you’re not alone. Only 12% of companies have a succession plan, and succession planning is a weak spot of many STEM companies. This can cause problems if a key employee is suddenly incapacitated or leaves the company. It can also contribute to a retention problem, as 78% of employees say they would remain with their employers longer if they knew there was potential for advancement within their organization.

Create a succession plan to ensure your business-critical positions remain staffed, and ensure your company evaluates employee performance with a view towards advancement. Performance management tools can identify employees ready for a promotion or for an executive-track position.

Today is the perfect time to face your workforce challenges. Implement tools and policies to address your challenges in finding a skilled workforce, hiring diverse employees, retaining your employees and planning for their succession.