No STEM Crisis, No War for Talent?

Have you read The STEM Crisis Is a Myth? It’s a fascinating article. Bob actually has data, as opposed to my anecdotal evidence, now and dating back to my article from 2001, Crisis? What Crisis? A Contrarian Perspective.

(For those of you who don’t know the four letter acronym, STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. It refers to anyone in a technical field. Anyone. Back to your originally scheduled blog post.)

Here’s the best quote from the article:

The real STEM crisis is one of literacy: the fact that today’s students are not receiving a solid grounding in science, math, and engineering.

Which students? Any of them.

People need to know about STEM. I can’t think of a job these days that doesn’t require substantial knowledge of how to use science or math or engineering. Don’t believe me? If you didn’t watch 60 Minutes this past weekend, read the story, Are robots hurting job growth? The jobs that they are automating are not just blue collar, they are white collar jobs also.

I have been in the software field since 1977. Since then, management has tried to determine a way to reduce programmer salaries. They tried structured programming and CASE tools. They tried outsourcing and offshoring starting in the ’90s. I don’t remember when the War for Talent was declared.

It’s simple. If you don’t want a war for talent, you:

  • Hire based on cultural fit.
  • Hire people who are close enough for the job and train them.
  • Don’t discriminate based on age.
  • Pay people what they are worth.
  • Don’t ask people to multitask, because that wastes people’s time.
  • Use non-traditional workers, such as women or part-time people effectively. That means we have to train management.

Part of the so-called STEM crisis is that we have an insufficient knowledge of how to manage STEM workers. At least, in the software industry we do. That’s why I’m writing my management myths. That’s why I wrote Hiring Geeks That Fit and Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management (and all the other books).

I agree with Bob. There’s no war for talent. We have overspecified job descriptions; companies and managers who don’t want to train; and companies and managers who are cheap.

Find candidates your people have worked with before, or use a loose connection to find a friend of a friend. Be willing to train them. Pay them a fair wage. Hiring does not have to take you forever.

All of those actions will reduce the cost of your hiring. Read Hiring Geeks That Fit to learn how.

There is no war for talent. Only if you make one.

About johanna

I help managers and leaders do reasonable things that work.
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7 Responses to No STEM Crisis, No War for Talent?

  1. pete miller says:

    {Quoting from above –
    If you don’t want a war for talent, you:

    Hire based on cultural fit.
    Hire people who are close enough for the job and train them.
    Don’t discriminate based on age.
    Pay people what they are worth.
    Don’t ask people to multitask, because that wastes people’s time.
    Use non-traditional workers, such as women or part-time people effectively. That means we have to train management.}

    Good list. I think it’s very important to factor add a point about serious ‘sharpen the saw’ programs (ref, Covey for the wording, but others also emphasize the concept). The tools and conceptual frameworks of technology and engineering in particular, the Big TE in STEM, are going to continue to change very rapidly, and keeping up with those changes is virtually impossible to do within the standard arrangements of full-time work. The “sabbatical” concept is too open and vague, although it could be tightened up and focused to be useful. My view as a manager 30 years ago (Symbolics) was that the people in my group needed 25% of their time to learn about the technologies our customers were exploring and developing with our products — otherwise we would simply get out-run by them.

  2. pete miller says:

    Quoting from the article: “And unlike in decades past, employers seldom offer generous education and training benefits to engineers to keep them current, so out-of-work engineers find they quickly become technologically obsolete.” Even those having a job will also.

  3. johanna says:

    Pete, what I keep seeing in organizations is that tuition reimbursement and training programs are the first to be cut. Why? I don’t understand. And then, technical people, who I think are pretty well paid, don’t think they need to pay for their ongoing education. (as you said in your other comment.)

    One of the things I do for myself, because I am self-employed, is pay for my ongoing education. I decide what I need to learn. Every year. I pay for workshops. This year, I have learned a lot about books: how to design covers and interiors, how to market them and sell them. Will I still use free-lancers to help me for a while? Yes. Will I transition to designing my own? Probably. In the meantime, I know a lot more than I did, and I can provide much better direction to my free-lancers.

    When I work with clients who have trouble hiring, one of the first things I have to convince them of is the fact that they will have to train new hires in something. That seems to be a sticking point.

  4. my main reason to become a freelancer, was that the companies I worked for before, always promissed me training and most never did, or not at a level I was happy with. Instead of complaining, I realized that what I wanted was special for me and I became independent. I took a year to create a buffer (that every freelancer need as a security net) and since then I yearly invest 10 to 20% of my revenu (not profit) in training.
    Thanks to that, I was able to follow training that no company would ever allow me to follow:

    – 1 full year of Advanced leadership training (meaning 12 months of 1 WE per month + a few midweeks) while I was a developer
    – 2 year of gestalt therapy training, while working as a agile coach.
    – …

    It was the best decision I made inside my company.

  5. “There’s no war for talent. We have overspecified job descriptions; companies and managers who don’t want to train; and companies and managers who are cheap.”

    I grew up with the belief that we need motivated people who know how to think: observe, analyze, do, and learn. Since each company and project has its idiosyncrasies, you need those skills any time you start something new.

    Many managers, though, don’t seem to really understand the work that needs to be done, which makes relying on “overspecified job descriptions” not only easier, but also defendable. Many seem to want the jobs to be made up of commodity skills (plug and play) so that salaries can be cheaper, seemingly to the point of convincing themselves that they can do it that way because they so badly want it to be that way. Ideally that should make it easier for those who do “get it” to snag the great candidates, shouldn’t it?

  6. Trish SK says:

    “Part of the so-called STEM crisis is that we have an insufficient knowledge of how to manage STEM workers.”

    I agree completely and wholeheartedly. I completed a graduate degree in Engineering Management (MEM), a program that was created to address a management gap that can exist in technical fields. The curriculum included quality engineering, project and financial management, organizational behavior and operations management. The program’s main strength came from the way the business coursework supported the technical professions.

    Most managers get into their positions following two tracks: either promoted from the technical racks or brought in for their (business) management skills. The former are not trained to actually manage people, and the latter are often lacking the technical acumen to truly manage a knowledge worker. Either way you’ve got the wrong person in the spot and – in the case of the former – you’ve also lost a good technical resource.

    It’s frustrating to work in those situations, and even more troubling when you recognize it and feel unable to make a change happen.

  7. johanna says:

    Hi Trish,

    As a technical person, you can learn to manage people. (I’m a prime example :-) A business person can learn the dynamics of the technical work, as long as they pay attention. But they have to pay attention.

    Promoting the best technical person is a horribly myth

    To make a change happen, you need to use influence. I don’t normally talk about that on this blog, but maybe I should.

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