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4 Places to Find STEM Employees in a Competitive Job Market

Workers in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics or STEM disciplines have their pick of jobs and employers. Labor shortages in STEM fields exist today, and these shortages are projected to continue well into the future. This reality leaves employers with little choice but to compete for qualified talent. However, finding experienced workers with STEM skills can prove to be challenging.

Organizations have to look beyond obvious pipelines like top-tier universities when there are more open jobs than skilled candidates. That’s not to say you can’t go there, but that there are additional resources you might be overlooking. And in a job market where candidates are scrutinizing opportunities more than ever, successful recruitment efforts must cover all possibilities. Below are four resources you can use to find experienced STEM talent.

1. Engineering Staffing Firms

A staffing firm that specializes in engineering recruiting doesn’t operate like a general agency. Instead of qualifying and recruiting candidates for a variety of industries, engineering staffing firms focus on STEM disciplines. These agencies often get more granular in the type of skill sets and knowledge they seek from candidates.

For instance, engineering staffing agencies may screen workers for software development skills, such as programming languages. On the other hand, other candidates might take assessments to determine if they’re qualified to design hardware or networking solutions. But like general staffing firms, those that focus on STEM skills may place contractors and direct hires. They may also recruit for temp-to-hire positions.

Working with a staffing firm that recruits experienced STEM candidates can help expand a company’s talent pipeline. This strategy works well for organizations that don’t have in-house HR departments. A staffing firm can also be a great resource for recruiters who need help screening for STEM skills.

Even if you have an HR team with these abilities, staffing agencies will expand your hiring pool. This includes discerning workers who prefer not to openly publish their resumes or send them out to numerous job postings. They may want to switch careers or work with recruiters who screen employers and target industry leaders.

2. Community Colleges and Trade Schools

Companies that need STEM workers sometimes overlook community colleges and trade schools. Yet, a sizable portion of undergrad students enrolls in community colleges. During the 2019-2020 academic year, 35% of undergraduates attended a public, two-year college. That percentage dipped to 29% at the beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year. However, this drop was due to the pandemic, and these students represent millions of future graduates.

Both community colleges and trade schools prepare students for STEM careers that don’t necessarily require a four-year degree. These schools may offer certification paths for end-user tech support and systems engineering. 

Some students might start a four-year degree in mathematics or a science discipline to save on education costs. However, others may be looking to enter the job market following certification or two-year programs.

Forming partnerships with local community colleges and trade schools can open up another source of talent. Maybe your organization sponsors an internship program for students pursuing STEM degrees or courses. Perhaps you attend campus job fairs or speak to students about career possibilities in STEM. Your company can also work with a school’s career services office to fill open positions.

3. Employee Referrals

STEM jobs are projected to grow faster than average between 2020 and 2030. According to current estimates, STEM occupations will increase by 10.5% compared to 7.7% for all jobs. While this means more employers will be adding STEM jobs, it also means demand will increase for qualified candidates.

Positions in science, mathematics and technical fields tend to pay more than average. Yet, promises of higher starting salaries haven’t been enough to fill the gap between available jobs and skilled workers. Part of this may be because experienced candidates may not know where to start looking for open positions. They might also be hesitant to switch employers, be passive job seekers, or haven’t had luck navigating online job boards.

Relying on existing employees for referrals can be a way to overcome some of the obstacles to recruiting experienced workers. Since your current staff members understand your culture well, they can sense whether someone will fit in. 

Existing or recently returned employees know an employer’s ins and outs, and qualified workers in their network usually trust them. Passive job seekers may be more willing to make a change if there’s less uncertainty about a work environment.      

4. Internal Talent Development Programs

At times, employers don’t notice that the workers they’re looking for are already among the ranks. Most employees join an organization with the hopes of advancing their skill sets. This includes lateral moves to new departments where workers can develop and expand related knowledge.

Organizations with internal talent development programs recognize this need and benefit from it. Experienced STEM workers may be in plain sight but might not be using all their capabilities and knowledge. For instance, it’s not uncommon for employees to pursue side interests or think about career changes as they progress. Some of those may be linked to science, technology, engineering, or mathematics.

A company can help move employees into new STEM roles by implementing talent development and mentoring programs. Development programs or tracks also serve as a means of upskilling or preparing workers for more responsibility. Internal development programs provide employees with a way to achieve evolving career goals and reduce employers’ recruiting costs.

Finding Experienced STEM Workers

Continued growth in STEM industries is making it more difficult for employers to fill open positions. Job seekers can afford to be selective in terms of work schedules, salaries, organizational cultures, and benefits. Employers looking to compete for qualified STEM workers in this labor market must leverage more than one resource. Engineering recruiting firms, community colleges and trade schools, and existing employees are viable sources of talent.

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