Want to Close the STEM Talent Gap?

An aging workforce, shrinking immigration, and decline in STEM interest have been contributing to a widening gap between the demand and supply of STEM workforce in the US. In the manufacturing sector alone, Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute estimate that 53 out of 100 jobs will go unfilled between 2018 and 2028 — this means 2.4 million of 4.6 million openings will remain vacant, putting over $2.5 trillion in manufacturing GDP at risk! 

With the significant rise of US defense budget and increasing air travel on the commercial side, the Aerospace and Defense (A&D) industry is facing an especially difficult challenge in closing the STEM talent gap. A recent BCG Report points to diversity and inclusion as a solution. The  report contains several specific and practical measures that many industries can immediately put in place. One measure that is simple and effective, yet underutilized, is leveraging visible role models. This is one that I personally relate to as well. 

As a small child, when I proudly announced to my parents that I wanted to be an astronaut, no American woman had ever been in space, or would for some time. But as a preschooler, the Apollo program had captured my imagination and became a key driver of my career goals for years to come. Just as I was preparing to complete my studies and enter the workforce, my ambitions seemed more attainable as Sally Ride became the first woman in space in 1983. Much later, as a NASA engineer, I got to work with astronauts, swim in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL), and fly in the Vomit Comet. These got me as close as I could to a dream career, without actually flying in space — Note I have not given up hope of flying in space as an older specimen some day! Looking back, I recognize the importance of the role that the Apollo astronauts and Sally Ride played in my STEM career. 

Today three major A&D companies are led by female CEOs and close to a third of Senior Executive Service (SES) leaders at NASA are women. Yet as reported by Aviation Week, the “percentage of women in the A&D workforce has been stuck at around 24 percent since 2014.” Recognizing and celebrating under-represented and female role models in A&D and many other industries can be a game changer for attracting and retaining talent. This is especially true with young professionals who already have STEM degrees, but more often than not opt out in the first five to ten years of a career in their chosen fields, due to a lack of role models, little support, or simply feeling like they don’t belong!

The time is now to seriously worry about the impact that the widening STEM talent gap will  have on our economic prosperity and security, unless we take action. There is a growing body of knowledge and lessons learned to guide us towards the right actions to attract and retain more females and under-represented groups in STEM careers. 

We all know “You can’t be what you can’t see.” So celebrating visible role models who are female or from under-represented groups will certainly help. Beyond attracting and retaining talent, it can also drive us to go above and beyond what we could ever imagine!

Phot by Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash