By Dianne Grote Adams, President, Safex, Inc.
When entrepreneurs launch their businesses, they often envision what they want that business to look like and act like.
In the Science, Technology, Engineering and Manufacturing (STEM) world, a business owner likely wants to hire smart, qualified staff who are knowledgeable leaders in their field and who are able to respond to clients’ needs and provide excellent customer service. Demand for these qualified STEM employees can be high, and small businesses are vying for the same talent that larger, international companies are trying to snag.
The competition is complicated by recent research and statistics, which point to a growing shortage of such qualified employees. According to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the United States will need 1 million more STEM professionals than it will produce over the next 10 years if the U.S. wants to remain a world leader in science and technology. In short, we are not graduating enough people from STEM fields to keep up with demand. According to that same report, the United States needs to increase by 34 percent the number of undergraduates with STEM degrees to match the forecasted demand in those fields.
Finding and retaining the best talent, therefore, is a recruiting and retention challenge that many small businesses, but especially highly technical ones, must face and continue to refine.
Create a pathway for young talent
While establishing an intern program can be a gamble for some companies, it is a gamble that can pay off because it can create a funnel of potential new employees that you have helped train. Many companies and students view internships as a way to test out a relationship. Employers are looking for good employers and the students are looking for the right fit for them.
However, companies must do much more than hire college interns and give them menial work in order for the intern program to provide a tangible staffing benefit in the end:
- Visit college fairs near your location that offer the degree programs in which you are looking for candidates. However, don’t overlook a smart student with a related degree who can learn on the job as an intern.
- Send your young employees to their alma maters to help recruit interns. College students will be much more willing to talk to a 20-something employee, especially if that employee is a familiar face they remember from their days on campus.
- After hiring the interns, give them meaningful work to do. Pair them with a senior staff member so the intern can learn from that person.
The internship period provides managers with the opportunity to see the student’s work ethic and their ability to learn on the job. When managed correctly, a good intern program will pay off when those interns become productive, full-time employees upon graduation.
Develop current talent
One way to maintain a highly skilled talent pool in the STEM field is to take care of your own.
Make it clear to your young employees that you want them to stay. Give them more responsibility as they grow in their roles and make sure they know you value their contributions.
Invest in the training and development of your existing staff. If you know you will need someone to oversee a potential new revenue stream for your company, search internally to see if you have an employee who can handle it. And provide them with the training to succeed.
Develop a training program or set up annual professional growth plans for each employee to follow. Your company might, for example, require all employees to undergo 40 hours of continual education or training a year on a topic with which they are not familiar. Or, perhaps, they need the additional training to gain certification in a certain area. The key to make this work, though, is to offer to pay for the training and give your employees work time to do it.
Create a culture that makes them want to stay
Offer a company culture that demonstrates how much the company values the whole person. Offer employees a place to work, but also demonstrate that you respect that they have a life outside work by offering work-life balance.
- Work-life balance would mean offering full-time benefits to anyone who works 25 or more hours, a move that could be attractive to mid- and late-career professionals who want more time to take care of growing families or want to start stepping back from work a bit.
- Work-life balance for younger employees could mean allowing them the opportunity to buy an extra week of vacation, if that’s something that is important to them.
Build a community-engagement program
Encourage your employees to become involved in professional organizations or to volunteer with their fellow employees at a local non-profit. Such programs build teamwork and demonstrate to your employees that you care about the community in which you live.
Dianne Grote Adams, president of Safex, a health and safety consulting business, started her company in 1992. As a working mom with a young family, she wanted to create a company that would respect the abilities of people in a technical career while also offering them some flexibility. From its beginning, Safex has offered flexible scheduling and benefits—vacation, insurance and paid holidays—for anyone who works more than 25 hours. Dianne is a Board-Certified Industrial Hygienist, Board-Certified Safety Professional and Certified Professional Environmental Auditor in Health and Safety with more than 30 years of experience. Dianne was an adjunct professor at Columbus State Community College from 2008 to 2010. She was just named a Distinguished Fellow of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), American Academy of Industrial Hygiene (AAIH) and the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) and is on the advisory committee for both the Ohio University Industrial Hygiene Program and The Ohio State University Environmental Health Science Advisory Board.