Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics: A Behavioural Shortage, not a Technical One - Predictive Success

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics: A Behavioural Shortage, not a Technical One

In recent years, the corporate world has been bemoaning the inevitable shortage of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduates. Economists have pointed to countries like India and China which respectively produce five and nine times as many engineers as the United States in a given year. To counteract this, various organizations have been working to encourage young people to study sciences and have offered scholarships to those pursuing this area. In the United States, President Obama has listed improving STEM education as one of his top priorities. Given the increased use of technology in the business world, firms are looking for more people who come from technical backgrounds and possess analytical skills. Large corporations, unable to fulfill these skills domestically, have taken to sourcing talent from overseas

However, this line of analysis may be disconnected from reality. A recent paper by the Economic Policy Institute indicates that we may actually have an excess of individuals who have a STEM background. Among the many interesting findings in the paper titled “Guestworkers in the High-Skill US Labour Market: An analysis of supply, employment, and wage trends” is that:

  • For every two U.S. college graduates with STEM degrees, just one is hired into a STEM job
  • One-third of IT employees do not have an IT degree
  • The wages in these sectors are depreciating due to the excess supply noted above

For those in the field, this may not be too surprising. STEM programs often attract the best and the brightest. The element of competition has always existed.

Taking a step back, let us define and accept as true, these two statements.

  1. Companies that heavily depend on their human capital’s technical expertise are having trouble filling roles.
  2. Many with a technical education are having difficulty finding jobs that are related to their field of study.

At a glance, these two statements may sound like a paradox. However, we have to realize that corporations, when filling roles that require STEM degrees, they are looking beyond the technological skills that these candidates bring to the organization. There is a reason why the leaders in the tech industry (e.g. Google, Amazon, Adobe, etc.) do not solely focus on technical questions in interviews. They want to understand the individual, their motivating behaviours, and personality traits. Being able to code in eight different languages does not cut it anymore- and with good reason.

The “soft skills” which are often dismissed, can make or break your organization. The ability to communicate effectively for example, is extremely important in many IT roles. When IT works with another group who may not be as technologically savvy, it is important that they are able to work in a patient manner and understand how to explain difficult concepts to someone who does not have the same background as them. Other characteristics, such as teamwork, initiative, and project management are extremely important. Moreover, in succession planning, managers will look for someone who is assertive to take a future leadership role.

Most organizations will use interviewing to determine if that person has a good deal of ‘fit’ for the organization”s culture. Unfortunately, interviews and on the-job-performance have a very low correlation (just 0.1). Interviews are not much better than a coin toss – because all people possess bias, there is almost no objectivity in the process. Compare that to behavioural assessments such as the Predictive Index® which has a very high correlation with on-the-job performance (0.5). Many organizations have used PI to help determine if that behavioural element of a candidate is really there. Therefore, it’s not that we have a shortage people with STEM backgrounds – it”s that are having difficulty finding people with STEM backgrounds and the personalities that would enable them to become A-players.

Due to inefficient practices, there may be some great talent the organizations are overlooking. The best technology and research firms use data for even mundane day-to-day operations. It only makes sense that they take advantage of available data-driven tools in managing their most important asset: people.


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