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STLCC’s Latest STEM Workforce Research Uncovers Perceptions on Talent, Employment Growth

September 10, 2014

Ellen Sherberg  
Ellen Sherberg, right, makes concluding remarks at the State of St. Louis STEM Workforce Report at STLCC's Forest Park campus.

St. Louis Community College’s Workforce Solutions Group presented the State of St. Louis STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Workforce Report highlighting assessment, analysis and review of the latest STEM workforce research and intelligence.

 

The findings were released today to nearly 400 business and community leaders at STLCC’s Forest Park campus as part of a St. Louis Business Journal seminar series. A panel of distinguished corporate executives representing key employing industries also provided a robust discussion of key findings from the regional survey of more than 500 employers in STEM-related industries.

 

STLCC officials today were joined by executives from the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Emerson, USA KWS Gateway Research Center, World Wide Technologies, and the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC) to engage the audience in strategic conversations on the key findings of this annual workforce intelligence report for the region.

 

“Although comparisons to previous years’ responses must be qualified to reflect the increased focus on STEM in this year’s employer survey, we believe the 2014 responses provide evidence of some continuing trends seen throughout the period of the State of the St. Louis Workforce research,” said Steve Long, associate vice chancellor for workforce solutions.

 

These trends include a continuing incremental improvement in the economy as measured by both actual hiring and anticipated hiring plans. In addition, more employers are reporting adding full-time jobs while fewer are reporting adding part-time jobs.

 

“Half of the STEM-related jobs in will be information technology,” said Alan Spell, MERIC’s research manager. “IT is in hospitals, the financial sector, businesses, everything. How do we energize students to effectively engage in STEM? How do we treat STEM like professional ballplayers, rock stars or rap stars? We have to begin that at an early age.”

 

Education and experience qualification continues to increase, perhaps in part driven by the increased number of STEM employers in the survey. Soft skills, led by communication and interpersonal skills, are still cited by most employers even with the increase of STEM-intensive employers in the survey.

 

“We are in a changing society. The K-12 and up to higher education now speak in a digital framework, and that’s something we are not used to,” said Brian Crouse, vice president of education for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Employers need workers who can see a problem and then find a solution to that problem. The best thing we can do to bridge the gap between business and education is to provide training that offers critical-thinking and problem-solving skills building.” 

 

Although economic conditions is still the most frequently cited barrier to expansion, the shortage of workers with knowledge and skills has increased as an employer response over the past two reports and is greater in this year’s survey, perhaps again due to the STEM focus.

 

Fortunately for KWS Gateway Research Center, there is fertile ground for mining talent at the Danforth Plant Science Center at the Bio-Research Development and Growth (BRDG) Park, which is home to STLCC’s Center for Plant and Life Sciences.

 

“I would say the primary reason we relocated to St. Louis was the Danforth Center,” said Derek Bartlem, Gateway’s head of research. “It is an extremely attractive location with an international reputation. The infrastructure was already in place there, along with world-class scientists and St. Louis Community College’s training for students in life sciences and contract research internships.”

 

The survey also revealed differences from past years’ reports and between the two STEM employer groups surveyed -- manufacturers and professional services employers. More employers in this year’s report cited lack of general knowledge of the business or industry and lack of technical skills specific to the job as shortcomings of job applicants than in previous years, perhaps due to the STEM-intensive employer pool.

 

“Young people today are into technology in everything, and there is not eye-to-eye interaction,” said Ann Cuiellette Marr, vice president for human resources at World Wide Technology. “It’s an attractive thing for young people to want to be around state-of-the-art technology, especially with a company that continues to grow that technology. We like to be creative at the entry-level with our internship program. It’s our way of finding talent while they are still in school. We look at them from this entry level and groom them to go up in the organization. We invest a lot in this program.”

 

Online courses as a method of skill acquisition was also cited more frequently in 2014, driven by the higher response rate from professional services employers. Conversely, more manufacturing employers responded that they used apprenticeships, community colleges and vocational training as methods for skill acquisition, perhaps reflecting a preference for a more formal approach to training.

 

“St. Louis Community College has made a strategic investment in our Centers of Excellence that provide advanced technology training for high-wage jobs and in-demand occupations,” said Rod Nunn, interim president at STLCC’s Forest Park campus. “As a result of conversations like this, we have developed accelerated training programs, work-based learning and partnerships among business, education and government to develop the talent employers are seeking.”

 

Finally, the survey revealed that employers report experiencing skill shortages, i.e. shortages of workers with requisite knowledge and skills, in all four STEM areas, led by engineering and technology. The primary driver of this shortage, as reported by employers, is the lack of qualified new graduates in the discipline. In order to address this shortage, more employers report that they are hiring outside the local area as compared to previous years, while most are required to hire less experienced workers and train them.

 

“We are a global business, and we made a decision to invest in growth,” said Patrick Sly, executive vice president at Emerson. “In China, there are 3.5 million STEM doctoral holders. In the United States, there are perhaps 300,000 to 400,000. India is closely following China. The available engineering talent mostly will be hired outside the U.S. because of practical reasons.”

 

Visit STLCC.edu/STLworkforce to download the full report and a four-page summary.

 

For those who missed the event, it can be viewed on HEC-TV by clicking on this link.