In the 21st century jobs-driven economy, companies are demanding a workforce armed with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills, along with effective team building, communication and problem-solving ability. Business leaders, industry experts and academics must collaborate to develop a strategy that ensures the next generation of STEM-educated leaders is prepared for the jobs of tomorrow. Just like an Olympic athlete who invests years of training to prepare for an event, our talent development strategy must reach future employees long before they enter the workforce.
I am passionately committed to developing the next generation of STEM leaders and for that matter, helping to prepare all young leaders entering our workforce to be successful. With the global marketplace expanding at unprecedented rates, demographic shifts and emerging global trends playing an ever-increasing role in the American economy, it has become increasingly apparent that we as business leaders, industry experts and academics can offer a more comprehensive approach to preparing our future leaders to successfully enter the workforce.
One group that I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the last year is STEMconnector’s Innovation Task Force, a 30-plus member consortium of leaders from industry, government, education and the non-profit sectors working to identifying new pathways to STEM careers. The task force’s primary focus is to identify a number of critical new capability platforms that our next generation of talent needs to be successful, including employability skills, innovation excellence and digital fluency.
The new book just released by STEMConnector, Advancing a Jobs-Driven Economy, provides a roadmap for engagement between higher learning institutions and employers. I have shared my perspective and recommendations in the book, shaped by a range of experiences across different industry sectors over the past 30 years. Based on that experience, I have five essential recommendations for business leaders who want to better support students considering a career in the STEM fields.
- Apply Theory to Practice – No age is “too early” to expose children to how education aligns with jobs. STEM students need exposure to practical applications of their subject matter in STEM fields. One idea is to involve students in STEM Career Accelerator Day, a nationwide event that brings students into major STEM facilities to experience firsthand the excitement and potential of a STEM career.
- Move Beyond People Skills: Instruct Students on the “Art” of Social Influence and Persuasion – I firmly believe that the ability to be persuasive—as well as using social influence appropriately and ethically—are some of the key skill sets today’s students need to be successful in the future, along with:
- Goal setting
- Evidence-based decision making
- Data visualization
- Story telling (as an art of persuasion)
- Stay Relevant – To cultivate interest in STEM fields, business leaders, industry experts and academics share a responsibility to provide relevant and exciting examples of STEM job opportunities to students. Recently, I spoke to the head of the National Facilities Management Association, who noted that if we provide a “big picture” simulation of the roles and responsibilities of engineers and facilities managers, we would generate more interest in the field, rather than lessons plans about the tactical aspects of the day-to-day jobs.
- Actively Seek Educational Partnerships – The first step for any business leader is a commitment to understand the mission, goals and strategies being pursued by potential STEM partner organizations. Visiting high schools, vocational schools and community colleges is a must, and listening to their frustrations and aspirations is required. Only then can you look for ways to establish a mutually beneficial partnership.
- Be a Mentor! – Research on mentor-student relationships shows dramatic impact on a mentee’s performance. We must challenge students with meaningful engagement, treat them with respect and ask for their ideas. Feedback and recognition of their success can capture the attention and imagination of these young minds.
I am so enthusiastic about the promise of our future leaders and the opportunity we share to serve as catalysts for long-term success. I hope my recommendations open a dialogue among stakeholders who are committed to creating a better future by developing a more engaged workforce, stronger communities and a vibrant economy.
Michael Norris is President & COO, Corporate Services for Sodexo.