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War for talent in STEM industries

We are currently witnessing a talent shortage in the STEM sectors resulting in an increase in competition. What are the causes and what could be the solution in attracting the talent you need?

Male and female IT infrastructure engineering in network room

We are currently witnessing a talent shortage in the STEM industries (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) resulting in an increase in competition. What are the causes and what could be the solution in attracting the talent you need? We are answering these questions in our latest podcast produced in collaboration with Mediaplanet Belgium featuring: Catherine De Caluwe, Country Director Belux at SThree and Pieter Boogaerts, VP Engineering at QCify (an organisation that focuses on automated food quality control).

Which impact did COVID-19 had on the search for talent within STEM?

Catherine De Caluwe: “Working from home and flexibility have become very important factors, and they are non-negotiable. Companies are therefore offering more flexible working possibilities, because candidates are more likely to leave their current employer for a job with more flexibility. In addition, we have seen the developments within digitalization and automation fast-track due to COVID-19. As a result, many companies had to fast-forward themselves in this area, which led to a growing number of IT- and automation-projects and therefore a very high demand for STEM skills.

Pieter Boogaerts: “In the short term, COVID-19 was a major challenge for us, as for a lot of other companies. Due to the Coronavirus an entire quality control team was suddenly sick and people had to stay at home. But in the long run, the rapid changes within automation and digitalization have actually been a very positive. The cost of labor also rises every year, so companies started to focus more on having an automated quality control.”

What about the shortage of women in STEM?

Catherine De Caluwe:  “To progress, we must focus on educating young girls to actively consider qualifications and careers in STEM industries as something they can, and should be, pursuing. We need to raise the profile of women who are successful in the STEM industry to act as role models, particularly at Board and senior management level. We also need to think about explaining the value women bring when working in these fields.

It’s important to break gender biases. Companies and HR departments must address gender stereotypes more directly. Increasing female representation in STEM will be essential if we want to fill the growing skills gap.

So, one thing is certain, encouraging more women to get involved in STEM fields – and on parity with men – is necessary if we want to impact the global shortage of talent.”

Do candidates expect more from their employer?

Catherine De Caluwe: “Yes, today candidates receive several job offers. Therefore it’s essential that you elaborate on what you can offer:  a career path, growth opportunities, etc. We also see that elements such as company culture and ESG (environmental, social and governance) are becoming increasingly important. Company culture and identity must align with the ones of the candidates. But it doesn’t mean that salary is not important anymore. I think that people have seen the impact of temporary unemployment during the pandemic,  which means that salary is also high on the set of requirements today.”

How can companies ensure they don’t miss out on interesting candidates?

Catherine De Caluwe: “It’s very important that the recruitment process is clear and short. Too often there are still two to three conversations, preparations, assessments,... and by the time the company has made a decision, the candidate has already found and accepted an offer somewhere else. 86% of the candidates who don’t accept an offer from us do so because the process took longer than two weeks.”

Pieter Boogaerts: “I think it’s important to get to know the person during an interview. One of my standard questions is if the candidate is also interviewing at other companies. This way I can give advice and see what’s most suitable for that person. If it turns out that a small start-up might not be suitable, I will mention that. For us it’s a challenge to understand what we need to propose to candidates because we don’t have a complete framework or a separate HR department. But you do have to market your company and be able to effectively offer what you described in your vacancy. Honesty and transparency are crucial.”


The world of work has seen many changes across the globe in recent years and has elevated the importance of the STEM industry and professionals working in these sectors. We know that the chemical industry will face a deficit of skilled workers by 2030. The 2018 Korn Ferry study showed that our sector would run an 11% labour shortage in 2030, all related to STEM disciplines. The European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP) stresses that cross-sectoral demand for STEM professionals will increase by 8% by 2025.

So to win this war for talent, companies must be candidate centric, making sure to have a strong employee value proposition to retain and attract new employees. Not only focusing on hard skills but also on soft skills (such as communication skills, time management and self-discipline). It’s essential to offer growth opportunities and training to accelerate personal and professional development, be transparent during the hiring process, offer flexibility (remote work vs. office work), a good work-life balance and a pleasant work environment.

Interested to discover more on this topic? Listen to the full podcast (in Dutch) below:

Original article (in Dutch) on the Planet Business website

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