Seven challenges employers in STEM face in the next 10 years

With STEM roles becoming ever more crucial to the global economy, what are the key issues facing companies operating in that environment?

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David Kuntz, a global leader in AI-driven adaptive learning and personalised education, and Head of Data Science for learning and upskilling platform Degreed, shares his predictions on the key issues facing companies operating in STEM fields.

1. Talent shortage and STEM education

One that is no surprise yet remains high on the list to address is the talent shortage from universities and colleges. Higher education institutions still aren’t producing enough qualified graduates in STEM fields to meet current or future demands. Blame for the talent shortage ranges from finger-pointing at parents and primary schools around the world for not making STEM exciting enough, to higher education curricula being misaligned with corporate needs.

In any supply-and-demand situation, either side can affect the equation. Businesses and organisations should be proactive – they don’t need to wait for higher education, schools or parents to solve the problem. Partnerships like the one between Arizona State University (ASU) and Starbucks, where the high street giant pays employees’ tuition fees to complete degrees, although not STEM-specific, shows a good way forward.

2. The rapid pace of technological advancement

The pace of technological change remains exponential as extraordinary improvements in system-on-chip development continue to push the boundaries of STEM from companies, like Apple.

These advancements require new training, skills, tools and approaches for today’s STEM workers exacerbating shortages, and they’ll require constant upskilling to stay on top of the game. Crypto and blockchain will play an especially important role in everything from finance to medicine to ID security and non-fungible tokens. And that’s just scratching the surface.

3. Retention

The past two years have demonstrated a remote workforce is viable, productive, and sustainable – but comes at a cost. Remote and hybrid work environments enable low-friction transitions from one role to another, and from one company to another. This, coupled with the high demand for STEM skills, means we have the potential for massive movement of talent within and across industries creating organisational instability and loss of core knowledge.

To address this, companies need to improve onboarding and offboarding processes, documentation, and employee and leadership succession planning, and related system management tools.

Discover more about what sought-after specialists in STEM are prioritising when it come to work

4. Globalisation

Software engineering is an essential skill needed by many companies but, increasingly, a strategy of setting the bar high and ’following the sun’ is necessary for software development and support.

Why? Because the tech giants have set high expectations around availability and service; always-on and ready with real-time responsiveness. This requires the employment of many skilled tech teams around the globe, raising a challenge around their ability to manage them across multiple time zones, to provide tools and training that support asynchronous work, and dramatically reduce reliance on same-place, same-time meetings to make decisions or plan roadmaps.

5. Data and AI regulation

The past 12 years have seen an enormous data explosion. According to Statistica, in that period the world utilised over 300 trillion gigabytes of data in one way or another. That growth isn’t slowing down and because we have to store, access, manage, use and protect all this data, is actually driving demand for STEM skills and roles to develop hardware, software, data analysis, machine learning and AI.

Governments are increasingly developing policies and laws that determine how the data must be managed, stored, shared, accessed and used. The recent EU regulatory proposal for AI, for example, sets out guidelines for ensuring that AI sysetms “are safe and respect existing laws.” The sheer magnitude of data, the increasingly diverse uses for data and the complexity of the laws and regulations surrounding it require an extraordinary effort to manage. Going forward, large STEM-skilled teams will be required just to ensure the appropriate tagging, tracking, processing, protection, and management of data, requiring skills in data management, data analysis, machine learning, AI, data security, data encryption, and more.

6. Natural resources

There’s a growing awareness of the world’s tremendous consumption of sand. Yes, it is one of the most-used natural resources, forming the basis for roads, bridges, glass, computer chips, buildings and electronic infrastructure. But there’s going to be a problem because it is a limited resource. So, companies and institutions need to be thinking about how to ensure this resource is maintained and sustainable and investing in research for alternatives. Obviously not every organisation is equipped for research, but those that employ STEM workers skilled in materials science, mechanical and structural engineering, chip manufacturing, and other disciplines have a big role to play.

7. Climate change

Climate change is a problem for everyone, so why is it on a list of STEM challenges? Addressing climate change requires, in part, a move toward green businesses, which in turn drives toward carbon neutral commercial and business infrastructure. This requires an entirely new and hugely significant investment in property, plant, and equipment, especially for manufacturing organisations in manufacturing sectors.

We previously explored the importance of environmental engineers in helping to meet net-zero targets. Undoubtedly, investments in geo-engineering, AI to predict extreme weather and sustainability will increasingly consume STEM resources over the next decade thereby reducing those available for other revenue-producing development.

And that’s a problem we have to solve because the alternative is much worse.

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