Salary and benefits are still the top priority for STEM candidates

Organisations that delay in recognising market value risk missing out on sought-after specialists

STEM Equity Coalition



National preferences

Impact of the pandemic

Enhanced packages

Research highlights

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Key take-away

STEM candidates know their market value and are increasingly unwilling to compromise on their salary and benefits packages

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Key statistic

60% of overall respondents (3,001) selected rate and/or salary and benefits among their most important motivations when searching for a job

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STEM specialists know there is a shortage of people with their skills, and they know their own worth. When negotiating salary and benefits packages, they’re unwilling to compromise as much as they might have before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Specialists' expectations are boldly confronting outmoded pay structures set in rigid bands and grades. Employers have to realise that in an expert-driven STEM jobs market, flexibility is essential if they are to attract the best talent.

But that’s only a part of the picture…

From a candidate’s perspective, salary and benefits packages are almost always relative to wider economic imperatives, such as inflation rates and commuting costs. Other conditions that specialists look for in their employment – such as flexible working and career development have gained in importance.

But while some of these may be offset against salary expectations, money remains the primary metric by which STEM professionals/specialists evaluate a job opportunity.

From our research, salary and benefits packages remain a top factor when they are searching for new roles (Table 1). More than 60% of total respondents put salary or payment rate – as part of an overall benefits package – as a prime consideration.

However, remuneration is rated not that far ahead of flexible working options (54%) and work/life balance (53%) (Table 1). A further 59% of respondents also told us that being ‘financially secure’ is of uppermost importance in their life goals (Table 2).

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National preferences

Not everyone places the same importance on pay. Salary/benefits is rated top in economies like Japan (63%), Switzerland (64%), the UK (64%) and the USA (64%). However, it is not consistent across all territories surveyed. Several European countries rate flexible working options above pay and benefits, such as Belgium (53%), France (53%) and Spain (69%), while the chief preference in Luxembourg and the Netherlands is for good work/life balance.

Beyond Europe, the value placed on salary and benefits is more of a mixed picture. Survey respondents in Hong Kong are unanimous in favouring salary/benefits as being the most important criterion when searching for new roles: 100% ticked that box.

Respondents in the United Arab Emirates placed salary and benefits behind career development opportunities and work/life balance considerations. The customarily high level of salaries – tax-free – that people working in the UAE enjoy, probably goes some way to explaining this result.

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Impact of the pandemic

We see strong connections between the survey respondents’ salary expectations and the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The post-pandemic trend towards remote working will prove another factor in shaping salary expectations. As many employers retain flexible working models adopted during lockdowns, they are being forced to reconsider their benefits packages. Some traditional benefits – travel loans and meal subsidies, for instance – count for far less when an employee is not coming into an office each day of their working week.

“Increasing demand for sought-after specialists has meant that they are increasingly in control of job offers and so can be much more selective and demanding when finding roles that are right for them”

The after-effects of the pandemic have only just started to play out. The so-called ‘Great Resignation’ threatens to exacerbate the skills shortage in some areas of engineering and technology, leaving savvy STEM job seekers feeling confident enough to hold firm to their salary demands.

“Increasing demand for sought-after specialists has meant that they are increasingly in control of job offers and so can be much more selective and demanding when finding roles that are right for them,” says SThree CEO Timo Lehne. “Companies are being forced to act quickly and decisively, offering enhanced packages to secure the talent they want to take their businesses to the next growth level. In short, candidate confidence means employers need to offer them better packages if they’re serious about competing for the best STEM talent.”

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Enhanced packages

Timo continues: “Anecdotally, leading companies are offering more enhanced packages when the initial job offer is made in order to attract and secure the right STEM specialist early, reducing the chances that they will continue their job search.” Conversely, hard-to-find STEM candidates know that they hold all the cards, and so can sit tight and wait for the right role.

But further evidence suggests that employers who don’t understand the market forces aren’t keen to show their hand up front.

“Some companies seeking STEM candidates are only willing to be more flexible later in the process, once they have discovered how competitive the market is – and how difficult it is for them to find an exact fit. But then often that is too late, and they are missing out, on their first choice.”

Once they find a match, Timo adds dynamic companies who understand that specialists are increasingly difficult to find quickly open up to negotiation around pay and value-added benefits, as they don’t want to risk a candidate choosing a better option if they stick to their initial offer.

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