STEM Supply Bubble to Burst in 2020

By 2020 an estimated 1.4 million engineering and computer sciences jobs are going to be in the marketplace and their are not enough projected STEM graduates to fill the roles. The marketplace is going to give workers a strong upper hand and the shortage will lead to unsustainable growth in many technology sectors if trends don’t change.

This shift in supply and demand has the potential to affect a broad range of industries. The marketplace has a strong propensity to adapt to available resources and in most cases when rapid growth is coupled with a limited supply industries will find a way to cope, but in many cases those growing pains break many of the players in the game. Over the past 30 years the top performing companies all have two things in common: most folks have never heard of them and they have been dangled over the edge of failure and fought their way back.

Sometimes this is a solitary event created by poor planning internally and many other times it’s an industry wide or economy wide event. During the dot com bubble we saw this in spades. While some companies like Amazon and Ebayevolved, diversified and keep cash in reserve, many others spent from the seemingly endless fountain of speculative cash and floundered when trouble hit. Companies that came after, like Facebook and Google, hadn’t learned from this lesson until recently when they started investing in other sectors like home automation, VR and machine learning, but still aren’t showing strong revenue growth in any other verticals than advertising. This endless speculation on ideas can’t last forever and sooner or later that bubble will burst.

In principle, ideas like Facebook and Google are easy to produce and cheap to maintain because although people are expensive and without significant physical overhead can remain low while revenue continues to grow. In a marketplace where people act as your production facilities if supply is about to drop it would be smart to change direction. The new technology companies are famous for their treatment of employees, but will it be enough to continue growth with dwindling supply?

In my estimation there will still be talent supply deficit unless we see a paradigm shift not only in how many, but consequently whom decides to enter STEM fields. Currently there is a large deficit of non asian minorities and women entering these fields. It would be wise for large cash rich technology companies to diversify their holdings and revenue streams, but mostly to start diversifying their workforce. In America, we can’t box people into professions, it is one of the greatest features of paid education, you get to be what you want to be if you are willing to put in the work. What can be done is influencing how certain people view certain professions.

Lobby for Curriculum Changes Locally: Although it may seem logical for folks with pockets as deep as Google to go straight for the jugular and attempt change at the federal level; politics almost always wins the day and those changes can be as fleeting as Obama’s climate change promises during election cycles. By impacting local boards through incremental change and mandating that not only physics and chemistry be taught, but that coding lessons are taught to engage young women as well black and hispanic individuals through topical and self directed projects could be groundbreaking. The Bezos lab at a local high school will direct talent straight to Amazon for relatively low cost.

Encourage Low Cost Alternatives to Four Year College: Create programs through existing eLearning sites that you actually hire out of. Promise a certain number of students will be engaged as part of not only a learning experience, but through a hiring process. While the Liberal Arts create more well rounded individuals capable of critical thought the four year model is becoming too financially burdensome for many and isn’t necessary to start a productive career; move the working class into the coding line.

Create Hackathons to Address Organizational Change and Encourage Outreach: Don’t rely on executives to come up with a plan. Encourage your entire staff to collaborate on ideas that will speak directly to women and minorities in the space. Allow them to come up with the things that made them so passionate about what they do and duplicate it through community programs.

At the end of the day this a supply and demand question with a very obvious solution, but the process hasn’t been tested. We haven’t ever seen a drought of this sort. In the industrial era people could be trained for jobs very quickly and on the job. This new intellectual and technological era we are shifting towards is presenting a situation where education is vital to maintaining the supply of competent talent as well as maintaining this voracious growth we have seen thus far. Those companies that evolve their talent strategies, hold cash in reserve and diversify will survive. What will that evolution look like? I would start by asking your employees.

Originally published at Sourcing Spring Leadership Solutions | Executive Search.