Trends in STEM Recruiting – Predictions for 2018

By Sarah Alspaw posted 01-30-2018 07:19

by Sarah Alspaw, Director of Career Development and Student Success, Capitol Technology University; Steve Patchin, Director - Career Services, Michigan Technological University; Valerie Quatrini, Assistant Director/Career Consultant for the College of Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University

Editor: Sarah Raymond, Director of Career Services | Montana Tech

The U.S. Department of Labor recently reported that the economy gained 2.1 million jobs in 2017, bringing the unemployment rate to 4.1 percent. In 2017, STEM focused higher education institutions experienced the most active fall recruiting seasons in years. At Michigan Technological University, recruiting  has increased 28 percent in the last five years and more than 117 percent since 2009. Early indicators of the Spring 2018 recruiting season are that this trend in STEM recruiting will continue. Three leading trends have emerged in the recruiting of STEM students:

  • Continued growth in recruiting at STEM institution-sponsored career fairs,
  • An increase in informal recruiting events on campus, and
  • An increase in corporate involvement across campuses which is breaking down the institutional silos between career services and academic areas across campus.
Figure 1
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Trend: Career Fairs are not dead! 

In 2012, Jacquelyn Smith at Forbes published an article titled: "Is the Career Fair Dead?" The article examined the impact of online posting platforms such as Indeed and others on these major on-campus events. The conclusion was that career fairs were still the best place for students to explore a variety of companies. Today, company recruiters still see career fairs as their primary recruiting tool. Bryan Washington at Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company shared “Career fairs and face-to-face recruiting efforts are our primary method of hiring STEM talent.”

Figure 2
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Internships/co-ops are increasing in importance. 

A recent survey of recruiters at STEM Coalition institutions found co-ops/interns were the leading source of their new hires in STEM-related fields. Creating a structured internship/co-op program to help build this talent pipeline has risen in importance as the market for talent increases. More than 90 percent of companies are focusing on efforts to increase the retention of STEM interns and co-ops.

Handshake, an online platform that connects college students with recruiters, found over the last three years there has been growth in the number of postings for internships/co-op experiences for students. The number of postings for internship/co-op opportunities at STEM focused institutions is outpacing the rest of the pack, as illustrated in Figure 2. It also reflects the cyclical nature of STEM recruiting, with a heavier focus on the Fall recruiting season. This recruiting season is becoming more balanced as more companies fail to meet their hiring quotas in the Fall, forcing them to increase their activity and visibility on campuses throughout the year to satisfy their demand for STEM talent.
Trend : Recruiters are moving toward informal means of recruiting.

Though career fairs are still tools used by employers to recruit student and recent graduate talent, informal events are becoming increasingly popular. These informal events give employers a chance to ignite and embolden their brands on campus, often equating certain activities to their organization. Employers and career services offices are working together to create targeted programming designed to increase individual engagement with the students. 

KPMG, which brings technology solutions to state and local government clients, has made an effort to reach out to specific student clubs and to create targeted events such as Q&A panels prior to specific course's scheduled class time, according to Geo Shannon. Joshua Garlitz from The Greenheck Group brings students to facilities for tours “to get more exclusive time with the students and to show the technical side [of their company’s operations].” Kimberly-Clark recruiter Andy Salzwedel is increasing his “focus on freshman and sophomore students to make them aware of our programs” through informational sessions. Dawn Brown from Oshkosh Corporation cites many of the already mentioned strategies, as well as the value of corporate advisory board meetings and using career services as a bridge to the faculty. A few other survey respondents mentioned events including:  

  • Small group meals
  • Nights with industry – Elizabeth Lewis, Union Pacific Railroad
  • Learning seminars
  • Donating to classrooms
  • Virtual platforms – Brooke Czapkowski, Pfizer
  • Internet-based recruiting
  • Bringing alumni/students currently employed at their company to host booths at the career fair
  • Increased communication with interns during the academic year
  • Campus affiliated digital campaigns
  • Project work
  • Events at high schools – Mike Brewster, Milwaukee Tool Co.
  • Senior design expos – Mike Brewster, Milwaukee Tool Co.
  • Participation in classrooms as guest lecturers
  • Sponsoring club events and contests
  • Club meetings and happy hours
  • Virtual career fairs – Charlie Kramer, Meyer Contracting, Inc.
  • One-on-one networking events – Korina Kasperek, DTE Energy
  • “Focus weeks” such as a week of focus on paper events
  • Social media leads (LinkedIn)
Universities also weighed in about what trends they are seeing regarding these informal events. David Ortendahl from Worcester Polytechnic Institute can generally categorize employer participation events into three tiers: large flagship events (two large career fairs per year); mid-sized events (networking nights, virtual fairs by industry/discipline per year), and small events (info sessions, tech talks, etc.). Derek Musashe from the University of California - Santa Barbara mentions that they are seeking more non-recruiter technical employees of companies coming to campus for information sessions, stating “students really want to speak with the actual technical professionals.” He is also seeing a rise in mixers, info sessions, industry panels, and virtual events.  

Universities are also taking more specific steps to modify these events toward the needs of their employers. Kelly Laraway from North Carolina State University sees an “increase in partnership programs where employers get customized events.” Marcie Kirk Holland states the University of California Davis also creates customized events for companies and creates events that specifically target recruiting from certain populations, such as veterans. Steve Patchin from Michigan Technological University has created “escape rooms” where students can take a break and relax, with plans to “design future escape rooms with sponsors in mind, such as steel companies sponsoring it, so puzzles and activities have a steel industry theme.” Sarah Raymond from Montana Tech emphasizes that events are best when “paying attention to the individual needs of the employer and their desired outcomes will drive programming efforts.” 

Overwhelmingly, despite interest in non-traditional events, all but a few recruiters stated that career fairs continued to be their top choice for recruiting talent from universities. Aaron Berg from Georgia-Pacific, states that he uses these informal events “more of a supplement to career fairs instead of replacing them.” 

Trend: Breaking down silos.

Many university programs seek to foster an environment of inclusivity and collaboration, yet often there are institutional silos that inhibit students’ ability to achieve this goal. The career and professional development efforts of a university are no exception to this challenge.  However, recruiters and career centers across the country are partnering to implement more creative approaches to connect students and employers, and to remove these barriers.

“There is a national trend with a bigger focus on institutional engagement across divisions to better facilitate corporate relations,” according to Ortendahl. “A low unemployment rate means the fight for talent needs to go deeper into university partnerships in order for recruiting and employer branding to be successful.”

With the increased awareness of the issue, university and corporate efforts are adjusting their approach to break down these silos.

Focus is on industry, not major.

More companies are offering panels and events by industry, rather than by specific majors. This approach allows students of all majors to engage with employers who may not have otherwise had the chance to do so. In Fall 2017, the Carnegie Mellon University Career and Professional Development Center (CPDC) introduced a new event for their undergraduate engineering students titled “Industries for Engineers.” This event featured alumni and employers working in various industries, from banking to robotics, and provided an environment for students to learn about the broad range of industries they can explore with their engineering degrees.

According to Sarah Raymond at Montana Tech, “Career centers are broadening their outreach efforts to engage new employers from various industries to expose students to different employment options for internships and full-time employment.”

Additionally, universities are encouraging more “traditionally technical” organizations to advertise their non-technical roles on campus, such as human resources or marketing, and vice versa. After all, Google employees aren’t all software engineers and Bank of America employees aren’t all financial analysts.

It’s not all about the technical skills.

An important aspect of career coaching is ensuring that students understand the relevance of their non-technical capabilities and values in the interview process. The lost art of communication is, often times, the missing piece for many otherwise qualified candidates. When engaging with employers, many students are quick to focus on sharing their experience with Python and C++, but forget to mention the values and beliefs that drive their character, integrity, and decision-making process. To combat this issue, career centers are offering programming for students that focuses on, and emphasizes the importance of, non-technical skills in the interview process.

Students aren’t the only ones tailoring the content of their communications. Recruiters are also taking this approach, putting more of an emphasis on the “core values of the company, as well as the opportunity that each of the students will have to make an impact in their role,” according to Garlitz.

By placing a clear emphasis on soft and transferrable skills, with less on the hard technical ones, more students are learning to consider companies outside of their traditional field to expand their search to a broader range of companies and industries.

There's improved communication across campus.

The majority of employers who engage in campus recruiting efforts have identified “direct engagement through classroom presentations and workshops” as an ideal supplement to their career fair recruiting practices. However, this requires a relationship and a connection with, not only the career center, but also the broader campus community such as academic departments, professors, and advisers. To support this, universities are taking extra steps to facilitate those connections. Laraway  is working to confirm the employer is partnering with either a department or the career center, rather than setting up events on their own, to “ensure that communication across campus is relayed to all relevant parties.”

Additionally, constant communication between career centers and the academic community is becoming increasingly important. It is essential that academic departments are aware of all of the career center’s resources, as so many student referrals come to the career center directly from the department advisors and staff members themselves.

Note an increased focus on diversity and inclusion.

Many universities and companies alike have invested in resources and initiatives that celebrate diversity and promote inclusivity among faculty, staff, students, and community partners. According to Marcie Kirk Holland at University of California - Davis, there is a clear increased interest in diversity hiring. Companies such as Intel are seeking out opportunities and partnerships that can connect them with more diverse students, breaking down departmental, academic, and cultural silos across campus. Universities are also offering more individualized career programming to support diverse populations. For example, Carnegie Mellon University is currently working with a partner foundation to offer specialized career programming and coaching for their population of neuro-diverse students. These efforts, among many others, have all helped to improve the student-experience by removing potential road blocks and enabling students to expand their career searches.

Predictions for STEM Recruiting in 2018

The headlines read: “Amazon narrows its second headquarters location in the U.S. down to 20 cities” and “Apple estimates it will add 20,000 jobs at the company in the U.S.” Our economy is beginning to reach full-employment, in response salaries are starting to rise. Coming off the strongest recruiting season in years at STEM focused institutions, we expect the following trends in 2018:

  • Career fairs will continue to see increased participation from BOTH companies and students participation at higher education institutions producing STEM talent.
  • Companies will broaden their recruiting  efforts across STEM campuses, becoming the catalyst for closer career services and academic department collaboration to effectively manage and use these corporate resources.
  • Companies will supplement career fair engagement with more informal programming—on-site and virtual—building both personal relationships and their brand with students
As companies increase their presence on the campuses of STEM talent producing higher education institutions, we will see a more seamless transition between college and career. Career centers will increasingly be called upon by industry and campus partners to manage these relationships, while still focusing on the primary needs of the students they serve.