By Vance Checketts, Vice President and General Manager, EMC Utah

One of the age-old questions of any business or company is how to stay ahead of the competition and continue growth and success, especially amid a number of potential business threats. Ask any CEO and they will tell you that this question is constantly on their mind and a goal they’re continually working toward.

This concern is especially prominent for businesses today. According to a study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, CEOs face the challenge of continuing growth and innovation while simultaneously facing fiscal, economic and political threats, among others. Fortunately, there is one thing that can set their minds at ease and ensure their growth for future business: having and continually investing in a STEM-literate workforce.

What is STEM? 

STEM is a common acronym that many people have heard of, but don’t fully understand. It refers to the fields of science, technology, engineering and math and is typically used in educational reform to encourage learning in these areas. However, it is also used as a buzzword in the workforce and economy to describe specialized jobs and skill sets.

According to the Business Center for a College- and Career-Ready America, almost all of the 30 fastest- growing occupations in the next 10 years will require some type of STEM knowledge or background. Additionally, a U.S. Department of Educationreport projected that STEM jobs will increase 14 percent by the year 2020. This means that within the upcoming years, the most successful and innovative companies will have some type of workforce based in the STEM disciplines. Investing in this area could make all the difference between business success and business failure.

“Innovation on the work front is happening every day and constantly changes the way we do business,” said Jason Pierce, Manager at the Utah division of EMC, a Fortune 200 tech company that hosts a large number of STEM-centered jobs. “Many industries are still being defined. The whole goal of a STEM-educated workplace is to have employees who aren’t afraid to transition into those new territories, explore new opportunities for growth, and who have the necessary understanding to do so.”

Why does it matter? 

The U.S. economy is currently faced with a skills gap in producing an adequate amount of STEM-literate workers, especially when compared with other developed countries. The result of this problem is companies are forced to import talent in order to fulfill necessary job functions. Importing talent still allows businesses and the U.S. economy to operate; however, it inhibits progress and advancement as a nation. Therefore, it’s in the citizens’ best interest to try and fill the skills gap with STEM-literate workers.

But before you start your next hiring spree, it’s important to understand the wide application of STEM skills in all areas of the workforce. More than likely, STEM skills can be applied to the jobs of those you currently employ.

“Understanding and gaining exposure to STEM doesn’t necessarily mean all employees must be specialized in one of these areas,” said Robert Rose, director of EMC Utah’s Remote Reactive Customer Service. “STEM has a wide application to all industries, especially when it comes to technology.”

Technology is heavily integrated in today’s society, therefore all industries use it. Understanding technology and the way it’s used in your industry allows your company and employees to become adaptable to future developments in your field. It also allows employees to explore new processes and become more efficient.

“Because of the way the world has changed, technology is a core competency for the workforce that all employees should have, but most don’t,” Pierce said.

The STEM fields also cultivate and share a core of critical thinking and problem-solving skills. These skills are not only needed in highly technical fields, but are also valuable in any position. Adapting to new technologies and thinking critically are two skills that, if demonstrated by a company and its employees, will ensure growth and success in any field.

How to Encourage STEM literacy

So how does a company encourage its workforce to become more knowledgeable in these fields? What is the first step? According to Rose, Pierce and Greg Thompson, Director of professional services at EMC Utah, there are several things that businesses can do to increase the STEM knowledge of their workforce without having to hire a specialized team.

1.     Provide educational opportunities at work
During work hours, it can be easy to get caught up in the constant stream of tasks, which means that professional training and personal development often get pushed to the back burner. Show your employees the importance of STEM and becoming educated in these areas by dedicating a regular time each week to learning. This could come in the form of a company-wide webinar or speaker series or could even be presented as a short informational segment during company-wide meetings.

2.     Provide educational opportunities outside of work
If holding educational opportunities during the day cuts into valuable worktime, try providing additional learning opportunities outside of work. EMC offers trainings to employees who may need to be refreshed on a certain skill or topic that they can attend on their own time. This could also come in the form of a tuition reimbursement program where your company doesn’t have to create or hold the classes, but can still allow its employees to learn.

3.     Individual development consulting
Regular development meetings between employees and supervisors can be a good way to monitor continual STEM learning and create an individual development path for each employee. Providing this type of interaction allows for a safe environment where employees can talk about the areas they’d like to improve and to discuss the best way to help them do so.

4.     Communicate STEM involvement in your company’s strategy 
Another way EMC demonstrates its emphasis on STEM disciplines is by communicating its annual strategy to each employee. This lets everyone know where the company is headed and how science, technology, engineering and math will play a part in their future developments.

5.     Provide STEM-related literature to keep up on related advancements
Much can be absorbed in what we read, view and follow these days. Encourage employees to spend a little time each day or each week reading about STEM in your industry. There are great resources online and for making STEM a part of how we live and think that businesses can provide to their employees through their internal website or weekly newsletter.