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What Drives Today’s STEM Professionals?

The tech talent you need is out there. Their expectations have changed and so should your offering.

Computer Futures and our parent company, Specialist Staffing Group, have been working in the field of STEM recruiting for almost 40 years. We are uniquely placed to report on the state of the STEM recruitment market through our network of dedicated specialists across the globe.

We gathered insights from 5,000 STEM specialists across our key global regions, including the USA, UK, Germany, Netherlands and Japan, inviting them to take part in a survey, revealing how their expectations and decision-making are shifting as their careers transition into the post-pandemic era.


The Results

Companies need to gain an understanding of the STEM career motivations that leading organizations can leverage in their search for specialist STEM talent. Many professionals are aligning their career goals with their personal priorities in life. The flexible working models that tech workers experienced and enjoyed has created a demand which equates to an expected standard of employment in the tech industry.

Contract workers are in greater demand

Agile, change-aware STEM organizations need to rethink the ways they access talent and capability. Greater use of STEM contract workers could help mitigate unfilled permanent roles. Companies want to be less dependent on a full-time salaried workforce and see contract workers as providing the flexibility that more project-based business models require.

It’s an approach geared toward employing hard-to-find specialists on continuums that range from permanent and fixed-term salaried employees to extended reliance on contractors. With employment litigation a key concern and a multitude of new workforce laws introduced in recent years, employers can mitigate risk by outsourcing employment of contractors to recruitment agencies, which take on the employment obligations around taxes and employee insurance.

More than 60% survey respondents were in contract positions of some kind, reflecting the increasingly flexible workforce.

62% of executives polled think that freelance or contract workers will ‘substantially replace’ full-time employees within the next five years.

Salary and benefits are still the top priority for STEM candidates

Organizations that delay in recognizing market value risk missing out on sought-after specialists. STEM candidates know their market value and are increasingly unwilling to compromise on their salary and benefits packages. Specialists' expectations are boldly confronting outmoded pay structures set in rigid bands and grades. As many employers retain flexible working models adopted during lockdowns, they are being forced to reconsider their benefits packages.

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

60% of overall respondents and 64% in the USA selected rate and/or salary and benefits among their most important motivations when searching for a job.

59% of respondents selected financial security among their most important life goals.

Flexible working options are no longer regarded as an added benefit

Flexible working options are now expected to be a standard given of employment. Companies had already been gradually, and cautiously, transitioning towards flexible working models for some time before the Covid-19 pandemic. Many workers were previously nervous to take the plunge for fear of giving the impression that they were not fully committed to their jobs.

The ‘keep flexible’ message is getting through to business leadership. For others to attract in-demand expertise, such as Salesforce developers and data scientists, they will have little choice but to follow suit.

Asked what will be most important to them when searching for new roles, 54% of all respondents rate flexible working options as second only to payments/benefits.

By 2025 an aptitude for flexible working will become a top 10 job skill looked for by tomorrow’s employers, alongside active learning resilience, and stress tolerance.

Women are a powerful source of new talent

Women could be the answer to help address the shortages of STEM skills. But there is still work to do. Too long under-represented in STEM, women will prove a powerful source of new talent. It is crucial the STEM sector reflects wider society, with its diversity of thought, experience and backgrounds.

The challenge is often one of addressing imbalances through practical change, but also of removing barriers to change that may remain in place in STEM workplaces. Breaking the Glass was founded by Computer Futures in Austin, Texas to address gender disparity in the tech industry through professional development and networking for women in tech and their allies. The initiative has grown to a network of 2,000+ professionals across the tech industry in the USA.

50% of responders to the SThree STEM Youth Survey were female – an indication that women are due to make up a greater proportion of the STEM workforce going forward.

80% of global survey responders identified as male and 17% female, though in the USA the balance shifted to 67% male and 30% female.

Extending the recruitment search creates new opportunities

By extending their recruitment search to other sectors, STEM organizations can increase their options considerably – and with it their chances of finding the most-suitable candidates. Employers stand a better chance of achieving their recruitment objectives if they look beyond their traditional talent pools.

Three strategies for doing this are open to them:

  • To identify candidates whose skills match the requirements for a tech role, but who do not already identify themselves as a tech professional.
  • To seek-out applications from candidates whose careers have been outside of tech sectors, but who want to change career course and enter a tech profession.
  • Actively target ‘passive’ candidates also from outside traditional tech professions, but with proven core competences on which tech skills could be developed.
  • Bonus option: train early-career candidates themselves from scratch.

Opportunities in tech are attractive to candidates across the economy – possibly because investments in STEM businesses and industries have increased. By extending their searches to other sectors, they can increase their options considerably – and their chances of finding the best person for the job.

36% of respondents would now consider a move to a different industry than the one they currently work in when searching for a new STEM role.

Asked what their main area of study was before they began their STEM career, 27% of respondents said technology.

Making a difference is becoming an important factor when searching for a new job

STEM employers can enhance their attractiveness to top candidates by ensuring that they have a positive impact on society and the environment. Top tech professions’ ongoing response to the pandemic has continued to reinforce STEM’s ability to enable them to make a positive contribution to both the Covid-19 crisis and the wider needs of society in general.

Embedding ‘STEM-for-good’ into a company culture, for instance, resonates positively with STEM professionals during the recruitment process and could swing a decision in favor of job offer acceptance. employers must ensure that their positioning messages are articulated clearly, visibly and – of course – credibly.

Nearly 20% of respondents say that the potential to contribute to society is a driving factor for them when searching for new roles.

More than half of respondents said they would ‘stay longer than they otherwise might’ with a company that had made stretching ESG commitments.