October 2014 | Shilpa Sachdev

STEM talent for America

Tata companies are addressing the deficit in science, technology, engineering and math skills in America to build a much-needed talent pool

It seems counterintuitive, but America, the land of technology advances, is facing an acute shortage in talent from science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields of study. There is a huge demand from the industry for such personnel, but the number of Americans entering the workforce with STEM skills is not keeping pace.

The data shows a clear picture — there will be 8 million STEM jobs in the US by 2018. Of these, there will be more than 1.4 million jobs (by 2020) that require computer science and programming skills, but only 400,000 graduates to fill those jobs. With figures like these, it’s clear why STEM has become a cause of concern for both the government and industry. The increasingly knowledge-driven economy of America stands particularly at risk of losing its technology edge in the global market.

Building up the talent pool in the area is a critical need and that is where Tata companies such as Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Tata Technologies, Jaguar Land Rover and Tata Interactive Systems in North America are doing their bit for skill development in STEM. TCS has opened up multiple fronts and is working in collaboration with industry bodies, not-for-profit organisations, communities, universities and local schools. For TCS, the STEM initiative meets a critical business imperative by ultimately increasing the size of the skilled talent pool in computer science and IT.

TCS’s STEM initiative actually brings together the company’s capabilities in technology, volunteering and philanthropy to create for students a pathway from education to a career. In FY14, over 440 TCS employees in the US volunteered for the STEM initiative to teach computer science lessons, train teachers and mentor students. Last year alone, TCS’s pro bono, skilled-based volunteering — through their partner Npower — resulted in $620,000 of social good for education non- profits.

Says Balaji Ganapathy, head of workforce effectiveness, TCS North America: “We are engaging at different levels on this issue. At a national level this means bringing attention to the problem and providing forums for solutions on education policy, state funding and local industry engagement. Second is using technology, which is the greatest enabler for providing a national infrastructure. Third is leading cross-sector partnerships to collaborate and scale successful programmes. Finally, skilled technology professionals from our company are mentoring and inspiring young students to be future STEM leaders.”

Spotlight on skilling
TCS is ramping up its engagement with STEM on several fronts. It has partnered with STEMconnector to bring out several publications such as the ‘100 CEO leaders in STEM’ report. STEMconnector is a consortium of companies, nonprofit associations and professional societies, STEM-related research and policy organisations, government entities, universities and academic institutions concerned with STEM education and the future of human capital in the United States.

TCS also convenes the Computer Science Executive Round Table, which brings together executives, government officials and thought leaders to identify strategies for fueling interest and participation of students in STEM careers. Mr Ganapathy says: “These events give us different insights. There is the skills gap viewpoint that employers see. There is the education gap, which is what administrators and nonprofits see. In the six months between the two roundtables, six states moved to recognise computer science as a math or science credit; signalling that the winds of change are blowing.”

Mentoring skills
Another feature of the STEM initiative is the emphasis on building a network of two million mentors across the country to work with traditionally disadvantaged communities including women, minorities, low income groups and war veterans. For this, the company has been a founding partner of two national mentoring initiatives, US2020 and Million Women Mentors (MWM).

US2020 is a national initiative that encourages corporate volunteerism and includes industry leaders such as Cisco, Chevron, SanDisk, Raytheon and Cognizant. The partnership aims to engage one million STEM professionals in high impact mentorship opportunities by the year 2020. Within TCS, the goal is to have 20 percent of TCS’s American workforce volunteer for at least 20 hours a year as mentors, providing them with expertise and real-world perspective.

TCS is also building the US2020 technology platform to help cities scale their STEM mentoring for minorities and underserved groups. Already, through US2020’s City Competition, nine of the ten largest cities in the country and 29 different US states have begun to craft their five-year STEM plans.

The number of women pursuing STEM education and careers is dismal. MWM has built a network of 42 nonprofit partners, representing over 18 million girls, to change this equation. TCS has pledged 15,000 mentors by the year 2018, resulting in 300,000 hours of mentorship for women and girls. More than 170,725 mentors have already signed up on the MWM mentoring portal created by TCS and launched in January 2014.

TCS is a partner for the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT)’s Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action to scale the AspireIT programme and engage 10,000 middle school girls in learning computing concepts, along with Intel Foundation, Google, Northrop Grumman, Microsoft Sphero, and UC Irvine.

“The focus is on promoting the interest of girls who are choosing STEM careers,” says Caitlin Olson, STEM programme manager, TCS North America. “Right now it is at 12-17 percent [of total enrolment]; we want to push it to at least 20 percent, if not further.”

Industry engagement
In order to improve employability, TCS has also instituted several industry-liaison programmes that directly connect employers with promising students. For example, the company has established campus relationships with over 90 universities and higher education institutions in the United States.

In the next leg of advancement, TCS is leading STEM 2.0, a public-private partnership initiative of STEMconnector and its STEM Innovation Task Force. STEM 2.0 will focus on identifying, defining and inculcating new capability platforms, or skill sets, in future STEM professionals, such as employability skills, innovation excellence, digital fluency and hard skills. While STEM 1.0 is the education system’s current output, STEM 2.0 provides a pathway for industry to actively engage in creating career readiness for the next generation workforce.

Though TCS is leading the way, other Tata companies such as Tata Technologies, Jaguar Land Rover and Tata Interactive Systems are also part of the effort to boost STEM education in North America. By opening up new opportunities and awareness in the field of STEM education, Tata companies are surely driving a vital change, which is bound to improve the performance barometer of the IT industry in America and give the country a competitive advantage.

Alma matters
For the last six years, Tata Consultancy Services has worked with local schools in three cities in the United States to build more interest in schoolchildren for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) streams.

TCS’s goIT programme is a stellar example of a skilling initiative at the local school level. Launched in 2009 in Cincinnati, Ohio, and led by TCS volunteers, the goIT programme is TCS’s signature capacity- building educational platform. The programme teaches students how to collaborate in team activities, participate in technical workshops with IT professionals, discover career opportunities and compete in robot challenges. Each TCS volunteer completes extensive training, covering youth psychology, US education systems and goIT corporate sustainability programming, to aid their preparation as a mentor to students.

2014 has been a banner year for TCS goIT. The programme expanded from three to 11 cities across North America and 200 new employees volunteered. This resulted in more than 6,500 hours of high-impact skill building and computer science programming. What’s remarkable is the impact — over 7,500 students have been engaged, of which 70 percent reported an increased interest in STEM disciplines, and there has been a marked increase of 27 percent in students choosing STEM fields in college.


Read more about Tata skilling initiatives around the world

Overview: How to catch a fish
Skilling initiatives from the Tata group aim to help youngsters around the world become employable
Striving to empower
Tata Strive, the group-wide, group-led skilling initiative, aims to set up a replicable model for training and skill development
Life skills for India
Tata companies are training thousands of youth across India in skill sets that make them employable and productive
Grooming young talent in China
The TCS China University steps up to offer soft skills training in partnership with 25 universities across the country
Skilling up in Singapore
NatSteel's upskilling initiatives are tied to the Singapore government's aim of building a more competitive workforce
IT's raining skills in Africa
In South Africa, TCS is empowering local talent by training students in a wide range of IT skills