Critical Read

Planning for the future STEMM shortfall

IBM Center Report Cover

What: "Best Practices for Succession Planning in Federal Government STEMM Positions," by Gina Ligon, JoDee Friedly and Victoria Kennel, IBM Center for the Business of Government

Why: The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology estimates there will be 1 million fewer graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine over the next decade than the nation is expected to need. Despite these numbers, the federal government has yet to develop a strategy to ensure that it replenishes its STEMM workforce as older employees retire. The shortage could have severe implications for agencies such as NASA, the Veterans Affairs Department, Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Health and Human Services Department, where more than 50 percent of their workforces are STEMM employees.

The report cites the main challenges as competition from the private sector, retaining leaders that will educate and train future leaders in the organization, and succession planning. The authors make two recommendations: agencies should borrow best practices from other agencies while customizing procedures to meet their unique needs; and they should capitalize on mentoring programs, job rotations and project-based learning experiences.

The report also cites STEMM success stories.

The National Nuclear Security Administration, working with the Partnership for Public Service's "Extreme Hiring Makeover team," created better job postings and hiring systems to attract the best talent. And the Office of Naval Research revamped its mentoring program, allowing matches between mentors and protégé to happen across departments, making mentorship training mandatory and checking in with mentors/protégées regularly to assess the match.

Verbatim: "While the need for STEMM succession planning is clear, there has been insufficient action on this challenge. It requires a great deal of forethought, planning and adaptability, given the rapid changes and budget cuts faced by agencies. Further, turnover of senior-level political appointees often stifles senior-level leadership support and accountability for succession planning efforts."

Full report:

About the Author

Colby Hochmuth is a former staff writer for FCW.

Nominate Today!

Nominations for the 2018 Federal 100 Awards are now being accepted, and are due by Dec. 23. 


Reader comments

Wed, May 28, 2014

Engineers used to get additional pay for their grade, but that got phased out starting nearly 20 years ago. Where I work we used to do real engineering in addition to our project management - now it is all about project management and having any technical expertise or a PE is of no value. This attitude comes from the top and is even clear from the written directives from higher ups who do not do technical work and may never have done much of it in their career. I do not see any incentive from upper management in the Fed to promote STEMM, let alone even understand its importance. It seems all they care about now is self-made rules, regulations, and politics. Until that attitude changes throughout management, the situation will only get worse.

Wed, May 28, 2014

The NNSA initiative referenced in this 2014 report is from 2004. The same drivers and challenges for the federal government cited here existed ten years ago. Is there really any new information in this report?

Wed, May 28, 2014

RayW, Seriously, you came to government during the engineering job depression of the late 90s? That was the .com era, remember? A BSEE during the .com era and you had to come to the government? My son, an engineer, used to joke that if he didn't get a new job offer a month, he felt unloved and that was 1998. I worked 30 years with the government and there was never an shortage of opportunities as an engineer, just a shortage of time and caffeine. Just a different planet I guess.

Wed, May 28, 2014 RayW

"Best Practices for Succession Planning in Federal Government STEMM Positions,"

With the decline in students being prepared to take on the hard sciences due in part to the "one class fits all" education theory currently in practice today vice having different classes for those who are college bound, those who desire/should do a trade, and those who do not care, the output of colleges and universities in those fields will be stretched thin among competing organizations.

Not sure how it is today, but when I graduated with a BSEE in the early 1980's, the best offer I could get was $15K from the Gov and $25K from Real Life. Real Life also offered a NSPS like environment (which is demeaning to Gov workers) so if you worked hard and did your job, you got promotions and pay raises faster whereas the Gov offered a much slower "show up to work, get pay raises and promotions" system (unless you were a favored person). Needless to say, working in Real Life and then coming to the Gov in the engineering job depression of the late 90's put me way above my peers who started out in the Gov (except for Leave, and my military helped with that). Oh, and I worked with more leading edge things in real life too.

So there are two issues, first is the perception that the Gov is behind the times in many things and has too many silly rules, and second is the Gov starting pay and promotion opportunities compared to what the Real Life companies offered in pay and potential career growth if you are any good. Until the Gov can address the perceived benefit of going to Industry before Civil Service, the government will not get the good students until downturns like now and in the late 1990's drive engineers to the government, and then you are mid and top heavy with no entry level people to train up.

Just my 3 cents based upon my experience.

Wed, May 28, 2014 TCW NY

Somehow, senior leadership and those who aspire to take on those positions stop thinking when strategic vision requires looking beyond their own expiration dates. This is not a new phenomenon, and while there are many exceptions to this norm, so few really are capable enough to look back and forth and let go of the rigid perceptions that got them in position to visualize what is needed and develop corrective implementation. Lead time starts before kindergarten...and the sky is the limit. "You can see the stars and still not see the light."

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group