Why STEM Matters to Small Business

Local Businesses Impacted By The Shortage Of Qualified Tech Professionals Can Do Something About It

December 2014

The national conversation about the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (also called STEM) have been focused primarily on how the shortage of qualified professionals in the United States impacts the ability for American companies to compete in the global marketplace. But what about how the STEM gap impacts American companies’ ability to compete locally?

Daphne Mallory runs a family business consulting firm in Twin Cities, Idaho. She says her business has been adversely impacted by the lack of qualified professionals in the STEM fields. “I have not been able to hire locally for specific projects because the workforce where I live does not have the technological skills I needed,” says Mallory. “For example, I wanted to design an online family business course and mobile app. After outsourcing other projects to India through Elance.com, I wanted to try to manage this project in my own backyard. But there was no one in my own backyard. We need a workforce trained in math science, and technology so that they can keep up with the times and changing technologies. I'm sad that I've not been able to hire more people from our local community for jobs that require online technology expertise.”

To address this skills gap, many entrepreneurs are getting involved with supporting STEM programs within their communities. Robyn Barrett, founder and managing member of the Phoenix, Arizona–based FSW Funding, is both an entrepreneur and an active supporter of STEM education in her community. She helped establish STEM and entrepreneurship scholarships at Arizona State University. Barrett strongly believes in the importance of STEM education and in the importance of keeping young women involved in these courses of study. “Studying the STEM subjects gives students a good base of knowledge,” says Barrett. “It helps them develop those parts of their brains and teaches them to think critically. We see a huge drop-off in the number of women completing STEM-related programs. ”

What You Can Do

Barrett believes there are ways business owners can help support STEM initiatives in their communities. 

“As a small business, you can vote with your dollar and donate to a STEM program at a local university, high school, and even elementary school,” says Barrett.

If your business doesn’t have the resources to make a charitable donation, consider offering your time or expertise. Barrett recommends volunteering your time to mentor a student in a STEM course of study. “Take a kid interested in STEM under your wing,” says Barrett. “Ask why they are interested in these fields. Check in with them to see if they are still in the program, find out if they are struggling and why. Even if you are not an engineer, as a business owner you’ve probably had setbacks and you can let them know that setbacks happen, but you have to keep going. These programs can be quite rigorous, and sometimes kids need reassurance that no problem is insurmountable. Sometimes they just need someone to listen to their goals.”

Bottom Line: Why You Might Care About STEM

Science, technology, engineering, and math are creeping into the way businesses across every industry are run on a day-to-day basis.

“As a marketing service provider and small business owner, I am forced to care about STEM,” says Isha Edwards of Atlanta, Georgia-based EPiC Measures, LLC. “In fact, I’ve had to garner new technology-based skills just to keep pace with industry standards around Big Data. Going forward, being able to gather and interpret data to drive sales and increase profit will be essential for the life of a business. This is what mobile devices did to sales, engagement, and communications. A workforce that is more analytical will help with process improvements for customer service and organizational design and even project management. It is okay to be the expert service provider. However, someone still has to ‘run’ that part of the business. STEM initiatives will help students across the United States to be more math-and-science oriented. Since the purpose of having a business is to grow and profit, tactical thinking will help mom-and-pop stores function like their corporate counterparts while still being personable.”






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