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The 5 Best Ways to Attract STEMM Talent to your Agency

The demand for technically proficient talent is growing--here's how to recruit, and retain, them.

Recruiting highly sought after STEMM talent, that is professionals in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics or medical fields, is hard and getting harder. The demand is growing, but the number of college students who have selected STEMM majors so far is staying flat.

Federal agencies may find it difficult to compete with the private sector on entry-level salaries for talented graduates or the workplace intangibles like free food, Ping-Pong tables or a T-shirt and shorts culture. But the need is great. Today, about one-fourth of all federal employees—more than 500,000—are in jobs requiring STEMM skills, and that number will increase over time.

Many agencies have taken creative steps to attract skilled employees that federal recruiters can replicate. Outlined below are just a few of the innovations the Partnership for Public Service and Booz Allen Hamilton uncovered in their research collaboration, The Biggest Bang Theory: How to Get the Most out of the Competitive Search for STEMM Employees.

1. Build relationships early.  While it’s important to reach and recruit STEMM college majors, determined agencies start even earlier. Many successful agencies have recruiting and hiring programs that reach potential STEMM talent when they are still in high school, or even younger. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) offers summer internships to students in their mid-teens through college, providing the opportunity to work with leading biomedical researchers. The NIH also works to engage students early by giving elementary students tours of its facilities. The National Security Agency (NSA) helps sponsor a high school mathematics camp and offers numerous summer opportunities for high school, undergraduate and graduate students, including the highly competitive Director’s Summer Program for undergraduate mathematics majors who have distinguished themselves in competitions.

2. Send STEMM talent to recruit STEMM talent.  Effective agencies are tapping their STEMM talent to make an impression on college and university campuses. They send their professionals to make presentations, participate in career events and make connections that will get college students excited about the agency’s work. Six agencies, including the Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, use the Federal Student Ambassadors program run by the Partnership for Public Service to establish an on-campus presence during the academic year, enlisting students who successfully completed an agency internship.

3. Go online.  Much of today’s technology talent is online, and that’s where smart federal recruiters are too. The Intelligence Community hosts an annual virtual career fair to attract the type of candidates that are adept and comfortable in cyberspace. Intelligence agencies set up virtual appointments, videos and interviews for potential employees, who can create avatars of themselves and can upload and manage documents in virtual briefcases.

4. Offer Dual Track Careers.  Many in the STEMM fields want to advance professionally without having to assume management responsibilities. Agencies committed to retaining their STEMM talent understand that there needs to be more than one path to success.  NASA, DOE and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) are among the agencies that rely on a dual career track for senior positions.

5. Build your employer brand. The federal government has one very key recruiting advantage over its competitors: the ability to serve the nation and make a difference on a national or even the global stage. Savvy agencies are promoting how their mission contributes to the protection, health and safety of the nation, and they are building their employer brand around the difference candidates can make at their agencies.  The armed services traditionally have done this well, and so are the NSA, NASA and NIST.  NASA recently worked to rebrand its mission after the space shuttle program was discontinued. “We reinvented ourselves in a really short time window. Until we landed the rover on Mars, people thought we were gone,” said one NASA official.

Creative agencies are seeking to distinguish themselves and compete for top STEMM talent, and many of the actions they are taking can be replicated across government to good effect. It’s time, though, for federal agencies on the hunt for STEMM talent to pool resources and build a cohesive strategy for filling these mission-critical occupations.

Lara Shane is the Vice President of Research and Communications at the Partnership for Public Service. To read or download the full report, please visit