Three CIOs weigh-in on making STEM cool

Daniel Duggan| Crain’s Custom Media

There is a path to creating candidates for the next generation of STEM jobs – we need to make it cool.

That was the message from three CIOs who tackled the STEM topic during a panel discussion Sept. 23 at the IT Executive Connection Summit hosted in Detroit by the Michigan Council of Women in Technology.

Addressing the topic: Jamie Miller, senior vice president and CIO with General Electric Corp.;  Terry Takai, former CIO for the U.S. Department of Defense and Theresa Wise, senior vice president and CIO for Delta Air Lines.

When asked about how to create a stronger STEM pipeline for careers, Takai brought up a speech that the late astronaut Sally Ride gave. Ride said that she became an astronaut because it’s something that she thought was cool.

“We’ve lost that coolness,” Takai said. “We need to recapture that. We need to recapture that early in middle school.

“Get them early, get them enthused and put that fun back in it,” she said.

Wise added that being a mathematician or astronaut might not be cool right now. So engagement is key.

“So what is cool?” she asked. “Is it fashion? Or cosmetology? Then create a link to that and keep them engaged so, when the time comes for their career they can be prepared.”

Miller said that working through the group Girls Who Code, she sees the path to generating more STEM careers.

“We immerse them, teach them, and let them learn,” she said.

She also credited MCWT for having a positive impact on involving young women in the STEM field.

Overall, Miller said that companies need to have a nuanced talent strategy, rather than viewing a question of insourcing versus outsourcing.

“I don’t like the word insourcing, because there’s more to it than that,” she said.

There are heavy, standardized tasks that have be done on a day-to-day basis, she said. And those things can be outsourced.

High-level duties that create ways for the leadership to be more responsive and agile is a second group.

“Those are the things that we are investing in heavily right now,” she said. “And those have to be done close to the leadership.”

For the rest of the jobs, Miller said it comes down to cost, speed and quality.

“Cost drove the decisions to outsource in the last decade,” she said. “Now, we need to be looking at a balance.”

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