Bayer works to fill gap with initiatives to attract STEM graduates

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Liz Roeske, a New Jersey native who graduated this year from Duquesne University, planned on majoring in environmental science.

Five years ago when she was scouting schools, Ms. Roeske, 22, learned about the Bayer Scholars Program at Duquesne that includes internships, research and mentoring opportunities, and tuition assistance for women and minorities in chemical science studies. So she focused on environmental chemistry, won a full tuition scholarship and spent her first two undergraduate summers conducting research at labs on Duquesne's campus and her third summer in a paid internship at Bayer MaterialScience in Robinson.

By the time she started her senior year, Bayer had offered her a full-time position as a technical trainee beginning this past summer.

The scholars programs -- funded through an $800,000 commitment from the Bayer USA Foundation and some financial investment from the university -- is among the initiatives Bayer has launched to attract much-sought-after graduates in the so-called STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

"It's a big challenge to find those skills," said Jerry MacCleary, president of Bayer MaterialScience's North American region, which is based at the German company's Robinson campus. "Seventy-five percent of our hires will have technical degrees; their problem-solving skills translate to all positions."

While those skills are in hot demand at Bayer and elsewhere, there's an inadequate supply of people to fill job openings. Bayer today will release results of a new study that found only 50 percent of Fortune 1000 firms say they have enough qualified candidates with STEM degrees for open positions. Many of the companies surveyed were seeking candidates with two-year technical degrees as well as four-year degree holders.

The study is the 16th in a series Bayer has conducted to track science education and how well students are being prepared for careers in technical fields. It was conducted by International Communications Research, a Media, Pa., firm that polled 150 talent recruiters at 117 STEM and non-STEM companies in the Fortune 1000.

Specifically, 67 percent of the recruiters polled said more new STEM jobs are being created at their businesses than non-STEM jobs. Ten years from now, they expect the highest growth to come from jobs for those who hold two-year or four-year degrees in computer/information technology; and two-year or four-year degrees in engineering fields other than computer engineering.

Because of the shortage of qualified workers, 56 percent of recruiters said their companies experienced lower productivity while 47 percent said the shortage limited their business growth.

At Bayer MaterialScience, Mr. MacCleary is bracing for about 35 percent of the Pittsburgh workforce of 600-plus to retire in the next five to seven years. The company has done scarce hiring in the past decade because of corporatewide restructuring programs that included voluntary and involuntary departures. A total of 2,300 people work for Bayer in the region including those at the Medrad subsidiary based in Marshall and in headquarters functions that serve all units of Bayer in the U.S.

At Bayer MaterialScience, the current demand is for chemists and chemical engineers, but Mr. MacCleary is also assessing how many positions might be the right fit for people with two-year technical degrees, and how many are suitable for graduates with business specialties such as sales and marketing.

Through the scholars program it launched with Duquesne in 2007, Bayer has brought on eight interns and hired four for full-time jobs.

Once it finds people with the right skills, Bayer faces another critical issue, Mr. MacCleary said: retaining them -- especially new graduates and others in their 20s and early 30s known as Generation Y or millennials.

Because most of the Robinson campus contains traditional suburban office structures without the kinds of on-site, 24/7 perks that many millennials have come to expect, Mr. MacCleary said, Bayer has renovated a couple buildings to feature more open, collaborative workspace and is considering similar changes elsewhere on the property.

When Bayer offered a full-time job to Ms. Roeske, she said it was "pretty much a no-brainer" to accept it.

Although she acknowledged its culture is more traditional than some other businesses that are luring new graduates with amenities like game rooms, she's comfortable there, she said.

"They make a huge effort to bring new people in and look for new ideas. They gave us mentors, and the people there are all nice and easy to talk to."

Besides, both of Ms. Roeske's parents are technicians in science fields and work at companies with conventional work surroundings.

"So I didn't know there were places with different kinds of perks. I kind of expected Bayer to be like it is."

Joyce Gannon: or 412-263-1580.

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