How STEM Experts
ATD Blog

How STEM Experts Help High Potentials Step Up Their Game

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

While many industries are learning how to operate with a more limited pool of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) experts, they’re also seeking to build organizational expertise by preparing the next generation of high potentials for technical leadership roles.

For many organizations, the STEM expert shortage hits especially hard because they need experts to help leaders respond to rapidly changing technical disciplines, technologies, and markets. These firms see having the right experts in place as key to tapping into and applying emerging knowledge to strategic goals.

As many organizations are discovering, when experts from different domains put their heads together, groundbreaking ideas and strategies emerge. Firms can facilitate this type of cross-pollination through dedicated innovation labs, crowdsourcing, and open innovation programs, as well as special libraries that streamline access to external breakthroughs and developments. Content and collaboration solutions can support such efforts by improving access to experts and expertise, which in turn spurs the exchange of ideas and the creation of new knowledge.

By gathering multidisciplinary experts together in communities of practice and networks focused on specific tactical challenges, organizations can create forums for innovation and problem solving. Some organizations create similar opportunities through fellows programs and virtual action teams, giving current and future generations of experts the chance to explore emerging fields and work together to tackle interdisciplinary strategic and technical challenges.

Not only do such collaborative opportunities foster new ideas and give current experts an appealing way to contribute knowledge, but they also give up-and-coming experts a chance to interact with senior level people, learn, and contribute. Over time, this type of on-the-job professional development raises an organization’s level of internal expertise and improves its ability to address STEM challenges head on.

But it’s not enough to simply bring experts together and let the magic happen. APQC research shows that the effectiveness of collaboration and learning approaches depends on the specific techniques used to bridge the expertise gap. While most organizations have at least three or four different groups pursuing STEM talent initiatives, only 11 percent have engaged these groups in fully integrated strategies to develop and leverage technical expertise (See Figure 1).


But perhaps not surprisingly, the more integrated these multidisciplinary efforts are, the more effective they become. This is why APQC recommends a holistic approach that combines techniques from executive management, human resources, knowledge management, content management, and multiple technical disciplines.



A great example of this comes from Schlumberger, an oil-field services company that has created a dual career ladder to encourage employees who enter as field engineers to develop their skills and advance through six distinct levels to become managers or technical experts.

The company’s integrated approach includes a competency management system that pinpoints gaps in employees’ skills and knowledge, knowledge management tools that provide both technical content and live support, 150 communities of practice to support collaboration and learning, online resume profiles that help employees find experts when they need help, and a program that provides access to technical librarians and journals.

While the organization’s top experts enjoy sharing their knowledge as leaders and active participants in these development opportunities, employees have come to consider knowledge-sharing crucial to advancing their own technical competencies and establishing themselves as technical leaders.

Inclusive strategies like these can help address expertise gaps and build the competency of STEM high potentials faster so they will be ready to fill the experts’ shoes in the future.

To learn more about the approaches that top organizations are using to make the most of their internal expertise, download APQC’s whitepaper, How Smart Leaders Leverage Their Experts.

About the Author

Lauren Trees is the research program manager for knowledge management at member-based nonprofit APQC. In this role, she identifies trends in enterprise knowledge sharing and collaboration, researches ways to improve knowledge flow, and shares the findings with APQC members and the business community at large. She has served as project manager for two large-scale collaborative research projects— Transferring and Applying Critical Knowledge and Connecting People to Content—and led additional research on expertise location, competency development, content management, social media, gamification, mentoring, and the future of knowledge management. Lauren has written for media outlets including Industry Week, Strategic HR Review, KMWorld, and Pharmaceutical Engineering, and her research has been cited by Inc. and TIME. She is also an experienced speaker, having presented at global conferences as well as numerous corporate meetings and webinars. 

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