Some students take to mathematics and other technical concepts at an early age -- and these skills can put them on a path to great careers in business. But too often, their focused personalities, and the roles in which they've been socialized, get in the way of their careers. Smart managers can help them add real value at work.
You may remember at least one child from your third-grade class. The teacher would draw a problem on the board, and the student was quick to raise his or her hand with the correct answer. The child handed in math homework assignments and the teacher would return them with a gold star on top.
Over many years of school, these students gravitated to more technical subjects based on this regular reinforcement of their status. Understanding technical subjects would become part of their personal identity. They developed good study habits and the ability to focus deeply. They scored high on the SAT test for math and went on to major in technical subjects in college.
Upon graduation, these individuals might get jobs as statisticians, accountants, engineers or they might go on to do graduate research or work for the federal government. Eventually, they may end up in the private industry, where they quickly land jobs due to their technical acumen.
But these skills can be a double-edged sword. Once individuals fill important technical positions and excel at them, there may be little incentive for their bosses to promote them. Promotions would mean that the bosses would have to find other highly skilled employees who can function just as well in the positions. So some managers may not bother.
Soon, the technical employees may find themselves isolated in their work with a paycheck that's not keeping up with inflation. In addition, they may be resentful because the former high school athletes, who learned more marketable social skills along the way, worked their way up to corner offices and executive positions.
So where did the technical employees go wrong, and what can they -- and their managers -- do about it? First, the employees and managers should consider communication training to improve their ability to communicate ideas and to learn from the business environment. They need to get out of their comfort zones and make friends in other areas of their businesses.
Meanwhile, their managers need to understand how technical employees can really make a difference in a company and can perhaps transition to managerial careers. Managers already know all too well that there's a whole other dialogue going on in the corner office in terms of what's really important to the success of the company, while their focused, technical employees may not.
Tech employees are likely adding value in their limited positions, but could have much more impact in your business if they're exposed to your organization's real problems. Imagine matching a tech specialist with a partner who gets the big picture of what's going on, especially someone who has big ideas but is light on the technical details. Combine a big-picture executive with a hard-working employee with exceptional tech skills and you'll likely wind up with not just grandiose plans, but a way to ground them in reality.
Some technology companies have been pushing the federal government to make changes to allow more foreign-born tech workers to enter the country with H 1-B visas. These companies argue there are not enough domestic workers proficient in STEM (science, technology, math and engineering).
However, other organizations contend that there is no scarcity of domestic tech workers. For example, one study by Rutgers University found that there isn't a lack of STEM workers -- but rather that foreign tech workers will work for far less money than American workers.
Here's a quote from the study titled "What Shortages? The Real Evidence about the STEM Workforce," by Hal Salzman, a Rutgers public policy professor:
"Current U.S. immigration policies that facilitate large flows of (foreign) guest workers appear to provide firms with access to labor that will be in plentiful supply at wages that are too low to induce a significantly increased supply from the domestic workforce."
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