Making room for an ‘A’ in STEM

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I am a science, technology, engineering and math graduate. I work in the field. I am part of a team that seeks out, recruits and manages many STEM graduates. I have encouraged my own kids’ STEM educations, made speeches, written LinkedIn posts, and preached its values to whoever would listen. This is all to say, I have been a committed supporter of STEM education for many years.

Recently, however, I’ve noticed a significant shift in the STEM discussion with rapidly growing support for not just STEM but STEAM – adding in the A for arts. To me, adding in art means leveraging its power for advancing and improving those core STEM fields. Right brain, meet left brain. And given exponential growth in customer demand for all things digital, this call for STEAM makes perfect sense.

Let me explain why. Our recently released Public Sector Tech Trends report highlights those trends that could impact or help governments better achieve their mission. One key theme throughout the report, and a trend we’ve been focused on with our clients in the commercial and government sectors, is customer experience. At the federal level, we are helping government agencies develop more consumer-friendly, customer-centric platforms that enable them to better serve citizens.

This focus on the customer, specifically that ever-growing mass of mobile-first, digital omnivores who are demanding a better digital customer experience, made me think about my own experiences as a consumer. Those apps and websites most successful at making purchases a little too easy are based in smart, creative and intuitive design.

And this is where the “A” for art comes into STEM. There is a definite art to customer engagement. And most of the time, it is those design elements that support better customer experience. Tim Young, who heads up the federal Deloitte Digital team, has told me, “We can move the needle to a more digital, mobile-first, customer-centric government, but engaging design through user experience is paramount. We need the digital prowess of IT workers partnered with artistry of visual designers.”

The demand from our federal clients for a mobile-first, better citizen experience is growing. Based on our report, this trend will continue. Therefore, we advise government entities to, “Design for an elegant user experience. Focus on delivering rich customer engagement offerings that aim for a true ‘win-win’ situation between the constituent and government.”

In addition to that design element, we also need workers who understand human nature – those who have studied anthropology. While definitely a science, it isn’t one that comes immediately to mind when thinking about STEM, or more specifically, IT jobs. Another trend in our report focuses on the IT Worker of Future and the need for IT workers to have a broader set of hard and soft skills that extend beyond programming or system administrators.

Lastly, I have found, in my own experience as well as the countless concerts, performances, and events I have attended as the parent of twins involved in a myriad of fine arts that the practice, dedication, and focus demonstrated in these performances suggests a commitment that translates extremely well to business outcomes. Not to mention that being a part of a performance is as much a team effort as any sporting or business team of which I have been a part.

In order for the government to continue to deliver on its mission to serve its citizens, there’s a tremendous need for a new way of thinking about its technology. We need to evaluate it more holistically — not only in terms of systems, platforms, and applications, but also in terms of its people. Finding and recruiting those IT workers who have both the technical skills as well as design abilities — STEAM graduates — can help the government better meet this demand for a more mobile first, digital government. So join me in making room for an A in STEM.

Janet Foutty, principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP and Deloitte’s Federal Consulting national managing director, is the leader of the firm’s Federal Government Services Practice. Reach her at @JanetFoutty

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Janet Foutty
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