Special Report: Beyond STEM to STEAM


Many recruiters at organizations small and large are looking for those ‘A’ candidates to bring on board. The ‘A’ quality isn’t simply the reflection of a prospect’s GPA. Instead, ‘A’ relates to the artistic and creative abilities desired within scientific, technology , engineering or math-based jobs.

While science- and math-based jobs focused on technology and engineering are in demand in Greater Lansing, many area employers are talking about their search for someone who can bridge the divide between science and the arts. Similar messages are heard across the region’s largest employers—from insurance to manufacturing to technology—and reflect that being well-rounded is often prized over being locked in a particular skill.

Take for instance Dart Container Corporation, considered one of the region’s top employers with about 2,000 people. While 40 to 50 percent Dart’s workforce occupies a STEM-related function, recruiters look beyond basic technical skills to soft-skill attributes that align with the company’s culture.

Vice President of Human Resources Jim Farrell says recruiters start with basic competencies. Once those are gleaned, he says, the process moves to another level. Broad, transferable skills are high on the list of desirable characteristics, as well as people who like to learn and adapt as technology changes. It’s not good enough to simply be technically solid. Employees today must be able to interact, communicate and work in cross-functional teams.A meeting of the T3 Business Council at CAMW - Photo Dave Trumpie

“The days where you could sit in your area or cubicle or move around the shop floor to work on your own technical component are gone,” Farrell says. “There is so much more interaction now between one area and another. People have learned that what they do impacts others, and understand that it’s good to talk before designing or doing something.”

Promoting talent

Science, technology, education and math permeate most every job—from food and beverage to sales to health care to engineering. Michigan’s list of Top 50 Hot jobs is packed with career options steeped in basic knowledge gained from STEM education. Many jobs on the list also require a balance of hard and soft skills and the ability to communicate with others.

Michigan’s recent adoption of Marshall Plan for Talent recognizes the need to train students in high school for high-demand jobs. While the plan promotes technical and trade skills as a means for filling the state’s talent gap across multiple industries, many employers and those in workforce development value the interpersonal and critical thinking skills gained through a well-rounded education.

“How do you spark a person’s interest in any career?” asks Brindley Byrd, facilitator for Teach. Talent. Thrive.—or T3. “When you bring in the art and humanities part and give students hands-on opportunities to be creative, it may increase their initiative to learn hard core math and science skills.”

Byrd comes equipped with a background of workforce development, and is attuned to the needs of business. He worked in the construction industry and was part of various trade councils that helped employers find talent. Coming to T3 in early 2018, Byrd brings together stakeholders who represent education, business, economic development and the community. T3, he Brindley Byrd, Facilitator T3 (Teach. Talent. Thrive) - Photo Dave Trumpiesays, is an organization committed to helping citizens access better paying jobs in growth fields, and businesses access a qualified pool of talent.

“Essentially, we’re moving from focusing on STEM to STEAM in jobs and education,” says Byrd. “It’s not just about throwing a bone to the arts. From what we’ve gathered, we can’t forget about the creative aspects of education. That’s what employers want. They want creative thinkers and creative problem solvers.”

Byrd points to initiatives within school districts and businesses that are on board with STEM and STEAM programming. For instance, Williamston and Holt school districts, he says, are undertaking concentrated STEM curriculums, and leveraging community resources to deliver concepts in the classroom.

Lansing Pathway Promise also delivers college and career readiness programming that aligns with the educational and career interests of students. Pathway focus on distinct offerings like visual and performing arts, international studies, science, technology, mathematics, engineering, skilled trades, manufacturing and language immersion that are aligned within the district’s schools.

Those types of initiatives, Byrd says, benefit students at core, through enriched, competency-based education that prepares them for bright futures. Byrd says those initiatives, as well as the Governor’s new Marshall Plan, present the business community with exciting opportunity to increase partnerships with schools.

“One of the initiatives we see coming out of the new Marshall plan will be the need for schools to provide more work-based opportunities for students throughout the K-12 system,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity for employers to partner more deeply and frequently to help schools give the spark students need for career opportunities.”A meeting of the T3 Business Council at CAMW - Photo Dave Trumpie

Shifting perspective

Byrd sees it this way: businesses need to jump in the driver’s seat and help schools create opportunities and curriculum. That shift, he believes, is all part of letting students know that good-paying jobs and careers are attainable, and part of preparing students to get them.

“By getting someone excited about a career, and by giving them the well-rounded education and skills they need—that will get them a job,” he says. “We also have the chance to let students know they can have one of those really fun cool jobs right here in Lansing. They don’t have to go to Chicago or another state.”

Jackson is among the companies in Greater Lansing that offer big-city opportunity in a mid-sized city. With about 3,000 people in the Alaiedon Township complex, the company is a leading provider of retirement products for industry professionals and their clients.

Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Dana Rapier started with Jackson 20 years ago. Beginning in the call center, she gained experience in areas that included sales, management, human resources and recruiting.

“We’re always looking for great people and offer a lot of opportunity to develop into various careers,” she says. “We sometimes take folks who might still be in college and align them with their areas of study in entry-level jobs so they can learn and grow."

Rapier says about a third of Jackson employees work in technical areas like finance, actuarial or IT. Other broad areas Brindley Byrd, Facilitator T3 (Teach. Talent. Thrive) - Photo Dave Trumpieinclude marketing, distribution and sales. Because Jackson’s culture fosters employee development and training, Rapier says someone might start in one area and find their passion elsewhere in the company.

“Collaboration and teamwork is what we are all about and part of our culture,” she says. “We have a lot of cross-functional teams, and there are tons of things to learn from co-workers. No matter what area you work in or what service you’re providing, you have to be innovative.”




Ann Kammerer is a freelance writer in Greater Lansing and writes occasional features for Capital Gains. 

Photos © Dave Trumpie

Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.

This article was sponsored by Capital Area Michigan Works!.

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Beyond STEM to STEAM: What Some Employers are Saying

Several Greater Lansing employers talked with Capital Gains about the qualities and skills they look for when recruiting individuals with expertise in the STEM fields. Many say they look beyond the basics, and consider abilities rooted in the arts and humanities.
Margaret Freel 
Corporate Recruiter
TechSmith Corporation

Number of Employees: 270

“The individuals we look for cannot only problem-solve, they can relate solutions to other parts of the organization. We look at the entire candidate and what they bring as an individual. Sometimes they may be more artistic than technical, and we may be more apt to bring them on to a role and train accordingly.”

Kristine Latchaw
Maner Costerisan

Number of Employees: 110

“With a lot of our entry-level work becoming automated, the public accounting industry is moving to expand beyond math to look at technology. The challenge is getting people smarter faster on what you really need to do to add value to the client relationship.

“This isn’t the type of industry you come into and do the same thing the rest of your life. It’s a growth industry with continuous learning. Our goal is to recruit and train people who can think and problem solve whatever the situation may be.”

Jim Farrell
VP, Human Resources
Dart Container Corporation

“Sometimes people think everything is simply technical, and as exacting as the studies they go through to get their degrees. What you find is there is a lot of art to the science. Lots of people misinterpret that people in the STEM fields are just black and white thinkers who connect the dots. There’s a lot of trial and error in product development, and that takes creative thinking and problem solving.”

Dana Rapier
Senior VP and Chief Human Resources Officer
Jackson National Life Insurance Co.

“Collaboration and teamwork is what we are all about and part of our culture. Our purpose and mission is to prepare the U.S. for retirement. While that’s technical in nature, we have legal, HR and marketing. Teamwork and collaboration are our strongest transferable skills.”