Definition- J6128

    The Career Trajectory of Candidates Possessing Soft Skills

From Obtaining A Stem Degree   

In the 21st century, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) degrees have been the center of attention in terms of whether or not they are a good investment for candidates seeking long-term career success by providing them soft skills that employers demand. There is no doubt that technical and analytical knowledge are essential to the employability skills STEM candidates need to possess. However, soft skills are becoming increasingly important in STEM industries. In the University of New England study, “Critical Soft Skills And The STEM Professional”, author Elizabeth J. Kranz defines soft skills as “generic (non-discipline specific), transferable interpersonal skills that involve one’s ability to manage self, people, relationships and information.” Examples of soft skills include, communication, problem solving, teamwork and leadership- to name a few. Meanwhile hard skills which STEM candidates possess are “specific, objective and measurable skills.” Examples of hard skills include computer programing, foreign language and machine operation. 

According to Kranz, “the global society and economy has transformed into a knowledge and information based culture;” “the skills required to thrive in the marketplace have also transformed, placing significantly greater emphasis on soft skills.” STEM candidates have been criticized for lacking soft skills due to the fact that their learning objectives emphasize hard skills, which puts them at a disadvantage compared to liberal arts candidates. Therefore, there has been a call for making adjustments to the STEM education curriculum in order to involve a variety of soft skills needed to obtain long-term career success. 

Traditional roles of STEM candidates have changed due to the way careers develop overtime along with short job tenures. Thus the expectations of skills STEM candidates need to possess have changed as well. Employers now expect STEM candidates to employ soft skills that are essential to creating success in the workplace environment. As STEM candidates move up in the ranks over the course of their career, the more soft skills are required. According to The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be a projected “increase of nearly one million computer, mathematical, architecture, engineering and science occupations by 2026.” Thus, this will likely require STEM candidates to possess soft skills in order to fill in the influx of jobs and meet the employers demands.     

Furthermore, Kranz claims that “the definition of the employability of a college student has transformed,” in which “job-ready” and “career-ready are two different concepts.” STEM candidates acquire the hard skills learned at university to obtain an initial job after graduation but lack soft skills that are directly linked to long term success in a career. In the study, “An exploration of global employability skills: a systematic research review”, authors Isra Sarfraz, Diana Rajendran and Chandana Hewege claim that employers recruit candidates with soft skills because it is easier for them to teach the technical skills the job requires to an employee rather than soft skills. Soft skills take more time to develop and are more complex in nature compared to hard skills. Thus, employers tend to hire candidates with a broad range of soft skills rather than hard skills. 

According to the study, “employers use soft skills as the no.1 differentiator for job applications in all types of industries.” The study also reported that candidates possessing soft skills, increases their chances of successful employment. In particular, the most common reported employability skills that employers demand are “teamwork, problem solving, communication, computer skills, analytical thinking, leadership, time management, creativity, interpersonal and organization.” In addition, the researchers argued that the main reason for unemployment is not due to the lack of jobs, rather it is the lack of employability skills possessed by candidates. 

The importance of employability skills is directly related to how the way jobs in the 21st century are designed today, in which the workplace requires employees to interact with one another as a team in order to achieve goals that the employer demands. In Kranz’s study, she “illustrates the scale of the interpersonal interactions a STEM professional can expect to encounter in a professional setting.” Stem professionals can be expected to interact with others, ranging from large scale interactions with the general public to small scale interactions with colleagues.The study also reported that “the STEM professional will likely interact repetitively with colleagues and most intimately with direct teammates on a daily basis.” Furthermore, according to Kranz, “the level of expertise with which the soft skills are behaviorally exhibited can determine the success of the interactions.”  

Furthermore, due to the fact that the 21st century is characterized by innovation, in which companies are competing with one another to produce innovative ideas, employers are requiring candidates to possess the following soft skills of problem solving, creativity and critical thinking in order to succeed on behalf of the company. The increase of college graduates has also added pressure for employers to recruit candidates with the right balance of hard and soft skills. Employers believe that possessing a college degree and previous work experience are the basic requirements for a job while soft skills lead to long-term career success. 

When soft skills are employed in the workplace, STEM candidates will be able to adapt to change and gain a better understanding of people and the world around them which contributes to long-term career success. Soft skills are just as critical as hard skills but unfortunately they aren’t emphasized enough in the STEM education curriculum, which creates a skills gap between STEM and liberal arts majors. Each job requires specific hard and soft skills that are unique to that profession, in which candidates who develop both skills have an advantage in their careers. Even in professions where it would appear that the demand for hard skills outweighs soft skills, candidates need to have a balance of both. Candidates with the right blend of hard and soft skills become a critical component to the improvement and strength of the company that they work for. Incorporating soft skills should be a priority in the STEM education curriculum as well as organizations because those skills will be needed for long-term effective careers.              


Kranz, E. J. (2019, July 1). Critical Soft Skills And The Stem Professional. Retrieved March 6, 2020,     

An exploration of global employability skills: a systematic research review

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4 Responses to Definition- J6128

  1. davidbdale says:

    J, do you remember this comparison example from “The Opposite of a Black Sneaker”?
    Gray on Gray, A Model:

    The most common misconception with someone who is happy is we think that person has meaning in his life. A person who is happier may even have less meaning in her life than her less-happy counterparts. Happiness doesn’t define meaning; rather, it defines contentment. Having meaning in one’s life runs deeper than the mere sensation that happiness brings. Meaning is about contributing to the world, to something greater than oneself. Happiness is just satisfaction with one’s current standpoint on life, and one’s environment. The world defines happiness as something much greater than it actually is. Happiness is nothing more than the satisfaction of one’s current standpoint.

    Color on Color: A Model

    Our neighbor Frank seems happy, and would probably define himself as happy, but he’s not. He takes pride in his fine house, where he lives with his presentable family, and he has job security. Let’s call him content. Our neighbor Ernest rents a cramped apartment, lives alone, and scrapes by freelancing. Let’s call him happy. Ernest is tortured by an abiding outrage against injustice. He champions every cause that comes his way if it will better the world or ease the suffering of others. Often hungry himself, he will share his lunch with anyone. We might prefer to be Frank, but Ernest is more likely to be happy.

  2. davidbdale says:

    Your writing suffers a bit from the Grey on Grey syndrome, which is easily fixed. Imagine your readers have been working through this:
    Soft Skills vs STEM Skills

    The most obvious difference between STEM skills and Soft Skills is that we think someone who is trained in STEM skills can’t have Soft Skills and that someone who trains in the liberal arts has only Soft Skills without any STEM skills. Employers actively seek to hire candidates with Soft Skills because they can train them in STEM skills whereas applicants with STEM skills might never be able to acquire Soft Skills. The important difference to keep in mind is that STEM skills might be an advantage for an entry-level hiring, but those skills don’t help a person with STEM skills from advancing without Soft Skills, so employers who want to hire someone who can eventually be an upper-level employee are more likely to hire the candidate with the Soft Skills needed for career advancement and train that employee to handle the tasks that require STEM Skills.

    That’s clearly a terrible parody and unfair characterization of your own work, but it may help to illustrate the need for a simple and effective rhetorical strategy I hope you’ll adopt.

    Color on Color: A Model

    21st-century employers hire both candidates with STEM degrees and candidates with the Soft Skills provided by a liberal arts degree, but the STEM candidates can get locked into entry-level positions while the Soft-Skilled hires rise to upper-level supervisory and management positions. Candidate Steve has excellent programming skills, a first-class background in several programming languages, and a strong work ethic, but is a terrible communicator. The best he can hope for is to be exploited by his employer to produce more and more “work product” without ever sharing in the fruits of his labor. Meanwhile Libby, with her Communications degree and a considerable but not stunning aptitude for computers, is hired for her adaptability, her teamwork skills, and her leadership. Management instructs Steve to train Libby in some essential programming knowledge, then immediately promotes Libby to be Steve’s supervisor. From that moment on, their career paths further diverge.

    That little scenario communicates most of the content of your several paragraphs. Agree or disagree? Reply, please, to encourage me to help further. Or ignore this Reply if you wish to work without my assistance.

    • j6128 says:

      Yeah I agree with your feed back. For the revision should I focus more on the career trajectories of stem and soft skill candidates by comparing as well as what employers are looking while giving an example of each?

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