Definition Revised- J6128

The Comparative Career Trajectories of Soft-Skill Candidates vs STEM Degree Candidates

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.

STEM skills are vital to the world, but technology alone is not enough. We need the expertise of candidates who are educated and possess soft skills that are typically provided by a liberal arts degree. Broadening soft skills are the key to long-term, productive careers; however no student should be prevented from majoring in a subject that they are passionate about based on the idea of what they need to succeed. Soft skills can complement and support the technical requirements necessary to acquire and maintain employment in the STEM field. To become an effective STEM candidate it requires time to identify and develop key professional soft skills that employers demand- in any chosen career. 

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. Personal effectiveness for STEM candidates requires a range of soft skills that if left unpracticed can derail their career paths- even the most accomplished candidates. Meanwhile hard skills which STEM candidates possess are “specific, objective and measurable skills.” Examples of hard skills include computer programming, foreign language and machine operation.  

However, not all STEM degrees are going to give students these range of soft skills, of course. Therefore, a solid humanities foundation, internships, extracurricular activities and hands-on project-based learning will help STEM candidates develop soft skills and employ them in the real-world which employers argue is the key to employment and long-term career success.

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 emphasised 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. 

Thus, it is not surprising that schools, parents and employers are heavily focused on the STEM industry these days due to the growing demand. Students majoring and pursuing STEM careers have increased overtime, with the hopes of obtaining job security and financial security.  However, employers want STEM candidates to develop the critical skills and knowledge base that comes from a liberal arts education in order to obtain long-term career success.


Kranz, E. J. (2019, July 1). Critical Soft Skills And The Stem Professional. Retrieved March 6, 2020, from exploration of global employability skills: a systematic research review

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