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.
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.
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.
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.
The study claims that, “employers use soft skills as the no.1 differentiator for job applications in all types of industries.” Furthermore, the study 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.” The researchers also 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.”
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.
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.
Today many policymakers and industry leaders have agreed that the U.S is in the midst of a high-tech talent crisis due to the growing skills, racial and gender gap in the workforce. The U.S is in a race to become a dominant high-tech country amongst other global powers in the international system; However there is a debate and question about whether the U.S will have enough future STEM candidates to propel the country into a global high-tech power. There is an issue of whether the U.S education system is adequately teaching the future generation of students the value of a STEM career and the skills needed to obtain one. Another major issue is the racial and gender opportunity gap within the STEM field which unfortunately begins at a young age; thus dissuading them from pursuing a STEM education. Many employers and educational professionals argue that introducing STEM at an earlier age and educating students about the numerous careers the STEM field has to offer are crucial in preparing them for the workforce. In order to narrow the skills, racial and gender gap there needs to be reforms within the STEM education system as well as an opportunity for making STEM more accessible for racial minorities and women which are both essential to the U.S becoming a thriving high-tech based economy.
According to the study, “Myths and Motives behind STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Education and the STEM-Worker Shortage Narrative” researcher Heidi J. Stevenson claims that “the modern STEM crisis can be traced to the 1950s when there was a perceived threat to U.S economic and homeland security by the launch of Sputnik, and fear that the Soviet Union was annually producing almost twice as many more scientists and engineers than the United States.” Thus there has been a “cycle of alarm, boom and bust,” in which “someone or some group sounds the alarm that there is a critical crisis of insufficient numbers of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians and as a result the country is in jeopardy of either national security risk or falling behind economically.”
In order for the U.S to combat the STEM shortage crisis and become a dominant global figure in the STEM industry, there needs to be STEM workplace and educational reforms that include an increase in racial diversity and inclusivity of women. According to the Pell Research Center poll, “Women and Men in STEM Often at Odds Over Workplace Equity,” researchers Cary Funk and Kim Parker concluded based on the results that “The field still remains dominated by white males: The representation of women in computer fields has declined since 1990, while black and Hispanic employees each make up less than 10% of the STEM workforce. Thus, the racial and gender opportunity gap is a significant contributing factor to the low number of racial minorities and women being interested and pursuing STEM careers.
The poll also found that “only about 25% of Americans surveyed feel that K-12 STEM education is above average compared to other advanced countries, and only 13% of people with a postgraduate degree in a STEM field feel that it excels.” Furthermore, 55% of Americans surveyed said that “STEM teachers spent too much time meeting state standards and 53% said they spent too little time emphasizing practical applications. Hence, there is a lot of work to be done not only in the STEM curriculum but also on how Americans, in particular racial minorities and women perceive STEM fields and education.
To get them more interested in pursuing STEM fields we need to start at an earlier age. According to the survey “2 in 5 Americans Believe the STEM Worker Shortage is at Crisis Levels,” Emerson- a Michigan based technology and engineering company shows that “fewer than 50% of parents say their daughters are encouraged to pursue STEM careers.” Furthermore, in the study “Stumbling on STEM: Why K-12 Education Must Align with the Digital Economy” conducted by Business Roundtable- an association composed of executive officers of American’s leading companies; “80% of U.S High School students are either uninterested or non-proficient in STEM subjects.” Thus, one of the main causes of the U.S STEM crisis is a shortage in talent. The lack of sufficient education in K-12 school systems as well as in universities informing the future generation of students about the value of pursuing STEM careers leads to the candidate pool suffering in quantity as well as quality. This additionally makes it harder for employers to hire STEM candidates with highly specialized skills. In addition it is important for the U.S education system to inform students of all the possible career opportunities STEM has to offer and fight the stigma associated with racial minorities and women working in the STEM field.
Another cause of the U.S STEM shortage crisis is the technical and soft skills gap in the workforce. There are not enough STEM candidates in the workforce that possess the technical and soft skills that employers demand. This ultimately drives companies to move their factories and jobs overseas because American STEM candidates don’t possess the skills required for jobs domestically. Thus the growing STEM skills gap is causing the outsourcing of high-paying technical jobs.
Due to the advancement of technology over time, there has also been a shift in labor demands. As industries shift towards more automated processes there has become an increasing demand for highly skilled technical labor along with soft skills. While automation will make certain jobs disappear, the need to implement technical and soft skills is essential to maintain automated systems which will thus create new opportunities for high-paying STEM careers if the next generation of STEM candidates learn and possess the skills needed to fill these vacancies. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case for STEM candidates which is shown in the study “Employers Must Redefine STEM to Attract Future Talent,” conducted by Randstad North America- an employment/recruitment agency for temporary and permanent staffing. According to the data released in 2016, “the U.S had roughly 3 million more STEM jobs than it had workers to fill these vacancies.”
The path to a rewarding career is an uphill battle. When a person begins their college education, the preparation for achieving their dream career also begins. A college education is an important factor in economic and career trajectory. Furthermore, the demand for candidates with college degrees is expected to increase in the future; which has led to overtime, an increased interest of high school graduates who plan on continuing their education at a 2 year or 4 year institution. Thus high school graduates and college students believe that investing in their future by obtaining a college degree is essential for increasing their earning potential and improving job prospects. The value of a college education has never been more important and the close relationship between college attainment, employment prospects, salaries, and job satisfaction is stronger than ever.
Although, there is plenty of evidence that a college degree is in fact worth it, the question then becomes is majoring in liberal arts more beneficial than STEM and vice versa. The soft skills advantage argues that the curriculum generally does a better job of improving their graduates’ soft skills in the following areas of problem solving, critical thinking and communication, which employers demand in the labor market. Liberal arts education prioritizes interdisciplinary learning which gives students the ability to thrive and develop soft skills which translates to many different career fields. Furthermore, as society transitions into the digital age, more soft skills are essential to fixing the problems that technology cannot compute alone.
There is no doubt that STEM careers make a difference in society; ever since the Cold War, when the U.S and the Soviet Union both encouraged students to go into STEM fields in order to expand their militaries and industries. Today, due to globalization, there is a new drive to create advancements in technology, infrastructure, transportation and medicine- to name a few. According to the study “Occupational Employment Projections to 2018,” conducted by T. Alan Lacey and Benjamin Wright from the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “it is projected that by 2020, a 34% increase in professional, scientific, and technical services will take place.”
Current economic conditions as well as the supply and demand of candidates with particular degrees and skills are also important factors that influence career trajectories. According to the study, “How Liberal Arts and Science Majors Fare in Employment,” conducted by Debra Humphreys and Patrick Kelly, “currently demand in the labor market for graduates in engineering and some professional fields, including health-related fields dramatically exceeds supply, while demand for most graduates in liberal arts and science fields is roughly even with supply.”
However, STEM is more in demand than the liberal arts because our world depends on it. The economy and our general well-being is supported by science, technology, engineering, and math. STEM jobs are abundant and growing in which professionals working in STEM fields are less likely to be unemployed than their non-STEM counterparts. Employers are eager to hire candidates who can problem-solve and think analytically which are skills at the core of STEM curriculum. The heavily globalized economy is in need of candidates who possess the knowledge and skills that drive innovation. The candidates who have brought innovation to the table are those equipped with science, technology, engineering and math abilities. Due to the important role that STEM-related skills play in the advancement of new technologies and the continuance of economic progress, potential candidates are encouraged to develop STEM skills needed in the workforce while in school.
Another important debate is whether liberal arts degrees or STEM degrees provide the best return on investment. The soft skills advantage argues that earning a degree from a liberal arts college pays off in the long run which is shown in the study “ROI Liberal Arts Colleges Value Adds Up Over Time,” conducted by Anthony P. Carnevale, Ban Cheah and Martin Van Der Werf, from Georgetown University. According to the study, “the median return on investment for a liberal arts college degree is 40% below other colleges 10 years after graduation,” however, “after 40 years the ROI on a degree from a liberal arts college is 25% higher than all other colleges.” The soft skills advantage further argues the increase in ROI is due to the value of soft skills and credentials becoming more prominent by employers over time.
On the contrary, according to the study “Career Corner: The Value of a STEM degree,” conducted by Youngstown State University, “STEM majors earn on average $43,000 upon entering the workforce compared to all majors which comes in at $33,000.” Furthermore the study projected that STEM majors also see the largest wage growth over the course of their careers. The study also reported that when it comes to job prospects for recent grads, “newly minted engineers have been the most heavily recruited and highest paid in the class of 2012, with a median salary of $58,581; followed by computer scientists at $56,383.”The problem-solving capabilities of engineers and computer scientists put them in demand across the U.S economy. Thus careers associated with STEM are the highest paying and offer the best opportunity to pay off student loan debt.
STEM fields are more substantial than the liberal arts because they bring more value to society. A more STEM-proficient generation will help move our country forward. STEM careers promise stable and high-paying employment for graduates amongst the rapid advancement in technology. STEM advocates point to the high number of unemployment amongst liberal arts majors but liberal arts advocates claim that a deep understanding of the humanities and the development of soft skills are just as important. However, there needs to be more emphasis placed on STEM subjects because we live in a technological world that requires technical skills in order to continue functioning. Due to the fact that technology is in almost every aspect of life and as the work environment changes, STEM knowledge and skills grow in importance for a variety of workers in the labor market.
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