Do Employers Seek Employees With Soft Skills?
Feb 13, 2018 Filed in: Reflections on Teaching
I recently found myself commenting on an article making its way around the EdTech social media circles.
The blog article that got our attention was Google finds STEM skills aren't the most important skills… really?!!!
We all are guilty of making provocative, exaggerated statements to garner attention for our particular opinion or perspective. And this article does that by first of all naming the one of the most famous tech companies in the world, and then (in my humble opinion) misinterpreting or misapplying a study done by Google and finally pairing this with an extreme statement aren't the most important…
But let's look closer at this topic and maybe even read the original study!
I don't think anyone would question that soft skills are important to businesses that innovate and create. Whether you could say they are more important than technical knowledge is really questionable though! It isn't an either/or situation; the synergy is found in individuals that possess both soft and technical skills.
Following the trail: The Michigan Future blog post was based on a Washington Post article: The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today's students
First comment: Washington Post needs to get with the acronym flavor of the decade, it is STEAM not STEM
Second comment: I read the MichiganFuture blog article, then the Washington Post article (that the blog article came from), then I skimmed the Google Project Oxygen. An important detail: The Google study dealt with what makes an amazing MANAGER, not an entry level employee: "The research effort, called Project Oxygen, pivoted to figure out exactly what makes for a great manager at Google. The guiding question shifted from “Do managers matter?” to “What if every Googler had an awesome manager?” Project Oxygen identified a set of common behaviors among the best managers and those behaviors now guide management development programs." That is a significant detail that the blog and Post article didn't mention as they called on the testimony of the very respected Google strategists. The study is not reviewing what to look for in your worker bee / new hire / productivity pool. It was reviewing who to advance as a manager of worker bees / new hires / the productivity pool.
Third comment: I will agree that industry folks need soft skilled employees and that can be a deciding factor in the hire-ability of skilled new employees. But very few companies are going hire someone based just on their softskills. Nor is this really news to high school or college counsellors or college advisors. Educators have often recommended resumes and college applications to include a rich variety of club memberships, extra-curricular activity, service and community projects, and evidence of leadership and team participation.
I think it is also more a matter of how we MEASURE and LABEL someone as STEM-skilled. For example: many education systems (K12-HigherEd) still present science as something you learn ABOUT rather than something you DO.
Early in my career as a science educator, I realized that my 9th graders had learned each year about the scientific method, memorized the steps, put them in order on tests, read about scientists and what others had learned through the scientific method.
BUT after 8 years of Science Classes addressing that content, very few of them had mindfully applied that concept and designed their own personal experiment. This is not easy in the "26 assigned seats in rows" – factory model of classroom education, but each of my students in Biology Honors designed their own experiments from Step 1 through the communicate results stage. It was personalized learning... it was authentic... it was published for more than just the teacher to see.
This is a truism across the so–called STEM curriculum: the massive one size/approach fits all in a syncopated delivery needs to become more self-paced, personalized, where the student is in control of their learning. We need to move students from being consumers of information and entertainment –> to –> empowering them as producers. They need to be the ones designing market studies and making Google surveys, not just the ones taking them. They need to learn how to build something and have others critique their work while they tactfully learn to critique their peers work. The need to to evaluate their work, get feedback, revise it, and republish it.
The more we get students involved in doing, trying, designing, creating, solving problems, exploring felt needs, measuring, calculating, comparing, visualizing, converting, managing, collaborating, mentoring, building, making, revising, publishing, etc. the better suited they will be for tomorrows workforce.
This sort of stuff is harder to deliver, equip materially, manage, and assess.- especially within the paradigm of 20th century (or even the newer "online coursework") K12 education. But this is what our students need more than a sheepskin from a typical STEM program.
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