Soft skills just as essential as STEM for our future workforce

20th February 2018

Recently, the government has increased its effort to improve the quality and take up of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education. In a recent report from the National Audit Office ‘Delivering STEM skills for the economy' it highlights why - since the early 2000s there has been a growing concern about how to achieve higher productivity and economic growth in an era of rapid technological change. This has resulted in the belief that one of the UK’s economic problems is a shortage of STEM skills in the workforce.

Even though STEM skills are important for our economy to stay competitive in the global market and to grow, they don’t necessarily top the list of the most important skills employers are after. Research done by tech giant Google, has tested this hypothesis and its ‘Project Oxygen’ concluded, amongst the top eight most important qualities that measure employee success, STEM expertise came in last. Ahead of STEM skills, Google found its very best employees exhibit eight key soft skills.

Google’s top eight skills

In order of importance Google’s top skills are:

  1. Be a good coach
  2. Empower your team and don’t micromanage
  3. Express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being
  4. Be productive and results-oriented
  5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team
  6. Help your employees with career development
  7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team
  8. Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team

People call these soft skills, but they’re really hard to learn and develop; and when so-called hard skills rapidly and regularly go out of date, it is these human-centric capabilities that many employers may seek when recruiting. Another study by Google from last year ‘Project Aristotle’ shows the best teams in the company display a range of expressive commitments, from equality and generosity,through to empathy and emotional intelligence.

Soft skills through work experience

Work experience provides a platform for undergraduate students to continue to develop and expand these complex interpersonal  skills, harnessing technical knowledge to team playing and leading throughout their university education most students will have the opportunity to develop some soft skills such as team working and communication skills. But offering work experience enables students to learn how to adapt these into a work environment, at the same time increasing their commercial awareness.

In this current climate, with such a rapid rate of technological change, those currently in education are going to be working in an environment potentially very different to today. For organisations to prepare the future workforce with the right set of skills and eventually avoid high turnover in the long run, they must rethink their training resources. As Google’s research points out it is important to recognise the value of transferable skills, both to recruit and develop employees, but also to ensure that STEM skills are put to good use in the right organisational context

Work experience guides a young person through a development process, helping them identify strengths as well as areas of improvement. To maximise the benefits of a work experience programme, employers should give students the opportunity to engage with projects that give them valuable real-world experience that require the kind of people-centres skills and capabilities identified by Google.

Sourcing the right talent

Research from the National Centre for Universities and Business reveals most organisations cite word-of-mouth as the key channel to access work experience applicants. To widen the pool and attract a greater range of students, employers need a structured process, in which placements are advertised publicly.

Platforms such as Placer – a new work experience app that directly connects businesses with university students – harnesses the power of new matchmaking technology to connect employers with the right students. It enables employers offering quality work experience to tap into the talents of thousands of passionate and highly-adaptive students. 

If you’re an employer looking to offer work experience, or you already do, sign-up to Placer 

David Docherty is Chairman of Placer and CEO of the National Centre for Universities and Businesses (NCUB)

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