Strategically Addressing the Soft Skills Gap Among STEM Undergraduates
Keywords:STEM education, soft skills, higher education, workforce education
Employers are seeking candidates with uniquely human, or “soft” skills to survive and thrive in their future careers. This article aims to illuminate the soft skills gap of STEM undergraduate students by understanding the soft skills that will be needed in the future of work and the soft skills that students are currently missing. These skills include teamwork, collaboration, leadership, problem-solving, critical thinking, work ethic, persistence, emotional intelligence, organizational skills, creativity, interpersonal communication, and conflict resolution. To address this soft skills gap, this paper also explores various collaboration strategies between employers and academic institutions, such as working jointly on curriculum, raising awareness, establishing leadership support, and building communities of success. These can be implemented to enhance the soft skills capabilities of STEM undergraduate students entering the workforce. This qualitative research examined STEM employers’ perceptions of the most essential soft skills needed and missing among recently hired STEM undergraduates. Findings identified the top ten most in-demand soft skills needed for the next five years with leadership and human-connection on the top of the list. Furthermore, the result of this inquiry indicates that the soft skill gap in current STEM undergraduates is not only evident, but it is steadily increasing. To address this problem, this paper suggests that an ongoing synergy is needed between employers and Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to guide students in developing and acquiring these essential skills. This effort will hopefully improve student employability, increase employer outcomes, and ultimately reduce the nationwide soft skills gap. Also, it provides insights into soft skills that organizations and HEIs should invest in the years ahead.
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