Tech Skills, Soft Skills, and what companies hire for.
There is no question how the tech skills our students gain in Career and Technical Education are extremely important. However, competing in today’s job market requires more than just tech skills. As career and technical educators, our programs can give students the breadth of skills companies hire for and universities recruit for. A well run CTE/STEM program with a strong curriculum will equip students with valuable soft skills including critical thinking and problem-solving skills. This improves the overall quality of the program, attracting students and making the learning process engaging and fun.
Knowledge of a tool vs. fundamentals
Years ago, companies sought employees who had knowledge of a specific tool. However, tools change frequently in the modern economy. Companies now seek entry-level employees who have a strong foundation in tech skills and fundamentals, allowing flexibility and the ability to problem solve without being tied to a specific tool.
An example of this is an employee who knows a specific web design tool (for example, Adobe Dreamweaver or Microsoft Visual Web Developer) vs. an employee who knows how to code in HTML/CSS. Another example: an automotive student who knows how to troubleshoot engine failure using a specific software program vs. a student who knows the troubleshooting process and can problem solve when it comes to troubleshooting engine failure. The difference between knowledge of a tool and the ability to apply knowledge using available tools is stark. Technological tools change, but the fundamentals remain the same.
“The human being’s role in the workplace is less to do repetitive things all the time and more to do the non-repetitive tasks that bring new kinds of value,” says Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce in the United States.
It may seem that studying a specific STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field is an easy path to a lucrative first job. However, that isn’t the whole story. It is “algorithmic thinking” rather than the algorithm itself that is relevant, says Carnevale.
Companies are seeking candidates with soft skills like the ability to problem-solve, communicate effectively, and lead others. They want employees who are eager and willing to learn new skills, improve their skills base, and be life-long learners. In today’s highly competitive global economy, it’s more important than ever for employees to be nimble and innovative to stay at the forefront of employment trends. To put it simply, employers are telling universities: “You are producing engineers, but they do not have the skills we need.”
As curriculum developers, we have one foot in the tech world and one foot in academia. We create, innovate, hire, and fire like any other nimble tech organization. We are a bit mercenary in the sense that we make sure courses we develop prepare secondary and post-secondary learners to be the type of skilled co-worker we would like to work with. An ideal employee possesses a balance of tech and soft skills – as well as a deep love of learning.
Sometimes it’s easy to get excited about cool technical skills in STEM/STEAM fields. In our courses, we preach and teach how tech skills will help get you hired, but soft skills will keep you hired.
As Career and Technical educators, we have the curriculum opportunity where the real-world can come alive in our classroom. We are ideally positioned to make the soft skills relevant to our learners in a way no other class can. At the end of the day, it is up to us.
Sorry for getting on my soap box again…I know I am preaching to the choir.
Have fun – Steve
Interested in reading more? Here are the pieces that inspired this article.