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Strategically Addressing the Soft Skills Gap Among STEM Undergraduates



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.
Journal of Research in STEM Education
ISSN: 2149-8504 (online)
© i-STEM 2015-2020,
Vol 7, No 1, July 2021, 21-46
Strategically Addressing the Soft Skills
Gap Among STEM Undergraduates
Haleh S. Karimia
, Anthony A. Piñab
aBellarmine University, USA; bSullivan University, USA
Abstract: 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.
Keywords: STEM education, soft skills, higher education, workforce education
Corresponding Author: Dr. Haleh S. Karimi, W. Fielding Rubel School of Business, Bellarmine University, 2001 Newburg Road, Louisville,
KY 40205, Email:
To cite this article: Karimi, H. S & Pina, A. A. (2021). Strategically addressing the soft skills gap among STEM undergraduates. Journal of Research
in STEM Education, 7(1), 21-46.
Journal of Research in STEM Education
ISSN: 2149-8504 (online)
22 © i-STEM 2015-2020,
Vol 7, No 1, July 2021, 21-46
Since the 1990s, research studies have continuously proven the importance of soft skills
for both the workforce and organizational success (Bernd, 2008; Deming, 2017a; Livia et al., 2017;
Mitchell, 2008; Nguyen, 1998; Patacsil & Tablatin, 2017; Rao, 2016; Williams, 2015; White &
Shakibnia, 2019). World Economic Forum Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab
asserts that emerging technologies are changing everything--how we relate to one another, the
way we work, how our economies and governments function, and even what it means to be
human (Schwab & Davis, 2018). Further research compliments this view by indicating that
programs which enhance soft skill competencies have an important place in our society
(Heckman & Kautz, 2012; Heckman & Mosso, 2014). In fact, soft skills are becoming a decisive
factor towards graduate employability in the 21st Century economy (Society for Human Resource
Management, 2019; U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, 2018; Wilkie, 2019a).
Soft skills and success
James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, determined that having soft skills
literacy statistically leads to success in lifemore so than technical skills literacy. He cites
evidence that demonstrates that soft skills competencies are essential for achieving professional
and personal life success. Heckman’s timeless recommendation to educators--published more
than two decades ago--is to consider investing in a sustainable soft skills educational system that
trains students in the art of interpersonal, professional, and leadership/management skills in
order to help develop a successful pathway for future students (Heckman, 2000).
Balcar (2016) demonstrated a significant correlation between soft skills and wage
determination, with individuals possessing soft skills competency tending to have higher salaries
than their counterparts. Moreover, research by Deming (2017a; 2017b), found that the
combination of soft and technical skills has a positive impact on job promotion and wage
increases, enabling improved individual performance and better organizational outcomes.
Defining soft skills
Since the 1990s, the need for soft skills competencies in the workforce has been the subject
of many studies (e.g. Bernd, 2008; Deming, 2017a; Heckman & Kautz, 2012; Livia et al., 2017;
Mitchell, 2008; Nguyen, 1998; Williams, 2015). Throughout these studies, the concept of soft skills
has been defined in distinct ways. Academic discourse on soft skills generally refers to abilities
like teamwork, collaboration, leadership, problem-solving, critical thinking, work ethic,
persistence, emotional intelligence, organizational skills, creativity, interpersonal
communication, and conflict resolution.
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According to Colburn (2018), there are two broad categories of soft skills: interpersonal
(i.e. skills between the self and others) and intrapersonal (i.e. skills within oneself). Interpersonal
soft skills refer to one’s core skills that propel the individual’s ability to perform and fit into a
specific job. These skills include listening, asking questions, working in teams, resolving conflicts,
and showing empathy. Intrapersonal skills include self-awareness, proactiveness, goal setting,
time management, perseverance, and self-management (Colburn, 2018). According to a recent
survey of over 1000 business leaders conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management
(2019), there is a lack of soft skills in both categories, specifically in areas of professionalism,
business acumen, critical thinking, and lifelong learning.
Pritchard (2013) believes that soft skills should be defined differently, depending on the
industry sector in question. For example, the soft skills needed in the manufacturing sector have
been identified as problem-solving, reliability, verbal communication, listening, and teamwork.
In the healthcare sector, they include communication with clients, written communication,
positive attitude, and customer service skills. In office-based settings, skills that are most sought
after by employers are verbal communication, written communication, teamwork,
professionalism/integrity, and organizational skills (Pritchard, 2013).
The need for soft skills in the future of STEM work
The labor market is projected to undergo significant technological and scientific
breakthroughs, which are rapidly shifting the future of the work tasks performed by humans and
those performed by machines and algorithms (World Economic Forum, 2018). With the rise of
emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation entering
our workforce, the future of employment will necessitate soft skills that machines cannot replace
(Wilkie, 2019a).
Due to the increasingly competitive global economy, national surveys of businesses and
nonprofit leaders indicate that employers are concerned about whether the U.S. is producing
enough college graduates with the skills and expertise to contribute to the changing workplace
(Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2018). They wonder whether new hires can
help companies and organizations grow and succeed. This is because one of the greatest threats
facing organizations today is the STEM talent shortage, and many organizations do not appear
to be actively or effectively tackling the issue (LaPrade et al., 2019). For an organization to
continue to grow and prosper, it must be understood which skills its future employees must
master (Cimatti, 2016). Individuals with soft skills will be in greater demand than those without
these abilities--regardless of their technical skills and experiences (American Association of
Colleges and Universities, 2018; LinkedIn, 2019).
In fact, as industry reports indicate, employers are placing higher importance on soft skill
competencies than they are on technical skills (LinkedIn, 2019; Society for Human Resource
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Management, 2019). However, research also claims that soft skills competencies in prospective
employees have become a challenge for employers to find, thus impacting their organizational
efficacy (Crawford et al., 2011; Sarkar et al., 2016; U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, 2018;
White and Shakibnia, 2019). Employers realize that they cannot solve the skills gap issue alone
and that more work needs to be done by businesses and educational systems to ensure that the
U.S. workforce is prepared for the future of work (Society for Human Resource Management,
It is essential to assess, enable, and strengthen the STEM workforce to ensure continued
U.S. competitiveness and prosperity (Association of American Colleges and Universities). Soft
skills are transferable skills across all disciplines. The lack of competency has implications for all
stakeholders: students, employers, and educators (Association of American Colleges and
Universities, 2018; White & Shakibnia, 2019).
Soft skills gap
Research from the past two decades indicates that employers are seeking and struggling
to find well-rounded college graduates that are competent in both hard and soft skills (Cimatti,
2016; Crawford et al., 201; Patascil & Tablatin, 2017; Prichard, 2013; Rao, 2016; Sarkar et al., 2016;
White & Shakibnia, 2019; Williams, 2015). A recent survey by the Association of American
Colleges and Universities (2018) assessed the opinions of 1000 business executives and hiring
managers from diverse organizations in private, public, and non-profit businesses. The survey
reported that employers perceive a notable gap between crucial learning outcomes (mostly soft
skills literacy) and the preparedness of recent college graduates. These results, listed in Table 1
below, indicate that there is a significant soft skills gap between essential learning outcomes that
employers tend to prioritize and the low levels of preparedness that they tend to observe in recent
Table 1.
College Graduate Preparedness (Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2018)
Key Learning Outcomes
(Soft Skills)
Recent college grad
preparedness (%)
Considered highly
important (%)
Critical thinking
Appy of knowledge to real-world
Effective written communication
Effective oral communication
Ability to work independently
Ability to work effectively in teams
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The soft skills discrepancy between expectations and reality is affecting graduate
employability (Lewis, 2018; Matsouka & Mihail, 2016; Sarkar et al., 2016). A survey of over 1,000
college students indicates that only four in ten U.S. college students feel well-prepared for their
future careers (McGraw-Hill Education, 2018). In another study, more than 65 percent of
undergraduate students felt very confident about their soft skills competencies, while only 30
percent of employers felt the same (Lewis, 2018). Furthermore, 70 percent of recent college
graduates reported a high level of confidence in their critical thinking skills, while just 26 percent
of employers conveyed the same confidence in their abilities. Looking at collaboration skills,
nearly 80 percent of recent college graduates had a strong perception of their abilities to work
successfully in a team. In contrast, less than 40 percent of employers reported the same sentiment
(Lewis, 2018). These inconsistencies between students and employers illustrate the complexities
of the soft skills gap.
Disconnect between academe and employers
Meanwhile, chief academic officers and other educational leaders argue that they are
providing competent, skilled graduates into the job market (Bidwell, 2014). According to the
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2016a; 2016b), 96 percent of today's
educators believe they are providing students with a STEM education that delivers workforce-
ready graduates to the job market. However, only 11 percent of U.S. employers agree with these
Prior research points to a national misalignment in the workforce and connects it to the
outcomes of higher education in its mission to prepare college graduates for the workplace
(Association Of American Colleges and Universities, 2018; J. P. Morgan, 2019; White & Shakibnia,
2019). This misalignment has been attributed to a widening imbalance that prioritizes technical
skills over soft skills (Patacsil & Tablatin, 2017). As a result, according to the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce Foundation (2018), somewhere along the path from education to employment, the
system is not routinely equipping students with the soft skills they need to succeed. This
imbalance is present despite the value that employers across all sectors place on soft skills
(Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2018; LinkedIn, 2019).
Most engineering and technology university programs have a thorough curriculum that
prepares students with courses that traverse the spectrum of technical disciplines (Darabi et al.,
2017). Accreditation bodies like the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET)
require students studying in the technology and engineering fields to receive training in soft skills
such as lifelong learning, communication, and multidisciplinary teamwork (Accreditation Board
for Engineering and Technology, 2017). However, studies continue to find that graduates are
insufficiently familiar with these soft skills upon the transition to the professional work
environment (Darabi et al., 2017; Livia et al., 2017; White & Shakibnia, 2019).
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A study by West (2012) concludes that universities prepare STEM students for a range of
professional roles throughout their curricula offerings and teaching approaches, including
collaborative practices with employers and other schools. White and Shakibnia (2019) view
universities as a key part of the STEM ecosystem and state that universities are not aligned with
the needs and demands of the other key partner in the STEM ecosystem: the employers. This
misalignment of outcomes between educators and employers is catapulting deficient STEM
college graduates into a job market that particularly depends on soft skills.
The magnitude of the soft skills gap is significant, and if student training is not managed
correctly, the risk of a widening skills gap pervades (World Economic Forum, 2018). STEM
industries across the globe play a central part in maintaining market competition and
improvement. When the interests of academia and business are not united, companies struggle
to find competent employees, thus impacting their organizational effectiveness within
competitive markets. The time to develop the landscape of the future STEM workplace is now
(U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, 2018; World Economic Forum, 2018; White &
Shakibnia, 2019).
Purpose of the study
The soft skills gap presents an opportunity to explore strategic approaches that offer a
high impact pathway focused on closing the skills gap (LaPrade et al., 2019; Sarin, 2019; White &
Shakibnia, 2019). The skills gap is not dissipating and appears to be increasing in severity
(LaPrade et al., 2019; Society for Human Resource Management, 2019). It is essential to equip
students with soft skills that are relevant and valued by employers to create economic success,
increase productivity, and continue the path of innovation in the modern global economy.
Building and thriving in a vibrant STEM ecosystem can help organizations to participate
profitably in the global market (Penprase, 2018).
This qualitative research used semi-structured face-to-face interviews. This methodology
has been chosen due to its ability to enhance the depth of conversation and to increase
understanding of the causes, effects and possible solutions to the current soft skills gap (Charmaz,
2003; Creswell and Poth, 2018).
The participants of this qualitative study were local hiring managers, healthcare
executives, and healthcare professionals throughout the state of Kentucky, whose organizations
have recently either hired or worked closely with entry-level STEM graduates. The industry of
focus is healthcare, since it is the fastest-growing job sector within the local market (Kentucky
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Center for Statistics, Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, 2018). Ideal participants for
grounded theory research, as Munhall (2012) suggests, are individuals who have experienced the
phenomena in question and are willing to articulate their experiences to share relevant
information that is reflective and informative.
Purposive sampling was used to focus upon participants who met the following criteria:
1) fulltime employees of STEM-focused healthcare organizations in Kentucky; 2) a minimum of
least three years of experience within their respective organizations; 3) have recently hired or
worked closely with STEM college graduates. In addition, participants were recruited using
snowball or chain sampling, which is used to identify people of interest by leveraging social
networks and mutual connections (Creswell & Poth, 2018). There were 27 participants in this
study coming from a diverse background, from small entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 organizations.
Four of the participants were CEOs, four were Vice Presidents, five were HR managers, six were
directors, and eight were managers in their departments. The size of the represented firms also
varied. Four participants worked at a small firm, twelve at a medium sized firm, and eleven at a
large firm. Twelve of the participants were women, and fifteen were men.
Data collection
Data were gathered through semi-structured interviews to give participants an ample
opportunity to reflect on the interview questions and describe their insights and understandings
of the soft skills gap phenomena. The structured interview questions focused on analyzing the
central phenomena to detail the emerging theory. To ensure that all information was captured
during the data collection, a high quality professional Evistr digital voice recorder was used to
capture the data from semi-structured interview questions. This qualitative research followed
Walker’s (2012) guidelines, which suggest that data saturation occurs when continued data
collection yields no new insights, but is primarily confirming the findings from previous data,
and the abstraction of formal theory emerges from said findings (Glaser & Strauss, 1967).
Data Anlaysis
The data analysis procedures characterized by open, axial, and selective coding as
recommended by Strauss and Corbin (1998) began soon after the transcriptions from each
interview were completed. Using this approach, the researcher sorted, coded, and analyzed the
data as it was collected. Themes and patterns were uncovered during the data interpretation
phase to make meaning of the raw data. In this phase, the participants’ feedback was reduced
and broken into themes, clusters, categories, and subcategories based on their characteristics,
properties, and dimensions (Wilkin, 2010). Finally, the conclusive results were coded in themes
according to the framework of grounded theory (Strauss & Corbin, 1998).
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Microanalyses were also conducted to mine for pieces of information that were kept open
for possible consideration, to avoid jumping to conclusions. With each participant, the researcher
searched for special codes that may have provided valuable insight into the perspectives of the
overall participants (Charmaz, 2003; Strauss & Corbin, 1998; Wilkin, 2010). This process was
chosen because it enables the illumination of more nuanced insights regarding the soft skills gap.
Coding paradigm
The study was guided by the coding paradigms model established by Strauss and Corbin
(2015), which divides the data into emerging categories and subcategories using the following six
variables: context, casual conditions, intervening conditions, occurring conditions,
action/interactions, and the phenomena. The data within each category and subcategory was
consistently assessed for its fitness within each of the six variables mentioned earlier. This data
analysis was repeated for each participant until data saturation occurred or the researcher was
no longer able to add more content to the existing data set.
Open coding
The coding analysis for each interview began with a process called open coding. It entails
breaking down the raw data into discrete parts, then carefully examining each section, line by
line, for similarities and differences (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). In grounded theory research, open
coding is the analytical process by which concepts are generated using observed data and
phenomena. This occurs with the help of labeling concepts, which define and develop categories
based on their properties and dimensions. This process then leads to the application of key terms
and phrases that are written in the margins of the transcripts to identify concepts and categories
(Wilkin, 2010). Key terms are grouped into subcategories based on their characteristics,
properties, and dimensions, leading to the emergence of categories that create the foundation for
the development of the grounded theory in explaining the phenomena (Corbin & Strauss, 2008;
Eaves, 2001).
Axial coding
Axial coding was also used to develop the study’s theoretical model. Codes were sorted
into groups by refining the concepts. This coding process linked the developed categories
identified in the open coding phase with subcategories, by taking their properties and dimensions
into consideration. The axial coding process enables the researcher to identify the relationships
among the actions, interactions, and consequences associated with each participant’s experiences
(Böhm, 2004).
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Selective coding
Once the axial codes were identified, the next step in the data analysis was to refine the
generated codes and categories, to facilitate the development of the grounded theory. This
process, called selective coding, includes the following sequential steps: identifying the cen tral
category, relating the categories to subcategories, validating those relationships, writing the
storyline to connect categories, and finally, refining the data so the grounded theory can help
explain the phenomena (Eaves, 2001; Strauss & Corbin, 1998).
Results and Discussion
The following three major themes emerged from the data describing how employers view
the soft skills, the soft skills gap, and how they are working to address the soft skills gap within
the STEM workforce:
Theme 1: Soft skills gaps exists among recent STEM undergraduate new hires
Theme 2: Specific soft skills will be in demand for the future
Theme 3: Employers and academic institutions are not systematically collaborating to help
design undergraduate curricula that foster soft skills competencies
Theme 1: Soft skills gaps exist among recent STEM undergraduate new hires
When employers were asked if they had ever experienced a soft skills deficiency amongst
their new STEM undergraduate hires, 100 percent of the 27 interviewed employers said yes. These
responses align with prior research, which claims that the misalignment of interests at the
intersection of the workforce and higher education is generating a national skills gap across
industries, particularly in the area of soft skills (National Chamber of Commerce, 2018; Patacsil
& Tablatin, 2017). The most reported soft skills that are lacking amongst recent entry-level STEM
hires in the healthcare industry are: forming a ‘human connection’ with patients or colleagues;
critical thinking; creativity; receiving/giving constructive feedback; professionalism;
communication and collaboration. The following comments by employers are representative:
“I see the soft skills gap every day in areas of collaboration, communication, and
teamwork mentality. It's very endemic.
We are constantly working on managing productivity and identifying gaps in
productivity. The ability to communicate concisely and effectively is a huge gapthe
ability to be self-aware during communication and self-edit, which goes into that same
thing. And for the same reason, communication in writing is similarly challenging for
those same people.”
Creative thinking shallowness, which is just thinking they can solve a problem right
away without going back and researching what's been done before. Have we had this
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issue -- had we had communications with this customer before, but just realizing that
the world didn't start right in that instant? They have to have more of a well-rounded
concept of history and how things run.
“It doesn’t matter what qualifications they have; if they do not have the soft skills to
implement their technical skills, they are absolutely no good.”
Theme 2: Specific soft skills will be in demand for the future
The increasing demand for soft skills renders it essential to understand which soft skills
will be most necessary in the healthcare industry. In an attempt to uncover this need, the
interviewed STEM employers were asked to express their views on the soft skills that they think
future STEM undergraduates will need before entering the healthcare industry, specifically in the
period of 2020 to 2025. The top soft skills that employers identified as necessary to have in the
future, within the STEM healthcare industry, are shown in Table 2.
Table 2.
Soft skills STEM employers identified as necessary in 2020-2025
Necessary soft skills
Employers who mentioned this soft skill
Human Connection
Critical Thinking
Problem Solving
Emotional Intelligence
Employer perceptions ultimately indicate that a change in thinking is necessary to
modernize how we think about the future and our subsequent relationship with soft skills
education. Specifically, employers noted the emerging changes regarding person-to-person
interaction, as well as our personal relationships with data and technology more generally,
effective leadership, the evolution of individual work patterns in the face of immense
technological advancement, and finally, the skills that will be required to ignite growth
throughout the healthcare industry. In fact, the results from semi-constructive interviews
demonstrate that 93 percent of all interviewed employers rank the soft skills related to leadership
as the single most essential skills to master in the future of healthcare and STEM.
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One employer indicated entry-level employees that grew in their organizations are those
with these soft skills “coming in every day, showing leadership capabilities. When their team
faces a challenge, they're rolling their sleeves up, and they're going with that challenge. They are
smiling. They are professional. They are taking that personal initiative to stand out.” Another HR
employer said, “If I have two candidates and both are bringing the same technical skills to the
table, but one is energetic, adaptable, good in a team environment, is a leader, and passionate
about what they do, that's going to carry that candidate further down the road.” This finding
demonstrates that the path to a more inclusive and human-driven future begins with the soft
skills of leadership. This means it will become increasingly essential for future graduates to
master an array of leadership skills, including the abilities to build relationships and collaborate
with others.
The good news is that leadership skills can be taught, just like any other soft skill. Social
sciences courses in humanities, philosophy, psychology, and civics, for example, can help
improve these skills, and yet STEM academics have failed to recognize their importance in
undergraduate curricula and course requirements. For example, a significant skill that is typically
lacking in new engineering graduates is the ability to lead a team, or even work effectively as a
member of a team, the latter of which is frequently identified as critical to the success of an
engineer (Brown & Ahmadian, 2014). Project management is another skill that is often neglected
in engineering or science curricula, even though it is important for engineers who end up
managing teams, projects, or departments.
In the face of these conditions, employers have indicated four major categories of
leadership--self-leadership, peer leadership, team leadership, and organizational leadership--that
they believe are essential for future undergraduates to attain. They suggest that courses begin
with human interaction-based strategies for mastering self-leadership and peer leadership,
gradually transitioning to material regarding team leadership, and then finally organizational
leadership. Employers emphasized that leadership skills are even expected from entry-level
employees who need these skills to eventually transition into upper management and beyond.
For instance, one interviewee mentioned how self-leadership among graduates is
necessary for creating a productive teamwork environment. He noted, “People just need to
understand why they’re a member of the team. They're expected to be a leader of everything that
they do in their team. And that's a necessary factor for them to understand that. That's kind of a
hard lesson to learn.” Likewise, another employer mentioned the significance of developing self-
leadership amongst recent graduates, “…so that they can take future leadership positions as they
become available.”
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One interviewee signified the importance of leadership and the ability to make business
decisions with empathy in mind for their business to thrive and succeed: “Individuals with soft
skills and capabilities of technical and leadership skills, all of that plays into the nuances of
decision making. How we make decisions, and the impacts of our choices will have on the growth
of the business. And so in my opinion, those folks that have the soft skills oftentimes are able to
make decisions with empathy that think about the human element whenever we make decisions
and the impact that they can have on both our employees but also our customers. Often, those
decisions have the customer in mind --at the center of our decision-making. That is what is
driving the distinction between successful businesses and businesses that are struggling.”
Human connection
The future of the STEM healthcare industry necessitates that graduates have the ability
and skills to interact with their clients, patients, or colleagues, to form human connections. This
goal is also reflected in the World Economic Forum’s Jobs of Tomorrow report (2020), which asserts
that humanity and the ability to connect with people amid the rapid development of new
technologies are at the core of what tomorrow’s workplace will require. In fact, 89 percent of
interviewed employers indicated that human connection would be essential to produce insights
for better patient care, creative solutions/outcomes, and strategic differentiation, which supports
revenue growth, personal growth, and organizational survival.
Employers also emphasized that future STEM graduates will need soft skills competencies
to help facilitate personal interactions with their colleagues, clients, or patients. Many of these
individuals placed gret value in the power of human interactions, which essentially serve as the
differentiator between humans and emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and
robotics. Although still at a nascent stage of this spectrum of technological development,
employers are already seeking candidates with uniquely human soft skills, like conflict
resolution, problem solving, the generation of new ideas, collaboration, and critical thinking
(Barr, 2019). These skill competencies are a necessary component of the effective delivery of tasks
related to technical skills.
Throughout most interviews, employers expressed that future graduates should
fundamentally understand what it means to be human. According to employers, when this sense
of humanity becomes intertwined with one’s technical capabilities, one can become better
equipped to achieve desired results. Employers listed the soft skills below that demonstrate the
power of human connection in STEM, and notably, how noted soft skills related to human
connection can help employees improve at their job:
Ability to connect with clients and patients
Knowledge of what it truly means to be a human
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Facilitating interaction with the patient
Ability to build a relationship and form connections
Ability to build rapport with someone
The importance of self-care and being nice to oneself
Staying connected with the humanity in oneself and surrounding individuals
Investing in the other humans around oneself
Understanding what it means to be a human
Communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking
Based on participant responses, the major in-demand skills of tomorrow are the Four C’s:
Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical thinking. One employer stressed, “the
ability to communicate ideas and be a force multiplier” is what empowers employees with the
skills that engender innovation and unique service offerings. Another employer indicated that
“communication is at the crux of everything.” According to these qualitative interviews, the
future of the healthcare workforce needs individuals who possess effective communication in all
formats--face-to-face, virtual, verbal, non-verbal, email, oral, and written.
Furthermore, 19 out of 27 employers interviewed reported creativity and collaboration as
essential skills for their organizations. Future graduates need to foster competencies that enable
them to think outside of the box and collaborate to generate innovative ideas. For this to happen,
17 employers believe future graduates need to learn how to use critical thinking capabilities. This
skill is imperative for assessing or facing an issue and effectively solving it. Employers need
graduates who have self-realized analytical thinking capabilities. Additionally, all four C’s are
needed to solve problems and generate optimal solutions. By learning these soft skills
competencies before graduation, students experience better opportunities in the workplace,
therefore enhancing both their personal and organizational growth.
Empathy can help professionals solve problems by enabling them, “to understand the
emotions that a person is going through,” as stated by one participant. In doing so, this mindset
can lead to solutions such as enhanced patient care in a hospital setting or a more seamless user
experience while navigating a new product or software application. STEM employers want to see
future graduates integrate human qualities like empathy and compassion in their jobs as a tool
for achieving desired outcomes within organizations.
According to 56 percent of employers interviewed in this study, when future nurses,
therapists, engineers, technologists, and dental hygienists deliver services to their customers and
colleagues, they need be able to draw upon their empathetic competencies--alongside their
technical skills--in order to build trust, respect, and support with their customers and colleagues.
Throughout interviews, employers from doctor's offices or hospital settings discussed the need
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to show empathy--instead of sympathy--towards their patients. Being able to sit down and
successfully empathize with patients and their families will be crucial to the success of both
students and businesses.
Another application of empathy that employers disclosed is found in a specific use case.
Technology employers expressed the essentiality of teaching future computer scientists or
software developers how to be mindful of who will use their services, therefore incorporating
empathy in their product designs. For instance, software built for an elderly population might
need extra features to make it more user friendly. In designing such an interface, future
technologists will need leverage their empathy throughout the development process by
foreseeing the outcome of their work and how it is related to the human experience. This means
developers will need to empathetically incorporate their technical user experience knowledge
and think about how their technological creation may help or hinder the user’s ability to solve
their problems while using the product.
In addition to the previously mentioned soft skills, 44 percent of employers in this study
prioritize skills related to problem solving, such as the ability to resolve issues creatively. One
employer said, “Creative problem solving is one differentiator,” while another stated that,
“Problem solving skills are going to be super key in the future.” Specifically, employers want
entry-level graduates to have the ability to solve problems before asking a leader within their
organization for assistance. However, employers also want graduates to feel comfortable asking
questions if they encounter issues while tackling these endeavors independently.
Moreover, employers prefer for their employees to offer problems and solutions
simultaneously. As one employer said, “Don’t tell me what is wrong, tell me how to fix it.” This
skill can be developed in an academic format by teaching students how to leverage multiple types
of available resources instead of solely relying on Google. A noted example of a helpful yet
untapped resource that can improve said problem solving efforts is the wisdom of colleagues
who have experienced similar problems in the past.
Emotional intelligence
Emotional Intelligence (EI) was mentioned by 37 percent of participants as a soft skill that
would be needed between 2020 and 2025. One employer described EI as “one’s ability to trust
their gut” and another describes it as the ability to, “read expression and body language.” Being
in the healthcare industry, employers also explained that future STEM graduates need to be
emotionally intelligent and “not so focused on technology and use their common sense.” In fact,
one respondent said, “common sense is the superpower.”
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Research in this space generally concludes that emerging technologies, which include big
data, automation, and data digitalization, are transforming the healthcare industry (Barr, 2019;
Penprase, 2018). As such, soft skills can play a significant role in connecting these technologies
with humans (Barr, 2019). According to the results of this study, soft skills are--and always will
be--essential tools for the organizations of both today and tomorrow.
Theme 3: Employers and academic institutions are not systematically collaborating
This study aimed to understand how employers are working with academia to foster soft
skills development. The two avenues that were of specific interest were collaboration between
academia and industry and the extent that partnerships were effective. As a result of this inquiry,
a third theme emerged: systematic, collaborative synergies simply do not exist in the relationships
between many employers and local educational leaders. Employers claim that the connection
between the two entities is so detached it is blocking the opinions of employers from the design
and development of STEM undergraduate curricula.
This lack of dialogue and engagement was evident amongst the employers who
participated in this study, 78 percent of whom do not partner with local academia to enhance
STEM students' soft skills competencies. A key method of improving this cross-pollination is
through the industry advisory boards of universities. According to the interview data, 81 percent
of employers do not sit on any such advisory boards, meaning their expertise is not being shared
in the academic arena.
Strategic actions to reduce the soft skills gap
Jointly work on curriculum
A strategy one employer suggested was for industry and academia to join forces and craft
student curricula together to ensure its relevance for current and future workforce needs. Another
suggested approach was to integrate soft skills education into technical STEM courses at all levels.
This comprehensive approach would hopefully entrench this way of thinking into the first year
of undergraduate education up until graduation. Soft skills development needs to be taught
alongside technical skills. When the two skillsets effectively intertwine, students are better
equipped to understand the practical relevancy of these skills.
It is essential for soft skills education to be woven through an entire STEM program and
not relegated to just one course. There should be a section in each disciplinary curriculum that
specifically lists soft skills as a set of learning objectives for each course. Soft skills development
takes time to develop, and students need to practice these skills through the diverse perspectives
that differing courses can provide. Rather than relying on these skills to magically develop in the
workplace post-graduation, STEM courses should have these skills repeatedly targeted to enable
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students to learn: 1) how to communicate effectively; 2) articulate themselves; 3) become a
dependable team member; 4) demonstrate compassion towards their colleagues; 5) use empathy
when creating a technical product; 6) offer constructive feedback; 7) accomplish a task
individually or within a team; 8) use creative thinking to solve problems; 9) demonstrate
confidence and assertiveness; and 10) how to attain or maintain a job.
According to Heckman (2019), the encouraging element of soft skills development is that
soft skills can be mastered by all students, regardless of their technical disciplines or personal
attributes. However, this is only possible when educators invest in a sustainable, systematic
approach to teaching that is specifically catered towards soft skills education. There is even a
proven return on investment concerning soft skills training and proficiency (Deming, 2017a,
2017b; Heckman, 2019). Given these research outcomes, we may find that targeting soft skills
competencies might be beneficial for individuals and organizations to not only survive--but
thrive--within the 21st Century STEM workforce.
Raising awareness
A common solution for addressing the soft skills gap that employers often suggested
throughout interviews was to raise awareness of the gap and why there is such a subsequently
high demand for soft skills. Employers continuously reiterated that reducing the soft skills gap is
a community effort, and it begins with awareness. To ensure awareness of the importance of soft
skill competencies in the local healthcare market, local employers and educators should
strategically market these skills as a pathway to economic prosperity (Livia et al., 2017; Sarkar et
al., 2016; West, 2012). This solution is an avenue for both college graduates and job seekers to
develop the skills to be prepared for the local STEM job market. However, STEM undergraduate
students in Kentucky are rarely informed about the potential that a soft skills education can
provide, as one interviewed employer noted: One of the things that we are working on, first and
foremost, is to build self-awareness. So, if the students aren't aware of the areas in which there
are opportunities for growth, then there is no way that they can hone in on the skills that they
To address this knowledge gap, STEM employers should develop aggressive outreach
strategies to increase the awareness of critical soft skills needed to build a steady talent pipeline.
To do so effectively, they should first work jointly with academia to determine what soft skills
are needed and then partner with academic institutions to develop strategic counseling and tools
that STEM undergraduate students can use to develop their career pathway to meet the needs of
the local job market.
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Raising awareness can simultaneously illuminate the content that should be integrated
into STEM courses and offer students the opportunity to enhance their learning competencies.
This idea is supported by prior research which concludes that the integration of technical and soft
skills is useful for enhancing the efficacy of student learning (Manullang & Kons, 2010;
Woodward et al., 2010). Most of the employers in this study also think that educators need to be
made more aware of the soft skills gap too. Without an established relationship between academic
institutions and private organizations, this study demonstrates that oftentimes the foundation for
this strategy is lacking. It is precisely this lack of connectivity that is impeding the flow of
employer needs from being communicated to educators and students.
However, conversations with the small number of employers that were in tune with the
academic environment suggested that the collaborative process can start with open
communication and relationship building. Both employers and academic institutions can initiate
this connection and should equally assume the responsibility to do so.
Establish leadership support
Leadership is defined as "the sets of activities required to articulate an organization's
vision and ensure that all its stakeholders will support the vision" (Stid & Brandach, 2009, p. 36).
Similarly, Northouse's (2007) definition of leadership "is a process whereby an individual
influence a group of individuals to achieve a common goal" (p. 3). In lieu of the lack of strategic
direction from academic leadership to facilitate a soft skills education, employers in this study
expressed the need to establish leadership support, with the goal of collaborating with internal
and external stakeholders. This relationship building, starting from the top of the hierarchy, is
essential for initiating any engagement program.
In fact, the results of this study show that employers believe leadership is key for building
engagement, collaboration, and long-term partnerships. This is exemplified by employers whose
organizations did have the leadership support they needed to pursue a collaborative approach
with academia, which subsequently allowed them to cultivate better experiences with their new
However, the success of these outcomes depends on the strength of leadership support on
both sides: in academia and in industry. For instance, local STEM employers who observed keen
interest from academic leaders to collaborate, consequently felt enticed and inspired to get
engaged with local students. An equal level of enthusiasm from leaders in academia and industry
is required in to develop the partnership and achieve both parties’ goals and objectives.
Collaboration that begins at the highest leadership levels, with a student-centric vision at its core,
ultimately benefits the community at large.
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Active collaboration with academia
There are many traditional ways to collaborate with academia that include internships,
co-ops, and externships. However, one employer noted that we need to update these approaches
using a more contemporary perspective that targets the needs of students. He noted, "I think that
even more can be done [to address the soft skills gap] because this is a give and take. This isn't
just the corporations needing a new workforce… students need jobs. So, trying to figure out how
to connect these dots is really important for the workforce development of our community."
Another employer emphasized that active collaboration is important for staying informed
about the evolving needs and demands of the other party. This perspective is aligned with prior
research, which asserts that somewhere along the road between education and employment, the
system is not providing students with the skill competencies they need to succeed in the
workplace (U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, 2018; White & Shakibnia, 2019). Mutual
awareness about each party’s needs can enable appropriate accommodation and an ultimate
alignment of interests.
Build a community of workforce success
Employers realize that they need to collaborate with academia to simultaneously tackle
the soft skills gap and enhance the strength of the community’s workforce. One participant said:
"This a community effort that must be made a priority." Some employers interviewed were able
to do this successfully for several years, enhancing their organizational goals and local
communities. As one employer remarked, "We come together, and we talk about what kind of
skills we need as people come out of college so that universities can respond to that and build
programs that will meet the needs of employers, two, four, eight years in the future."
The labor force has a significant impact on regional economic vitality, and organizations
cannot innovate and grow their businesses without skilled workers (LaPrade et al., 2019). If
organizations cannot find a talented workforce in their local areas, they migrate to other regions,
searching for workers with skills needed to remain competitive. As a result, a decline in the skilled
workforce can profoundly impact a region's economic competitiveness and value proposition
(LaPrade et al., 2019).
Investing in future graduates’ education before they enter the workforce has benefited
employers that chose to invest their time and resources in fostering and developing the soft skills
competencies of students before they had joined their organizations. Prior research echoes this
phenomenon. It indicates that soft skills training has a direct impact on the return organizations
and individuals realize from their investments (Balcar, 2016; Deming, 2017; Heckman, 2000). In
fact, Heckman's recommendation to educators is to consider investing in a sustainable soft skills
educational system that trains students in the art of interpersonal, professional, and
leadership/management skills to help develop a successful pathway for future students. This
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perspective helps explain why the top skills that interviewed employers tend to value are
leadership and human connection.
The employers who participated in this study continuously felt that the only way to secure
their competitive advantage was by working strategically with academia to align STEM
coursework with the needs of local businesses. In fact, throughout most interviews, employers
indicated that it is essential to look at the soft skill gap phenomenon as a community effort, rather
than a university-only responsibility. However, many respondents did say that they want
educators to initiate this process to demonstrate their commitment to the collaborative
relationship--namely regarding academia’s willingness to adapt to the suggestions made by
STEM Education
The future of competition in a globalized America is dependent on a strong workforce
rooted in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (National Academies of Sciences,
Engineering, and Medicine, 2016). The STEM discipline has played a significant role in the
nation’s trajectory towards innovation and economic growth, and we will continue to rely on
STEM experts to support this trajectory (White & Shakibnia, 2019). However, based on an
extensive report, industry and employment experts are concerned that our nation may not have
an adequate supply of skilled technical workers to maintain its global competitiveness (Olson &
Riordan, 2012). As the global economy grows, ten of the fourteen fastest-growing industries will
require a STEM education (Olson & Riordan, 2012). For these reasons, it is essential to proactively
prepare workers and students for the occupational needs our society will demand from the STEM
fields. A future driven by exponentially increasing technological change requires us to take these
employment gaps seriously (Cimatti, 2016; Cinque, 2015; White & Shakibnia, 2019).
STEM education needs to be strategically aligned with the industry needs (Bloomberg,
2018). According to Sarkar et al. (2016), employers are recommending that changes to the
pedagogy are needed. One of the significant changes they suggest in regard to teaching tactics is
centered around the differences between open-ended and formulaic problem-solving. By
incorporating more inquiry-oriented learning, students learn problem-solving skills that can
range across a broad spectrum of situations. Additionally, this environment more closely
resembles the realities of problem-solving in a professional space. For this reason, integrating an
inquiry-oriented teaching approach might provide students with increased opportunities to
develop soft skills competencies such as critical thinking, teamwork, self-directed group learning,
and communication skills (Rayner et al., 2013).
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The calls for systematic and transformational improvements throughout undergraduate
STEM education have been numerous and reiterated over the past 25 years (McKenna et al., 2014).
According to Khatri et al. (2017), the undergraduate STEM education community has developed
a large number of innovative teaching strategies to improve student learning outcomes. The
empirical study conducted by Khatri et al. (2017) examined the instructional innovation strategies
used within undergraduate STEM education and compiled a list of 43 strategies intended to
enhance the student learning outcomes. These innovative teaching strategies are available for use
by STEM instructors in the areas of biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering,
geoscience, mathematics, and physics. However, the majority of these teaching strategies are
going unused by STEM instructors (Khatri et al., 2017).
Some studies suggest including entrepreneurship as a standard component of the STEM
education system. This can be done by engaging business leaders, students, and educators either
within or outside of the classroom in an effort to enhance students’ soft skills competencies. In
these activities, all key stakeholders the educator, employer, and student work together on a
real-world problem within an active project-based team environment. This practice allows
students to learn how to combine their technical and soft skills competencies in order to deliver
a product or project that corresponds with the demands of the workplace (Besterfield-Sacre et al.,
2014; McKenna et al., 2014).
Prior research shows that despite the importance of soft skills competencies as a
significant variable in employability (Sarkar et al., 2016), soft skills are not being prioritized nor
taught consistently in undergraduate degree programs. This finding supports a central concern
that employers expressed in interviews--that soft skills education is not being given the attention
it deserves. 100 percent of employers reported that they value soft skills education and think it is
needed for in the future of healthcare.
It takes time to develop soft skills competency. So, by knowing the skills that STEM
undergraduate students will need in the future, key stakeholders will be better equipped to focus
on this market demand and consequently produce workforce-ready graduates. This development
process should begin with lessons about leadership, as employers suggested, starting at the
freshman level. On that front, employers also indicated that colleges and universities should offer
leadership courses to help develop the soft skills of leadership. This realm of knowledge should
begin with self-leadership, team leadership, problem-solving, communication, and critical
thinking. Towards the final years of students’ undergraduate careers, they should be exposed to
classes that aim to provide softs skills that equip them with the knowledge and confidence to
conduct their employment searches professionally. Examples of skills within this category are
resume building, interviewing, and ultimately securing a job.
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The findings of this study indicate that an open system does not exist between businesses
and academic leaders. This lack of collaboration therefore stunts the community’s ability to
address soft skills gap at its core. In an open system, organizations are actively engaged in
relationships that allow them exchange information. It is precisely this disconnect, or lack of an
open system, that is impeding the development of soft skills in undergraduate STEM
students. The data from this study indicates that much more work is needed to develop an open
system in which organizational outputs align with renewed organizational inputs, thus leading
to organizational transformation.
Instead, a synergy is needed to tackle the soft skills gap. Employers need to connect with
academia and their internal customers to build engagement and customer advocacy to help
establish an active collaboration synergy. Both sides need to lead by example to cultivate a culture
of support that recognizes and addresses the soft skills gap. Universities that choose to integrate
soft skills into undergraduate STEM courses need to understand the skills that are expected of
students, how these skills can be transferred into the workplace, and why this development is
essential for students’ career successes. Without this understanding, as one employer stated, the
rapid development of technology will ensure we will be “outdone by the machine."
Future directions
Because the opinions of academic leaders are also instrumental in addressing the soft skills
gap, future researchers should consider conducting a similar study to illuminate the perspectives
in academia. This research should focus on how educators are collaborating with employers to
address the soft skills gap. It would also be enlightening to conduct a study to determine whether
STEM educators are equipped to teach and improve soft skills literacy within their core STEM
programs to achieve the desired outcomes outlined by the local STEM workforce. Furthermore,
future researchers may consider conducting a qualitative study to explore recent STEM college
graduates’ opinions about the STEM workforce's soft critical skills. Since the soft skills gap is a
global issue that needs to be addressed systematically, a final recommendation would be to
replicate this study in industries and communities across the US and beyond.
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Karimi & Pina
... The physical and psychological distance experienced in online career fairs, interviews, or remote offices requires students to be hyperaware, for example, of how they manage their appearance, take turns in conversations, handle their camera and microphone, deal with unexpected technology glitches, and even maintain eye contact (with the camera, not the face on the computer). These complications particularly impact students in technology and business fields, for they struggle more with soft skills than students in other areas (Dixon et al., 2010;Karimi & Pina, 2021). The Virtual Career Fair (VCF) Project is particularly useful for helping business and information systems students develop the kinds of skills needed to be more employable as they embark on their careers -and also more successful as they progress in those careers. ...
... The VCF Project aimed to help students master skills associated with career fairs and interviews: preparing and delivering a professional introduction, crafting and discussing a resume as a visual, answering interview questions, and utilizing persuasion. In an ongoing pandemic, where companies will continue to adapt their recruitment strategies (Hankel, 2022;Maurer, 2021), the VCF Project builds skills business, information systems, and communication students will need in a continually evolving virtual world: online presentation of self and space, online file sharing, immediacy through a webcam, and mastery of an online platform (Karimi & Pina, 2021;Walker, 2020). Below we offer pedagogical recommendations related to the principles of constructivist learning as well as practical recommendations and adaptations. ...
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Building resiliency in students helps them become better learners and employees. With this in mind, this project uses a class reflection activity to promote self-efficacy. Via a convenience sample, students were asked to reflect on their performance on a specific assignment, acknowledge their own shortcomings, and recommend how other students could improve. The study results show that students recognize they need to spend more time preparing for their studies to improve their own performance and indicate a willingness to do so.
... An entirely new way of integrating IoT is required with intelligent computer algorithms learning to control the robotics remotely [7]. While much importance is given to technological changes in enterprises, there is a scarcity of research in developing an appropriate approach to the education processes required for the Industry 4.0 workforce due to the huge transition required from Industry 3.0 [8][9][10]. ...
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The development of Industry 4.0 revolutionising the concept of automation and digitisation in an organisation poses a huge challenge in employee knowledge and skills to cope with the huge leap from Industry 3.0. The high-level digitisation of an organisation requires the workforce to possess higher order thinking skills (HOTS) for the changing job roles matching the rapid technological advancements. The Education 4.0 framework is aimed at supporting the Industry 4.0 skills requirement not only in digital technologies but more towards soft skill development such as collaboration and lifelong learning. However, the education sector is also facing challenges in its transition from Education 3.0 to Education 4.0. The main purpose of the paper is to propose an Agile approach for developing smart classroom teaching strategies that foster employee adaptability with the new learning paradigm of upskilling in line with Industry 4.0. By adopting an exploratory research methodology, the pilot study investigates the implementation of the proposed Agile approach in a higher education setting for graduates to achieve HOTS using smart classroom teaching strategies. This study uses learning theories such as experiential learning in smart classroom environments to enhance students’ HOTS individually as well as collaboratively in an Agile iterative manner. This is the first empirical study carried out for graduates specialising in the Business Analytics skillset required for Industry 4.0. The findings of the pilot study show promising results that pave the way for further exploration and pedagogical insights in this research direction.
... Employers desire graduates with critical thinking skills, and graduates that have these skills are more likely to be employed (Sarkar et al. 2016). However, many graduates are entering the workplace with weak critical thinking skills (Flores et al. 2012;Karimi and Pina 2021). Critical thinking requires skills such as applying, analysing, evaluating and creating, which are classified as higher order cognitive skills (HOCS) (Zoller 1993). ...
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Students must develop higher order cognitive skills (HOCS) that allow them to think critically and use their learning in novel situations. However, little is known about how including HOCS in teaching and assessment affects students’ perception of learning. We combine quantitative and qualitative data to determine whether the inclusion of HOCS and the presence of constructive alignment influences students' perceptions of learning within the first-year practical components of an undergraduate biology degree at a UK research intensive university. We applied the Blooming Biology Tool (BBT) and Bloom’s Dichotomous Key (BDK) to quantify the proportion of HOCS present during practical sessions and their related assessments and found that a combination of tools can be used to reliably assess the requisite cognitive skills required to complete tasks. Students completed an online survey and provided free-text responses regarding which practical sessions they perceived had the most beneficial effects on their learning. Students valued both LOCS and HOCS for their learning but could only recognise and value HOCS in practical sessions featuring high proportions of HOCS. Our research provides methods for assessing and improving constructive alignment in the teaching of biology and furthers our understanding of when students will recognise and value HOCS.
... Key soft skills that are best-suited for career-related opportunities can vary as they are based upon the specifics of the field or industry. However, communication, collaboration, teamwork, diversity, and cultural sensitivity, discussed below, are typically included in most lists that delineate soft skills important in the workplace [44]. ...
This paper presents and delineates Promoting Equity and Achievement in Real-time Learning (PEARL), a framework developed to help strengthen academic and career-related skills of students and professionals, and most specifically those from underserved and underrepresented backgrounds. PEARL uses problem-based learning pedagogy, competency-based education and artificial intelligence to break learning and assessment activities into manageable learning chunks. This allows for the formation, creation, and validation of stackable knowledge units. The paper also highlights how artificial intelligence along with learner-centered pedagogy can be used to improve knowledge gain and skill mastery.
... In their research, Karimi and Pina (2021) investigated soft skills that were not included in students' knowledge, in addition to skills that would be valued in the future. To fill the missing soft skills, they described processes that could effectively raise the level of students' soft skills by engaging representatives from companies. ...
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Abstract. The aim of the study is to explore the employers' demands for personal skills in graduate and junior positions in the field of digital marketing. The research summarizes the review of academic literature on transferable soft skills, focusing on the digital marketing sector. Job requirements in digital marketing related to graduate and junior employability skills are studied for the following occupations: junior digital marketing manager, social media manager and digital marketing manager assistant. The article presents the findings of a content analysis of 5548 digital marketing job advertisements downloaded in February 2021, in a period of one month, from the top five job finding websites in Hungary. The authors’ classification framework includes a core set of relevant skills and competences that can be used to conduct the assessment. Thirty-one most frequently mentioned soft and hard skill categories are grouped into five main categories and analyzed with quantitative methods. Within the scope of the study, an occurrence frequency analysis is conducted in job advertisement texts and the data is analyzed with descriptive statistical methods. Moreover, the findings cover the importance of foreign language knowledge and software knowledge as they appear in job ads. The differences between foreign and multinational companies’ soft skill requirements are still under examination. The data show that, while hard skills in job advertisements are still dominant, soft skills are also emphasized in the field of digital marketing. In analyzing the results, the authors look at what employers focus on when searching for graduate students and employees for junior positions. The academic and practical implications of the study are useful for further research, as it presents a collection of essential digital marketing employability skills.
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Students usually enroll in higher education institutes for earning an academic qualification or degree, gain appropriate skills and to step into the corporate world via employment opportunities. The purpose of the study is to find out student’s perceptions about which skills are important to attain for job while they are studying. Also, to find employer’s perceptions about most important skills required in the future employees. The study findings reveal that skill gap exist between employers and students’ perceptions of the skills and traits critical for securing employment. Based on literature review, skills important for employment were identified and grouped under three categories namely technical skills, non-technical skills and behavioral skills. Through the use of structures questionnaires, both students and HR Executives were asked to rate all the skills on a Likert scale of 1(least important) to 5(most important). Based on the mean scores of the ratings, a ranking order was established to ascertain the skill gap. Another major finding of the study was to determine which skills are more important for employers so as to on which students should focus on acquiring to be better prepared for the job market. The study also provides recommendations to close the gap between the skill gaps identified in the study. These steps must be taken simultaneously by all the stakeholders involved in the higher education i.e. Students, higher education institutions and corporate employers.
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This chapter provides an assessment of how previous industrial revolutions have impacted higher education in the United States and around the world. Penprase assesses new STEM instruction that develops technical capacity in emerging technologies in active and project-based settings. The societal changes from the 4IR will require higher education to develop greater capacity for ethical and intercultural understanding, placing a premium on liberal arts-type education with modifications to adapt to the particular issues raised by 4IR technologies and their disruptions to society. Penprase argues that a rapid adjustment of on-campus curriculum is needed by expanding its capacity to accommodate the acquisition of new knowledge by students, faculty and alumni, with new modalities of instruction that leverage the digital advances from the Third Industrial Revolution.
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The purpose of the research is to discover which employability skills may be developed by students from technical universities in order to meet market demands. Since graduates from technical universities face unemployment or over qualification for vacant jobs, we presumed that there is a misalignment between employers’ expectations concerning graduates’ skills and what they really get from school. Therefore, we conceived a questionnaire to see the demands of the business environment regarding graduates’ technical and professional skills. After analyzing the data, we proposed an interdisciplinary module system, where the mentors coming from the companies involved in the study teach voluntary or optional courses and applications in the domains where they have expertise. We used the employability skills model to find that mix of competencies that may help graduates find jobs in their field of knowledge. This innovative method serves universities, students and companies as well: the prestige of a university is quantified by the experts delivered into the labor market; companies will have well prepared employees in their specific area, with less costs; students will find jobs which will match their expectations, giving them motivation to perform. The limitation of the present research is that the study refers only to the Civil Engineering specialization of the Technical University Cluj-Napoca Romania.
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The research paper proposes a skills gap methodology that utilized the respondent experiences in the internship program to measure the importance of the Information Technology (IT) skills gap as perceived by IT students and the industry. The questionnaires were formulated based on previous studies, however, was slightly modified, validated and pilot tested to fit into the needs of the research. Respondents of this study were IT students enrolled in internship while industry respondents were the supervisors of the IT students in their respective company. Internship IT students were selected since they have a strong background on the needs of the company based on their internship experience. The findings revealed that teamwork and communication skills are very important soft skills to be possessed by IT graduates as perceived by the respondents. Further, results reveal that there was no significant difference in the perception of the respondents in terms of the importance of soft skills. However, this finding contradicts the results in the case of hard skills were in there was a big range of disagreement on the importance of hard skills. IT students perceived that hard skills were very important while industry perceived hard skills were somewhat important. It is recognized that soft skills are very important communication tool for a customer oriented industry and that it is essential to enhance the communication skills of IT students for their future employment. The study suggests that the university should target improvements of soft skills and specific personality development component in the curriculum.
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Background The undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education community has developed a large number of innovative teaching strategies and materials, but the majority of these go unused by instructors. To help understand how to improve adoption of evidence-based education innovations, this study focuses on innovations that have become widely used in college-level STEM instruction. Innovations were identified via a questionnaire emailed to experts in STEM instruction. Descriptions of identified innovations were validated by preparing brief descriptions of each innovation and sending them to the original developers, when applicable, for feedback, and searching relevant literature. Publicly available funding data was collected for each innovation. STEM disciplines surveyed include biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, geoscience, mathematics, and physics. ResultsThe 43 innovations identified were categorized based on two criteria: level of specificity (general, recognizable, branded) and type of change (pedagogical, content, both, neither). The 21 branded innovations were analyzed in more detail. The majority (14/21) require relatively modest changes in pedagogy and no changes in content. In addition, nearly all have received at least 3 million dollars in external funding over at least 10 years. Conclusions This paper presents the full list of instructional innovations produced, which can be used by educational innovation developers to understand how their ideas fit within the broader landscape and to identify innovations in one discipline that may have promise for transfer. The findings regarding funding of the branded innovations have important implications for both educational innovation developers and funding agencies. In particular, the study indicates that a long-term mindset and access to long-term funding are vital for broad adoption of new teaching innovations.
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Increasing awareness of the productive potential of soft skills has sparked a discussion of their systematic and purposeful development. However, education systems pay only limited attention to this topic in most countries and remain focused on the development of hard skills. Is this approach rational or inadequate? This article provides new evidence on different aspects of the wage returns to soft skills (as an approximation of their productivity), and thereby contributes significantly to the discussion of the role of educational institutions in their development. It provides evidence that soft skills are as productive as hard skills. Moreover, it suggests that the productivity of hard skills stems from their combination with soft skills. These conclusions do not correspond to the fact that the value of education is intermediated mainly by hard skills, resulting in unequal development of soft and hard skills in schools. While concluding that education systems should pay more attention to soft skills development, the analysis recognises that this attention should be differentiated according to employers’ needs, owing to substantial differences in the value of soft skills across economic sectors. It is also noteworthy that while significant gender differences in returns to hard skills were identified, wage returns to soft skills appear gender neutral. JEL Codes: J24, J31, J71
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Graduate employability is an important issue for higher education as the global financial crisis has led to a significant decline in the employment prospects of new graduates over the past few years. This issue is additionally important due to the reported dissatisfaction of many employers with graduates’ ability to contribute effectively to the workplace. The Graduate Employability for Monash Science (GEMS) Project seeks to address these problems by exploring the skills needs of recent science graduates and their employers and, importantly, designing interventions that will inculcate such skills and attributes into undergraduate students via the curricula. This paper presents some initial results from the investigation of recent science graduates’ and employers’ views of employability skills needs. More specifically, this paper will discuss: (a) whether there is a mismatch between the knowledge and skills developed through undergraduate study and those actually required in post-graduation activities, (b) what knowledge and skills employers view as important when employing graduates in the current and future work climate, and (c) what graduates and employers consider universities can do to better support employment for graduates.
Most writing on sociological method has been concerned with how accurate facts can be obtained and how theory can thereby be more rigorously tested. In The Discovery of Grounded Theory, Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss address the equally Important enterprise of how the discovery of theory from data-systematically obtained and analyzed in social research-can be furthered. The discovery of theory from data-grounded theory-is a major task confronting sociology, for such a theory fits empirical situations, and is understandable to sociologists and laymen alike. Most important, it provides relevant predictions, explanations, interpretations, and applications. In Part I of the book, "Generation Theory by Comparative Analysis," the authors present a strategy whereby sociologists can facilitate the discovery of grounded theory, both substantive and formal. This strategy involves the systematic choice and study of several comparison groups. In Part II, The Flexible Use of Data," the generation of theory from qualitative, especially documentary, and quantitative data Is considered. In Part III, "Implications of Grounded Theory," Glaser and Strauss examine the credibility of grounded theory. The Discovery of Grounded Theory is directed toward improving social scientists' capacity for generating theory that will be relevant to their research. While aimed primarily at sociologists, it will be useful to anyone Interested In studying social phenomena-political, educational, economic, industrial- especially If their studies are based on qualitative data. © 1999 by Barney G. Glaser and Frances Strauss. All rights reserved.
The labor market increasingly rewards social skills. Between 1980 and 2012, jobs requiring high levels of social interaction grew by nearly 12 percentage points as a share of the U.S. labor force. Math-intensive but less social jobs-including many STEM occupations-shrank by 3.3 percentage points over the same period. Employment and wage growth were particularly strong for jobs requiring high levels of both math skill and social skills. To understand these patterns, I develop a model of team production where workers "trade tasks" to exploit their comparative advantage. In the model, social skills reduce coordination costs, allowing workers to specialize and work together more efficiently. The model generates predictions about sorting and the relative returns to skill across occupations, which I investigate using data from the NLSY79 and the NLSY97. Using a comparable set of skill measures and covariates across survey waves, I find that the labor market return to social skills was much greater in the 2000s than in the mid-1980s and 1990s. © The Author(s) 2017. Published by Oxford University Press, on behalf of President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.