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People skills will be more valuable in future graduates than STEM skills

People power. Source: Shutterstock

Students are graduating into a world increasingly taken over by automation and need to start sharpening their people skills rather than the STEM skills touted by many today.

That’s the message gleaned by a research team at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

The team which comprise of Claire Mason, Andrew Reeson and Todd Sanderson had tried to find out which skills and abilities were becoming more or less important by linking Australian employment data with United States data the skill sets associated with different jobs.

“The analyses reveal that, despite all the hype about STEM skills, occupations requiring communication skills are actually growing fastest,” they wrote in The Conversation.

There was a 15.7 percent growth in demand for Communication skills, while Generic STEM skills and Specific STEM skills only had 12.8 percent and 2.8 percent growth respectively.

The research also found how demand for STEM skills are evolving. Scientific Thinking and Critical Thinking – both considered as Generic STEM skills – commanded the highest growth in demand with 24.5 percent and 13 percent growth respectively. Specific STEM skills, such as Programming and Mathematics, had the lowest growth in demand.

“What they reveal is that the STEM skills needed in a wide range of contexts and roles are those that involve working with (rather than programming) technology – skills such as the ability to think critically, analyse systems and interact with computers,” the team wrote.

One explanation for the relatively low growth of traditional STEM skills is that only a small number of highly skilled professionals with such skills is needed. Programming too can be automated and sent offshore.

What is a STEM student to do in the face of all of these? Here’s an advice from the team:

Focus on your people skills to complement technology.

After all, research shows those who are able to marry social skills with their technological prowess are those who have been shown to command higher incomes.

“As technological advances occur ever more rapidly, we will need to keep discovering new ways of using technology to perform our work. With strong communication, problem-solving and digital literacy skills, we can harness the power of digital technology to solve a customer’s problem, grow productivity and improve our world,” the team wrote.

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