It’s all about mastering STEM subjects to prepare for today’s job market, right? Maybe not. Recent studies relating to workplace success – with research from Google (of all places) – suggest that is not the case anymore.

The findings were penned by Cathy N. Davidson, an internationally-lauded professor at the City University of New York who was also appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Council of Humanities. In an article published by the Washington Post, Davidson argued that the conventional wisdom of the 21st century, which prizes STEM subjects and learning to code, is a gross simplification of what actually leads to success in workplaces, including tech-driven environments.

When the founders of Google predicated their hiring standards on the ideology that only technologists can understand technology, Google set its hiring algorithm to seek out computer science students who graduated with high grades from top-tiered universities exclusively. Fifteen years later, Google tested its hiring theory in 2013 by analyzing all data relating to hiring, firing, and promotions since the company’s inception. It found that of the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise ranked dead last.

Rather, the top characteristics of success at Google, a company that is arguably most identified with a STEM-only approach, were all “soft skills” or “leadership skills;” being a good coach, communicating and listening well, and being supportive of one’s colleagues were included. Since these findings, Google released a new study in 2017 which revealed its most important and productive teams were comprised of employees who exude equality, generosity, and empathy – all traits that fall under the umbrella of soft skills.

Carleton refers to soft skills as transferable skills and breaks them into four categories: people skills, research and planning skills, thinking skills, and personal skills. Traits such as communication, planning and organization, creative problem solving, and resilience are all listed as skills that are highly sought after by employers.

It’s no surprise that online students are already using these sorts of traits everyday. Due to the nature of the course delivery, CUOL students are positioned to be very familiar with these in-demand soft skills. Planning and organization are vital when you don’t have in-class meetings to keep you on track and strong communication skills are necessary when there is less face-to-face contact. And don’t even get us started on problem-solving and resilience; online students are forced to become experts in decoding home technical issues and juggling personal life duties.

Davidson and Google weren’t the only ones to understand the indispensable value soft skills have in the workplace. An article published by The Conversation, an online news site that shares the opinions and research of academic experts, argued that a humanities degree will best prepare students in the workforce.

In her article, Anna Moro, the Associate Dean of Humanities at McMaster University, urged educators to lean harder on the humanities, “not just through degree programs in the humanities, but also by incorporating more humanistic teaching into STEM and business education.” Moro referenced a report published by RBC Royal Bank that projected an increase in demand for foundational, or soft, skills such as critical thinking, social perceptiveness, and active listening. The report, which gathered data across Canada, also forecasted that global competencies, like cultural awareness, language, and adaptability, will be in high demand.

As the late Steve Jobs once said, “technology alone is not enough – it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” The tide is changing and employers in all fields are recognizing that soft skills are skills worth investing in.

By Bianca Chan, BJ 2017 (Carleton)

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