Soft Skills = Hard Cash

(Or, Why the STEM Kids Need Our Classes)

An item on my news crawl this week confirmed what we all already know – businesses are looking to hire a legionstem of engineers and accountants. (Apparently, the nation also needs an army of educators to fill our current shortage, but this specific article didn’t get into all of that.)

The real news, at least for me, was buried in the middle of the article. Yes, Corporate America needs to hire lots of math and science majors, but when asked what specific skills those graduates should possess, the skill set starts to look suspiciously like a list from our English classes.

Take, for example, this nugget:


All of this reminds me of Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind. Left-brained tasks (yes, those math and science skills) are “necessary but no longer sufficient” for workers to thrive in the new ecomony, he warns. Students need both left-brain logic and right-brain creativity. Many of today’s coveted engineering jobs, Pink argues, will soon be lost to automation of technology (computers are actually being taught to write code all on their own – whoa!) and international job competition. The reality of today’s global marketplace should be sobering to our STEM kids. According to Entrepeneur magazine, the average annual salary of engineers last year in the U.S. was $83,000, while similar work could by done by engineers in India for just $24,000.

To make sure our students are well-positioned to find meaning and success throughout their careers, we must develop their abilities to think through a problem, design a solution, work like maniacs to build something great, and then communicate their creation to the world. Sounds like there’s plenty of work here for teachers in every department, from STEM to the sweet fruit of ELA.

Teach on, everyone!

6 thoughts on “Soft Skills = Hard Cash

  1. meganmcrae727 says:

    Oh Laura, I love this post!! This is why I stress writing and communication so much in my classroom. Technology is wonderful, but it cannot replace collaborate discussion and drafting a writing piece. I find myself amazed at the lack of problem-solving skills I come across. For instance, when my students use iPads to do self-check quizzes during Math (twice a chapter), they come rushing up to me when they encounter a technology problem. Right off the bat, my mind goes to 4 possible solutions in about 10 seconds: log out of the program and log back in, choose a different browser, go to the hot spot in the room, turn the iPad on and off. However, I will not tell them those solutions right away. Instead I ask them, “What do you think you could do to fix it?” I never give the easy answer they want right away, I force them to think for a couple seconds and they usually arrive at a solution. I am constantly conferencing with them on all their written work across classes, so they can explain their thinking and we can work to develop clarity which is critical in written communication. I am going to share this blog post with them since they just returned from high school visitation day and see what they think! Happy Friday!!

  2. I know exactly what you mean, Megan. I teach near the Silicon Valley and many of my students will likely become programmers, engineers, etc. Yes, they’re learning how to code and build cool apps, but can they write an email with a warm tone or speak clearly and passionately to a room of adults? The top of the crop will be the ones who master the worlds of both numbers and letters; I want my students to be in that group.

    TGIF, indeed!
    Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  3. Great post! I teach Honors English I to gifted and talented 8th graders, many of whom are gifted in other areas besides ELA and some of whom generally dislike reading or writing. I truly believe, like you, that ELA skills are vital for life and for work, and this info is a great validation of that! I will save this to share with my students.

  4. Yes, Melissa! I teach that same slice of students in ninth grade. They’ll need to have a range of strong skills, esp. those that can’t be replaced by a computer or overseas worker. Basically, any skill that involves just applying a formula or following a pattern is in danger of becoming low-value in the marketplace. It’s the complex skills and design, nay the art (language ARTs) of product creation/problem solving, that will help our kids secure their futures. Thanks for reading!

  5. Lisa Draper says:

    I loved reading this! It’s the argument I have often made in my own head! Too bad that in the state of Utah ELA teachers are paid less than STEM teachers, thus making the ELA teachers feel less than.

  6. Lisa, what the WHAT?! I just read up on last month’s Utah bill passage. So disheartening. Looks like I won’t be relocating to Utah anytime soon…

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