Why Are Soft Skills Becoming More Important in STEM Subjects?

Written by Stephanie

May 17, 2023

It’s all about ‘STEM’ these days. The STEM disciplines (i.e. those in science, technology, engineering and mathematics) have traditionally been about ‘hard skills’ that are practical and require logic. They also tend to be quite technical, even if mathematics can sometimes be very abstract! Ultimately, STEM is all about being ‘left-brain focused.’


However, it’s increasingly less possible for the ‘real nerds’ and ‘techies’ among us to only know about the technical, practical side of things. The growing onset of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics/automation means that STEM specialists will increasingly need greater soft skills to succeed and make a real difference in their careers.


What is meant by ‘soft skills?’ Does STEM really continue to grow in importance in schools, universities and the workplace? And how can soft skills make a difference for the STEM-oriented? This article will explore these questions and more. So, read on!

STEM Continues To Reign Supreme

There’s no denying that STEM subjects continue to be in high demand. In the words of StudyUSA, “STEM education helps us to solve the challenges the world faces today. STEM education gives people skills that make them more employable and ready to meet the current labor demand.” That shouldn’t be surprising given how much more scientific and technological the world has become in recent decades. That is clearly an upward trend for now.

The job market is booming for STEM specialists. It’s estimated that STEM jobs are outpacing non-STEM jobs by more than double each year. It’s projected that there will be 11,278,700 new STEM positions available in the United States alone by 2030. Growth will be particularly significant in the following STEM fields: statistics (with 35.4% projected growth by 2030), information security (33.3%), epidemiology (29.6%) and computer science (21.9%).

All STEM fields are expected to grow robustly in the coming decade, including:

  • atmospheric scientists
  • biochemists
  • data scientists and analysts
  • engineers (all types)
  • materials scientists
  • physicists
  • software developers

The Enormous Range of Soft Skills

So, what exactly are soft skills? Think of them as all those interpersonal, non-technical skills that allow you to work and interact with others. They also include your problem-solving skills, leadership skills, time management skills and more. Emotional intelligence, which includes attributes such as empathy, cultural and social awareness and even good etiquette, is a very important aspect of soft skills.

The range of soft skills is wider still and indeed enormous, including:

  • attention to detail
  • confidence
  • conflict resolution
  • creativity
  • good listening skills
  • honesty
  • humour
  • integrity
  • negotiating skills
  • a positive attitude
  • seeing the ‘big picture’
  • self-motivation

Therefore, hard skills allow you to get a job done from a technical and practical standpoint. But soft skills allow you to extract the most out of one undeniable fact: we are social beings and most of us have to work with others. That includes ‘getting ahead’ in your career, by the way!

The Importance of Soft Skills Today

You might not know it, but even in a world shaped by technology and science, soft skills are growing in importance. That is what the European University on Responsible Consumption and Production (EURECA-PRO) contends when it says, “Over the decades, a profound process of specialization in the scientific and academic fields as well as in the labour market has occurred. However, in recent years, the labour market has increasingly come to recognise and demand soft skills as a criterion for employability.”

So, why exactly are soft skills such an important factor for employment these days? The answer lies in something already stated in this article: we are a social species. Most of us have to work with and for others during the entirety of our employment, including if we’re self-employed. Investopedia reminds us that collaboration between team members is very important in the workplace. People who can work easily with colleagues of different generations and backgrounds contribute to a more productive working environment. The employer is the winner, not to mention you.

STEM Skills, Soft Skills

The ‘intersection’ between hard and soft skills is becoming more appreciated, including in highly scientific fields. The Los Alamos National Laboratory in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is about as ‘science boffin’ as it gets. It is after all the place where the atomic bomb was developed during World War II! But even that laboratory has championed the ‘Soft Skills for STEM (S3TEM)’ program, which it believes will instil students with the soft skills needed to navigate the world of astrophysics and science.

In the words of the Los Alamos laboratory: “Personal effectiveness includes a gamut of soft skills that if left unpracticed, can derail the career of even the most accomplished professional.” Yikes!

The Journal of Research in STEM Education echoed this sentiment in a paper titled ‘Strategically Addressing the Soft Skills Gap Among STEM Undergraduates’. The journal details a range of soft skills that will be increasingly important for STEM graduates to have in the coming years, including  problem-solving, critical thinking and organisational skills, not to mention a strong work ethic.

Consider search engine optimisation, or SEO as its known. It may be all about generating online traffic to websites and online promotions but there is a lot of creativity and understanding of human nature embedded in SEO. Any digital marketer knows that. Once again, soft skills enhance the hard stuff!

There’s an interesting saying about hard versus soft skills, along the lines of ‘while hard skills might get you an interview, soft skills will help you get and keep the job’. Hard skills can come and go, as technology and science evolves. Soft skills, on the hand, are a constant. People skills, personal integrity and emotional intelligence will always have their place, whatever the business environment. Every left-brain person does well to remember that!


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