Who would have thought a few years ago during the Great Recession that in 2015 there would be more jobs than Americans could fill? Well, at least in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, that is. Employers are reporting that they are hiring but they cannot find enough qualified applicants to fill positions. Think tanks have been predicting this for years. Parents have been encouraging their kids to choose a “practical” degree for decades. Companies are off-shoring jobs or hiring foreign workers on U.S. soil. High school students and “undecided” college students take notice: Employers are looking for the right combination of STEM skills and “soft skills.” Before an 18-year-old commits to 4 years and tens of thousands of dollars (if not more) in student loan debt, a little market research is called for.
Most In-demand Bachelor’s Degrees in 2015 (Forbes Magazine)
- Computer Science
- Mechanical Engineering
- Business Administration/Management
- Electrical Engineering
- Information Sciences & Systems
- Logistics/Supply Chain
- Management Information Systems
This list has “STEM” written all over it. But possessing a desirable degree isn’t enough in today’s competitive job marker. Employers want someone who is easy to work with. Turnover costs them money. They want prospective hires to have more intangible “soft skills,” sometimes called “emotional intelligence,” to make their jobs easier.
The Two Key Traits Employers Need from Today’s College Graduates (also from Forbes)
- Communication Skills
- Problem-Solving Skills
These two skills translate into the ability to work effectively as part of a team, another big soft skill employers are looking for. Not all STEM degrees are going to give you these skills, of course. (The ability to compute or design does not necessarily require written and verbal communication or collaboration with peers). Therefore, a solid humanities foundation, hands-on, project-based learning, extracurricular activities, internships, and as much real-world as possible seem to be the key to employment. That’s a tall order to fill for any student. But the fact is a high G.P.A. alone just isn’t going to cut it anymore.
Fortunately in the data age we have no shortage of advice on how to beef up our resumes.
For example, The National Association of Colleges and Employers surveyed employers around the country to find out what their employee “wishlists” are in 2015. Listed in order of importance to the employers, some of the below list might surprise you (e.g., having a “great personality” won’t take you all the way).
Skills Employers Are Looking for When Hiring in 2015 (NECE)
- Ability to work in a team
- Communication skills (written)
- Problem-solving skills
- Strong work ethic
- Analytical/quantitative skills
- Technical skills
- Communication skills (verbal)
- Computer skills
- Interpersonal skills (relates well to others)
- Organizational ability
- Strategic planning skills
- Friendly/outgoing personality
- Entrepreneurial skills/risk taker
A 21st-Century Education
Public education, to its credit, is trying to catch up to the needs of a global workforce. Proponent or not, Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards are a testament to this. But getting kids more college-ready in math and science, in small intervals over time, isn’t enough. And as these wishlists from employers show, hard STEM skills alone aren’t enough.
STEM education is not the panacea for all the world’s problems and this nation’s economy, but it is a step in the right direction. In the 30 STEM-focused, college-prep schools in the Concept Schools network throughout the Midwest, there is an emphasis on 21st-century skills and strong character development. Our schools are places that foster academic excellence and personal growth. We’re able to do this because we have smaller class sizes, a longer school day and year, and more personalized education than traditional public schools. We require more math and science hours than traditional public schools and employ math and science teachers with true expertise in their instructional area. As public charter schools, we operate with public funds and often at a lower cost per student than traditional public schools. And we don’t charge tuition.
As community schools, we can’t always afford as much state-of-the-art classroom technology as we would like, but we do use what we have as smartly as possible. We place a priority on ensuring all of our students, many of whom can’t afford the latest gadgets in their own homes, graduate high school with the computer skills they need to succeed in college and beyond and provide the science labs they need for hands-on learning, as well as smart boards and iPads for student research. There are no entrance exams to pass in order to attend a Concept school. Everyone is welcome.
On the personal level, a core part of the Concept model is engaging parents and creating community. All Concept teachers are required to communicate openly and often with parents and guardians and perform a minimum number of home visits throughout the year. We strongly believe that education is a partnership; families chose us over their neighborhood school for a reason, and we must earn and keep their trust. Parent buy-in is a crucial component of our ability to educate our students, and we show our respect for parents by hosting several parent breakfasts and events throughout the year. We pride ourselves on creating relationships in the communities in which we operate. Local businesses and leaders visit our schools often, serving as guest readers to kindergartners and role models for middle and high schoolers. Some offer internship and mentorship opportunities, including local engineering and communications firms.
We also offer a wide range of extracurricular activities, including STEM-focused clubs such as robotics starting in the elementary grades and Project Lead the Way, foreign language, dance, and band clubs, including MathCON, which just went national this year and had more than 40,000 students from 44 states register for the online test. As a STEM organization, science fairs are a big deal and culminate in an annual regional event known as CONSEF (Concept Science & Engineering Fair) each spring in Cleveland, Ohio, which is open to all students from all schools in the United States. If you attend a Concept school, you are joining a family and will be treated as such.
We take “college-prep” beyond our curriculum and employ dedicated college guidance counselors who sole responsibility it is to help students secure financial aid and scholarships and get into the school of their choice. Counselors arrange college visits throughout the year, giving students a glimpse into college life and different majors. Our college support doesn’t stop after graduation. Each school also had a dedicated alumni coordinator who visits alumni at college and coaches them on how to succeed in their new environment. The Concept Alumni Network offers ongoing social, academic, job placement, and financial support when possible. Alumni who become teachers are encouraged to come back to their alma mater to teach.
Not everyone is going to major in a STEM area, nor should they. But if students aren’t given a strong foundation in math and science, and the confidence they need to flourish in those fields, they may not even give them a chance. You don’t have to become an engineer or math teacher if you go to Concept schools, but you are guaranteed to leave with the many soft skills employers are looking for and the academic skills you need to succeed in college and beyond.