Soft skills are the future of job security, success

Growth in 'hybrid positions' means T-shaped professionals

Julia Haskins, staff writerJulia Haskins, Staff Writer

Technical skills alone aren't enough to make it in today's workforce. 

As higher education has come to realize, preparing students for the job market means equipping them with both the technical know-how and soft skills necessary to compete in a rapidly changing economy. Now a new report from Pew Research Center provides further evidence that employers want well-rounded candidates who can work in a team as well as balance a spreadsheet.

According to "The State of American Jobs" report, soft skills are at the top of employers' minds. They're seeking candidates who are excellent speakers, writers, managers, and collaborators, giving students in the liberal arts especially reason to celebrate. Such skills have become more important than ever, as employment in jobs that require social skills increased 83% to 90 million from 1980 to 2015. 

What employers want from recent graduates

Employment in jobs requiring high-level analytical skills also increased 77% to 86 million during this period. However, fields that rely on workers with soft skills have grown exponentially as well. There's been a 105% increase in educational services jobs between 1990 and 2015, while health care and social assistance jobs shot up 99% during that timeframe.  

With an increase in jobs that emphasize both social and the analytical skills, it's no surprise that so-called "hybrid positions" have grown 94% from 39 million in 1980 to 76 million in 2015. The liberal arts graduate who is also a CSS whiz is likely a more attractive candidate than one who is firmly set in either engineering or literature, and can cast a wider prospective job net. 

Liberal arts students have better career prospects if they specialize in one skill

The changing demand for skills has also had a huge impact in terms of closing the wage gap between men and women. Women have historically had more representation than men in less lucrative fields such as education, which is one reason for their smaller paychecks (but certainly not the only explanation). Women make up most of the workers in jobs that emphasize well-rounded skills. Men, on the other hand, comprise 70% of workers in positions that require more physical and manual abilities.

Nevertheless, the gender pay gap still has a long way to go: Even though women's pay increased 32% from 1980 to 2015, compared with a 3% decrease for men, women still earned 20% less than men in median annual earnings among full-time employees working year-round. 

Clearly, a solid college education plays an influential role in producing workers who can handle the challenges of the future workforce. Higher education serves as the basis for developing those interpersonal, technological and analytical skills that employers crave, but it not everyone is convinced.

Only 16% of Americans say that a four-year degree adequately prepares students to succeed in high-paying jobs, while 51% say colleges prepare students for the workplace somewhat well. The responses are similar in regard to two-year degrees. Such low levels of confidence in the value of a college degree may serve as a wake-up call for institutions. Colleges and universities must be able to demonstrate the value of a degree through student outcomes. If a degree is truly worth the investment, students need to be able to understand its worth (Coy, Bloomberg News/News & Observer, 10/6; Fottrell, MarketWatch, 10/9; Pew Research Center report, 10/6). 

Tackling the 'soft' skills gap


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