Minorities, Break The STEM Barriers By Acquiring These ‘Soft Skills’

Having a strong foundation in STEM education is one thing; developing the critical skill sets required in the workforce is quite another.

According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, Blacks and Hispanics are missing out on the abundant opportunities in STEM careers thanks to the persistent underrepresentation of minorities in the STEM workforce.

While the growth in STEM fields has surged to over 8.5 million jobs in 2018 and even poised to increase by 17% over the next 10 years, limited access to quality education, among other underlying factors, is responsible for this huge disadvantage, the study reveals.

Meanwhile, having a strong foundation in STEM education is one thing; developing the critical skill sets that help increase personal potential and employability rate is quite another. The truth of things is, a first class honors in Nuclear Engineering might not fetch you the dream job. In fact, Google — global champion of hard tech skills once famous for its STEM-only approach to recruitment — found that STEM expertise is at the rock-bottom of the skills of its best-performing employees.

Minorities need more than education to succeed in the STEM workforce. Whether you’re already pursuing a career in STEM fields or just hunting for the access, the following skills are integral to your success in the competitive job market.

1. Critical thinking

As a day in a science lab would suggest, STEM jobs aren’t for passive thinkers. They’re meant for brains that are well rooted in thoughts that can solve specific problems effectively. That’s why out-of-the-box thinking is almost the be-all and end-all of any STEM career.

In mathematics and computer science, for instance, an algorithm is a well-defined procedure that enables a computer to solve given problems. With this, it’s easy to think that you just need to be a data scientist to become the next Bill Gates. That’s purely invalid. Here’s how Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, summarized it: “It is “algorithmic thinking” rather than the algorithm itself that is needed in the job market.” Yes, that’s the plain truth.

2. Analytical skills

Success in STEM relies not only on critical thinking but also the ability to collect, simplify and synthesize complex data from multiple sources in a conceptualized manner (of solving real-world problems). In other words, a STEM superstar is one who’s able to combine critical thinking and problem-solving skills to tackle new ideas, discover creative solutions and solve puzzling problems.

No other time have analytical skills been more essential than today’s data-driven, digital world. In all professional fields, decisions are exponentially based on data. It goes without saying that success in any of the wide variety of STEM jobs requires deft analytical competence. Turns out, the skill isn’t chalked up on blackboards. Thus, minorities are free to learn and hone it it on their own.

3. Creativity

If you’re not artistic and creative, your STEM career is heading nowhere. Wondering what’s the correlation? Creativity is at the heart of science and technology. It takes only seasoned professionals to tell you that there’s art in tech. Dave Featherstone, Professor of Biology and Neuroscience, even concluded that science is art. This argument has been proved right by the transformation of “STEM” into “STEAM” (‘A’ for ‘Arts’) on the basis that art and creativity are requisites for innovation.

The simple takeaway from the foregoing is that you have to be creative to succeed in STEM career paths. Companies that offer your dream jobs assent to the fact that the advancement of human civilization via technology and innovation is anchored to high-level creativity.

4. Excellent communication

Perfect communication skill is basic to the career success of all and sundry. The reason is clear. Poor communication frustrates both critical and analytical skills, affects engagements and even kills productivity. Sadly, this deficiency jeopardizes the career of those in the racial minority more than anyone else. “You may be a rock star in your technical field, but you’ll be at a major disadvantage — as job seeker and employee — if you aren’t able to communicate your ideas,” writes Matt Sauri.

But if you know how to communicate your ideas in clear, compelling words, workplace discrimination, communication breakdown and the many challenges faced at interviews would easily get out of the issues you have to worry about as a minority. If you want to be a great team player and leader even, then you must get the knack of effective communication skills.

Final Words

It’s 2018, and 2.8 million STEM jobs are left unfilled. While minorities continue to grapple with differing challenges at different levels, this void comes as an affirmation of the wide gap between candidates’ skill sets and the requirements of the STEM employers. As a minority, you definitely need to pay attention to these fundamental skills the same way, if not more, attentions are focused on access to education and diversity.

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Shakir Akorede is a writer, digital entrepreneur, agenda contributor to the World Economic Forum. He also writes for Entrepreneur Magazine, Forbes Africa, etc. Akorede is a coach and consultant who help minorities overcome everyday challenges, and consult companies on how to create a workplace culture that fosters, embraces and rewards diversity. You can connect with him on Twitter.