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The Root Cause of the Lack Soft-Skills in Graduates

By admin_sd on 3 August 17

There is a big disconnect in what employers are looking for in job candidates and what skills recent STEM college graduates possess.  We have talked in other blogs about graduate’s lack of practical skills and basic know-how. But, there are skills that are lacking as well, employers refer to them as “soft skills.”

What are Soft Skills

STEM students graduate from college with superior book knowledge, that is not disputed.  They have learned technical skills in their studies even if they lack the hands-on training.  What most employers say they feel is lacking is soft skills.  These skills are more interpersonal and are vital to a successful career.  These skills include:

  • ability to work in teams
  • problem-solving skills
  • written and oral communication sills
  • leadership qualities
  • strong work ethic

These are basic attributes that are developed in work situation. They come with development opportunities in work situations and are refined with experience.

It Starts with the Industry

Businesses worldwide complain of competent workers to fill their needs.  They are quick to point fingers at universities, society, parents and the graduates themselves but never take any responsibility themselves.  In the 80’s and 90’s when oil prices started to drop the industry laid off hundreds of thousands of skilled workers.  These workers went to other industries; and, the weak job market led to fewer engineering students at universities.  In recent years as the market picked up, these same industry leaders are stumped to find that the talent pool they had was retiring. Further, there wasn’t much to pick from with new graduates.  There are too few experienced people available to guide and mentor the new hires to the point where their soft skills are developed. This was a result of the downsizing they had done in the decades past; and, the lack of interest in developing engineering and leadership skills.

Internship Opportunities

Businesses have provided fewer and fewer internship opportunities but seek graduates that have that experience.  Where do they get these internships if businesses don’t provide them?  To build the job force that they seek, they must take ownership and provide programs to enhance what is essentially the future of the industry.  It’s easy to complain and point fingers, but to affect change they must to be willing to provide development opportunities to college students and new hires.

 Lack of Ownership

At the root of the qualified employee problem is that the industry did it to themselves. Yet, they don’t want to take responsibility or be accountable for their short-sightedness.  When they pared down the workforce and laid off so many skilled workers 20-30 years ago, it was very short-sighted.  The baby boomer era had huge numbers; but, the generations after that have been much smaller.  By eliminating so many of those workers at that time, it left them with very few to answer the knowledge needs they now face.  It’s difficult for them to provide mentorship programs to new graduates when there is no one there to pass on their knowledge. The industry almost completely bypassed Generation X that would have answered the transitional period.

Working Together

Businesses, universities and government can all work together to enhance the STEM student’s skills sets.  Through education, industry programs and investment they can gain the capabilities needed to get the HPI industry into the future.

S&D Consulting offers refining and petrochemical project management expertise for companies in the US, New Zealand and Australia.  Our team has access to a wealth of experience and knowledge because we have worked on projects of all sizes and complexities in a wide range of locations around the world. Whether it is petrochemical project management or refining plant economic analysis, we offer you the assurance of success.

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