When preparing students to be ready for the future, the focus often is on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills. But, in a podcast with employees from Google, Pinterest and Twitter, EdSurge found that those in the tech industry believe students need skills beyond just technical expertise.
“I think the one thing to keep in mind is that it’s impossible to say what technical skills people are going to need in 10 or 20 years,” says Ryan Greenberg, a software engineer at Twitter. “I think that necessary job skills actually have to be a little bit higher level than specific technology.”
We gathered four key takeaways from what Greenberg, Google for Education program manager Drea Alphonso and Pinterest software engineer Trisha Quan say are the best skills future-ready students can have.
1. Clear Written and Spoken Communication Is Key
Future employees of any industry will need to be able to coherently express themselves through public speaking, emails or written memos. Greenberg, Alphonso and Quan all agree that communication soft skills are integral to success.
“Being able to write well is never wasted. I think that having to write well forces you to understand your own thoughts and goals and what you’re trying to accomplish, and break them down in a way that actually ends up being kind of parallel to the work that you do in programming computers,” says Greenberg.
2. Problem Solving Mimics the Tech Industry
Some experts have focused on solving problems as a way to introduce even the youngest learners to the engineering design process. Alphonso finds that trying and failing can mimic the workplace and can help students handle later job stresses.
“I know that we teach that failure is OK, failure should be embraced, because that way you uncover more successes,” she says. “Sometimes in those failures, you reveal your biggest triumphs.” She also notes that failure fosters resiliency, “How do you bounce back from a failure and you don’t get less confident?”
3. Maintain a Constant Curiosity Around Learning
Future-ready educator Matt Miller suggests one way to prepare students for the workforce is to allow them to incorporate their interests into their academic work. The tech industry employees agree that staying constantly curious and ready to learn will help students in industries where learning can happen on the job.
“I think it’s important that teachers continue to really draw upon what are students excited and interested to learn about,” suggests Alphonso.
Alphonso says if you can figure out how to combine student interests with the soft skills, it’s the biggest win-win.
Quan says fostering this curiosity can really help how students think about working and growing in their jobs.
“Having critical thinking around what you’re doing and where it is that you want to go is something I think is really important,” says Quan.
4. Let Go of the Fear of STEM Subjects
Many recent efforts around STEM education focus on demystifying the subject to engage more diverse groups of students. Engineering is Elementary founder Christine Cunningham had her interest in education sparked when she noticed female students were discouraged by stereotypes about engineers.
Alphonso, Greenberg and Quan agree that dropping the intimidation factor of STEM is quite important.
“I think we should cultivate being unafraid of technical things,” says Greenberg. “I think it’s important to arrive with the skill that you are capable of learning anything — even if it’s technical.”
Of course, all three recognize that lack of access to technology can hold many students back from potential STEM interests. But, that’s where companies come in.
“From my experience … just being a woman of color in tech right now, I think what we have to continue to do is immerse ourselves in those communities and bring things like computer science, workshops, digital literacy training or coding … into those communities,” says Alphonso.