FiveThirtyEight’s Andrew Flowers explores some new research suggesting that soft skills have overtaken technical skills as a key differentiator of talent in the labor market:
“The days of only plugging away at a spreadsheet are over,” David Deming, an associate professor of economics at Harvard, told me. Deming is the author of a new working paper, “The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market,” which shows how today’s high-skill, high-paying jobs — like consultants and managers — increasingly require interpersonal skills.
It’s not that hard skills are suddenly less desirable. Training in mathematics, computer science and other STEM fields (what Deming would count as “high cognitive skills”) is still a great investment; that “plugging away at a spreadsheet” is still valuable. “High-cognitive-skills workers still earn more,” Deming said, “but social skills increasingly are a complement to cognitive skills.” He argues that having strong cognitive skills is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a high-paying job. …
It’s a truism among scientists, businesspeople, and overbearing parents alike that a liberal arts education isn’t worth much—especially these days, when the overall value of a college degree is being called into question. Nonetheless, Yoni Appelbaum at the Atlantic finds that this bit of conventional wisdom may not be entirely wise, as many undergraduates who study business (one of America’s most popular majors) are graduating “without having made the gains in writing or critical-thinking skills they’ll require to succeed over the course of their careers, or to adapt as their technical skills become outdated and the nature of the opportunities they have shifts over time”:
A 2014 study of the Collegiate Learning Assessment test—administered to some 13,000 undergraduates as they entered and exited university—found that business, health, and education majors substantially underperformed students in the humanities, sciences, social sciences, and engineering. The authors then adjusted their results to account for the academic abilities of students entering these majors—and found that business and education majors still showed substantially lower gains in writing, complex reasoning, and critical thinking by the time they’d graduated.
Those are the weaknesses that a liberal-arts education can address. …