What STEM skills do you need to futureproof your career?
With the STEM jobs market changing at a rapid rate, honing your skill set to reflect these changes and anticipate new trends will greatly improve your chances of landing your ideal role.
Of course, the skill set you'll accrue and develop throughout your career depends on your particular specialism. But with increased collaboration across sectors, converging skill sets, and accelerating technological integration — as well as economic uncertainty — workers of the future will need to look beyond the traditional responsibilities of their chosen niche.
In this article, we’ll explore the vital skills that will drive the evolution of the STEM sector and help propel your career forward.
Why are digital STEM skills important?
As technology improves and becomes ever more central to our jobs, technical skills will become increasingly important within STEM industries over the next decade.
"With the growth of data and automation pervading the sector in almost all areas, tech skills are the most important new skill set to be addressed.”
— Richard Acton, Operations Director, SRG
According to Nadhim Zadawi MP, the UK Minister for Business and Industry, “digital and computational skills, statistical literacy, leadership and inter-disciplinary working are essential to [the Life Science sector’s] continued success.” As the 2020s progress, the convergence of technical skills with digital skills will become increasingly vital.
There are many drivers for this shift, including:
- The growth of wearable technology and telehealth
- Across-the-board technological innovation
- Growth in personal and precision medicine
- Disruptive technology
- New business models for innovation, disease, manufacturing, and lifestyle management.
What’s more, consumers are becoming more tech-savvy and cost-conscious, meaning real-world trial data needs to be delivered to them quickly and efficiently. At the same time, younger employees — the vast majority of whom are digital natives — expect the workplace to reflect their personal use of tech. In 2020, nobody wants to work for companies that lag behind in their use of technology, and organisations across STEM are increasingly experiencing STEM skills shortages in technical and digital areas, making accruing these skills more lucrative than ever.
Workers of the future: multidisciplinary, adaptable & people-orientated
Despite tech skills being crucial, soft skills are also becoming more central to the world of work. Just as STEM work increasingly requires technical skill sets related to data, automation and supply-chain analytics, the disruptive innovations that drive the industry require non-technical skills to use, interpret, analyse and market them.
In the coming years, competition for talent in high-growth areas such as computing, mathematics, architecture, and engineering, as well as plenty of strategic and specialist roles, will, in the words of the World Economic Forum, be "fierce."
A study by the Social Market Foundation and EDF Energy found that STEM jobs are expected to grow at double the rate of other occupations by 2023.
Though the nature of jobs will undoubtedly change, the strengths or skills you’ll need are much easier to predict.
What skills are needed for STEM careers
In its 2016 “Future of Jobs” report, the World Economic Forum outlined the top skills that workers would need from 2020 onwards. These skills are:
- Complex problem-solving
- Critical thinking
- People management
- Coordinating with others
- Emotional intelligence
- Judgment and decision-making
- Service orientation
- Cognitive flexibility
Broadly speaking, these future skills fall into two buckets: cognitive skills (problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity) and interpersonal skills (people management).
In the coming years, automated technologies such as AI and machine learning will replace jobs that are codified, linear, and predictable.
However, the jobs that will remain are those which computers cannot perform — jobs which require innate cognitive skills such as:
- Seeing the hidden meaning in things
- The ability to respond to unexpected circumstances
Tip: If you’re concerned about the likelihood of your work being lost to automation, the ‘Will Robots Take My Job?’ tool estimates your job’s survival chances.
According to World Economic Forum Managing Director, Saadia Zahidi, “in addition to high-tech skills, specialised interpersonal skills will be in high demand, including skills related to sales, human resources, care and education.”
People are already the single biggest cost to a business, so getting an increasingly diverse, intergenerational workforce to collaborate, be more engaged and be more productive hinges on having managers with well-developed interpersonal skills, such as:
- The ability to engage with people from different backgrounds and experience
- Operating in unique environments
- Stakeholder engagement
- Cultural awareness
- Comms skills
- Social and emotional intelligence.
With businesses becoming increasingly people-centric, such skills will stand you in good stead — no matter whether you’re a new graduate in clinical research or a mid-to-senior level engineer.
In a world swamped by datasets and increasing automation, having adequate digital and technical skills to call upon is vital. But while the right technical skills are needed, being able to supplement these skills with an ever-expanding arsenal of cognitive and interpersonal skills will improve your career security, bolster your confidence, and help you stand out to hiring managers.
For a deep-dive into this all-important topic, read our Future Skills in STEM report >
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