The basis for a liberal arts education is the idea that creative and new ideas often come about from intersections. For instance, combining a study of humanities with a science class allows you to see things in a different way. In short: innovation comes from different ‘ways’ of thinking. To characterize these ways of thinking, we tend to box them into two categories: humanities and STEM. While these categories help us communicate better, the end goal, ultimately, is to combine these modes of thinking to form a more creative and nuanced look into the world.
Yet I believe this goal has been drowned out by the current structure of STEM education and job search. Apply to a STEM internship or job and you’ll likely see a plethora of requirements that few applicants for an entry job would be able meet. If you search the internet for “how to get jobs without experience,” you’ll come across articles upon articles about how, in this scenario, you should highlight your soft skills like communication or writing. These soft skills are seen as secondary skills — important, but not essential. As if knowing how to communicate is not entirely necessary to success.
This emphasis on the more hard skills creates a deterrent to students whose qualities and strengths lie elsewhere from entering STEM. That, compounded with existing inequalities in STEM against women and minorities, creates a barrier for creative ideas to enter the market. In the long run, this harms STEM industries.
The STEM field has been characterized with high job growth, with an 8 percent job growth rate in 2019 compared to the 3.3 percent growth rate for non-STEM majors. Yet, with this job growth, there appears to be a STEM worker shortage, as the number of workers do not match the current demand, which will be nearing 3.5 million jobs by 2025. And although we are seeing a rise in interest in STEM among students, minorities and women are still struggling to receive adequate opportunities to develop their passions.
With these needs and demands of the industry, it appears counterproductive for employers to demand the skills and requirements they are. Not everyone will be fluent in Java or R, but their individual skills and knowledge can be just as valuable in advancing and molding the STEM field. Lowering these hard skill barriers to entry would allow new and fresher ideas to enter the workforce. If industries were able to restructure their employment process, perhaps they would be opening the doors to more enthusiastic and unique ideas.
Yet for this to happen on the industry level, there also needs to be tangible change on the educational level. ‘Weeding out’ classes and the survival of the fittest mentality that exists within STEM education must be reformed. The structure of these classes have detrimental impacts as we see people drop out of STEM majors and become disillusioned from being involved in STEM in the first place.
If we were able to restructure classes to ones that followed a more collaborative and personal experience, attrition might be lower. This collaborative classroom model has man-y components that parallel the typical humanities class — providing a more discussion based approach to STEM. On a K-8 level, a 2018 study found that when STEM classes are taught in a more informal and experience-based manner, students’ interests increase. In just simply giving more people the chance and the hands-on opportunity to be involved, we can expect a greater amount of people sticking around STEM.
Widening this net will do more than fill the STEM worker shortage. By inviting those from diverse educational backgrounds, we may witness new avenues opening up for innovation. Our world and society cannot grow if we buy into the idea that there is a set “STEM” way of thinking and a “humanities” way of thinking. The more collaboration we have between these two groups, the more easily we can break down the barriers to scientific advancement.
All this is not to say that at this moment there are no jobs for creatives in STEM. Soft skills are becoming more prioritized, and it is possible to get positions in these industries without the exuberant amount of prior experience as is currently advertised. However, when those requirements function to deter students who believe they won’t get the job in the first place, the large applicant pool gets smaller.
Understanding the value of combining perspectives is slowly but surely coming to fruition with companies such as Google hiring anthropology majors and more and more industries realizing the value of communication. Yet for us to adequately meet the demands of the market and foster innovation, we must work to reshape the seemingly insurmountable barriers that are present in the classroom, in the internship interviews and in the job search.
The power of STEM cannot be understated. The doors and avenues of innovation that lay within it are beyond imagination. Yet what is the point of all these opportunities if they are only utilized by a homogenous group of people? In carving out space for creatives and students with passion, we can shape tech in ways that we have not conceptualized before.
APARAJITA KAPHLE is a first year in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.