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Google finds STEM skills aren’t the most important skills

Terrific Washington Post column on research done by Google on the skills that matter most to its employees success. Big surprise: it wasn’t STEM. The Post writes:

Sergey Brin and Larry Page, both brilliant computer scientists, founded their company on the conviction that only technologists can understand technology. Google originally set its hiring algorithms to sort for computer science students with top grades from elite science universities.

In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

Those traits sound more like what one gains as an English or theater major than as a programmer. Could it be that top Google employees were succeeding despite their technical training, not because of it?  After bringing in anthropologists and ethnographers to dive even deeper into the data, the company enlarged its previous hiring practices to include humanities majors, artists, and even the MBAs that, initially, Brin and Page viewed with disdain.

This, of course, is consistent with the findings of the employer-led Partnership for 21st Century Learning who describe the foundation skills for worker success as the 4Cs: collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity. And the book Becoming Brilliant which adds to those four content and confidence for the 6Cs.

And consistent with the work on the value of a liberal arts degree of journalist George Anders laid out in his book You Can Do Anything and in a Forbes article entitled That Useless Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech’s Hottest Ticket.

It’s far past time that Michigan policymakers and business leaders stop telling our kids if they don’t get a STEM related degree they are better off not getting a four-year degree. It simply is not accurate. (Not to mention that many of their kids are getting non-STEM related four-year degrees.) And instead begin to tell all kids what is accurate that the foundation skills––as Google found out––are not narrow occupation-specific skills, but rather are broad skills related to the ability to work with others, think critically and be a lifelong learner. The kind of skills that are best built with a broad liberal arts education.

The Post concludes:

No student should be prevented from majoring in an area they love based on a false idea of what they need to succeed. Broad learning skills are the key to long-term, satisfying, productive careers. What helps you thrive in a changing world isn’t rocket science. It may just well be social science, and, yes, even the humanities and the arts that contribute to making you not just workforce ready but world ready.

Exactly!

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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.

This Post Has 9 Comments

    1. Of course. But not for all kids. What is common for all kids is that the liberal arts/6Cs skills are the foundation skills for whatever path you choose to take after high school/college. There are and will be good-paying careers for those in non STEM fields. In fact, one can make the case that over the long term the proportion of good-paying careers in STEM related fields will go down. That is the Mark Cuban (and many others) argument.

  1. ” 4Cs: collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity” Guess who supports these skills? Teacher librarians! Time to hire them back in Michigan schools!!!

    1. Amen! We are big supporters of the 4Cs as the foundation skills for all Michigan students as the real measure of college and career success. For us it is the 6Cs from the book Becoming Brilliant. They add content and confidence.

  2. Very refreshing…. And so positive for all students…. Learn in what you like… And don’t forget to learn all your life! Something I tell my students all the time!

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