The skills STEM majors should leave school with
A sea of graduates taking their first steps into the working world Lawrence Sawyer/Getty Images
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This article is part of Future Makers, a branded content series in partnership with Arconic exploring the innovation and vision shaping the future of American manufacturing. This story was written by Mic's branded content team with no involvement from Mic's editorial staff.

To succeed in the job market of the future, students need to study science, technology, engineering and math — this is a common refrain among many educators and professionals. However, just taking classes that fall under the broad STEM rubric isn’t always enough to truly prepare young graduates to find employment and jumpstart their careers. And simply chasing after the hottest tech trends might also not be enough to make a candidate marketable.

Instead of grasping at straws, Mic went straight to STEM industry insiders for their insights on exactly what types of skills will give you an edge on your job hunt.

The view from inside a 3-D printer in the process of printing
The view from inside a 3-D printer in the process of printing Marco Vacca/Getty Images

“I [often] remind folks that learning 3-D design, 3-D printing, and multimedia skills, are applicable in almost every kind of job.” — Amy Vecchione, head of engineering technologies and experiential learning at Boise State University

There are engineering skills that translate across many industries, according to Amy Vecchione, head of emerging technologies and experiential learning and associate professor at Boise State University. “I also often remind folks that learning 3-D design, 3-D printing and multimedia skills are applicable in almost every kind of job,” Vecchione said in an email. “Having those skills on their resumes will set them apart from the other candidates.”

From health care to aerospace engineering, 3-D printing is predicted to disrupt multiple industries as the technology expands and evolves. Vecchione advises students to develop these skills before graduating.

A worker inspecting stock aluminum reels in a factory
A worker inspecting stock aluminum reels in a factory Adam Lubroth/Getty Images

“Certain things will never go away, like metallurgy.” — Ed Colvin, VP of technology at Arconic

“Students really need to know the fundamentals,” Ed Colvin, a vice president of technology at Arconic, said in an interview. “Certain things will never go away, like metallurgy, which, even though it might seem like an old science is constantly evolving, even accelerating; it forms the essential basis of any kind of metals-based manufacturing, including 3-D printing.”

Metallurgy is the science and technology of extracting metals from their ores (metal-bearing rocks) and altering them for commercial use. Colvin built much of his career on his knowledge of metallurgy — and his willingness to learn more.

With predictions of the expansion of 3-D printing in manufacturing, Colvin said Arconic favors applicants who know metallurgy or seem like they are capable of being trained in the art. He also listed big data and digital automation, among others, as coveted skills at the company.

Students coding virtual reality, a technology that necessitates knowledge of both hardware and software engineering
Students coding virtual reality, a technology that necessitates knowledge of both hardware and software engineering Hero Images/Getty Images

“Students should be focusing on the marriage between computer engineering and software engineering.” — Alexander Haque, CEO of Retinad VR

Alexander Haque, the CEO of Retinad VR, agrees that students need to build a broad base of knowledge of the fundamentals. In addition, Haque suggests having an understanding of the connections between different engineering fields. “Students should be focusing on the marriage between computer engineering and software engineering,” he said in an email. “Understanding the relationships between machine and the algorithms that power them [is] becoming an essential need of the U.S. and globally.”

Haque gave the example of developing a car, which was traditionally solely created by “a team composed of industrial engineers, designers and specialists.” Now, “with the impending revolution of self-driving cars,” Haque said, “learning about lidar technology, computer vision and neural networks will be important.”

Beyond the hard skills

Each of these industry experts agreed that having other (non-STEM) skills is equally important. Arconic’s Colvin said one of the most important qualities for success is being comfortable with ambiguity and change, something he thinks many engineers find difficult. He also credits his success to a willingness to move between divisions, try new projects and ask for opportunities. “If you want to rise to a leadership role, you have to be well-rounded,” he said. “And being willing to learn by doing is a huge part of that.”

Vecchione backed up that sentiment. “Any recent college graduate needs to be well-versed in troubleshooting and also in [moving] a project from start to finish,” she said. “Those skills are life skills, and they will change as the technology changes.” She encourages students to remain adaptable, since the technology they’ll be using will always be evolving.

Stacy Feeling, an electrical engineer, at Arconic’s manufacturing facility in Tennessee
Stacy Feeling, an electrical engineer, at Arconic’s manufacturing facility in Tennessee Arconic

Stacy Feeling, a University of Virginia graduate and electrical engineer at Arconic, said in an email that students shouldn’t wait until they get to the workforce to start developing leadership skills. “As a student, join clubs and get leadership positions. That’s the best way to test your leadership style and see what you like to do,” Feeling said. “I was very involved with the National Society of Black Engineers and was able to figure out my leadership style through holding a chapter position.”

Communication is still a key skill all recent graduates should develop, according to industry leaders. “No matter what you are working on, you need to be able to explain ideas to people from different backgrounds and get support for your ideas,” Colvin said. “It is important for you to be able to put yourself in another person’s shoes and understand where they come from.”

From there, students also need to develop an even more intangible quality: grit. “The real world cares about how many relationships you can maintain and if you can get the job done, quickly,” Haque said. “The perfectionists of the world are usually the first to go and the slowest performers. Learning to trust your instinct and hustle are things that should be nurtured.”