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by Rob Porter | March 04, 2024


In the early 2000s, an organization known as the National Education Association (NEA) sought to compile a list of the most important skills students need to develop in order to succeed in the modern global economy. This endeavor was called “The Framework for 21st Century Learning,” and initially it included 18 skills for students to learn; however, members of the NEA realized that the list of skills was a bit too long, and decided to narrow it down to the four skills they believed were most important.

Ultimately, the NEA identified critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity as key skills students and young professionals should have when applying for jobs in the world of STEM. These soft skills are often the deciding factor that potential employers look for when narrowing down a list of candidates, as in many cases, entry-level job seekers will share similarities in their education and internship experience. In other words, potential employers are looking for more than just a degree—they want a candidate who can seamlessly integrate into their organization.

Critical Thinking

You could consider critical thinking as a sort of “super skill,” since it encompasses the abilities to observe, analyze, draw conclusions, and solve problems. Critical thinkers are able to put their feelings and opinions aside and examine a problem or subject objectively with facts. This is of particular importance for professionals in STEM disciplines.

STEM fields involve research and experimentation, and STEM professionals are required to adhere to strict guidelines and ethical standards. STEM fields thrive on innovation, and challenge professionals to make informed decisions and contribute to new discoveries and breakthroughs. The point is, critical thinking is an absolutely essential skill for STEM professionals.


Regardless of your chosen career path, the ability to communicate effectively is incredibly important. This includes verbal communication, written communication such as emails and documents, and the ability to express ideas clearly during presentations and meetings. Along with this, good communication requires you to be able to listen to and understand the people around you.

In the STEM world, you’ll be collaborating with others, exchanging ideas, describing and solving complex problems, and presenting and documenting your findings. In many cases, you’ll have to describe scientific information in a way that is digestible to those outside of the STEM world, which can also be a challenge, so it goes without saying that your communication skills must be sharp.


Collaboration is vital in STEM fields, as many of the challenges STEM professionals face are interdisciplinary in nature. In other words, it often takes a group of individuals with varied backgrounds and specializations to tackle the most complex problems and issues. Along with this, nearly every technological advancement has been the result of collaborative efforts.

STEM disciplines also require continuous learning and skill development, which are often fueled by collaboration. When ideas and expertise are exchanged, it cultivates an environment where innovation flourishes and the pace of research accelerates. Indeed, collaboration is a cornerstone of the STEM world.


When we think of science, technology, mathematics, and engineering, formulas and structure come to mind. Sure, STEM fields require you to understand established ideas and methods, but discovery is, and always will be, a major component in scientific pursuits. Methods can be changed and improved upon, and new ideas emerge as advancements are made. The point is, scientific discoveries and the development of new technologies require creative thinking.

Moreover, creativity is a driving force for problem-solving in the STEM world. New problems and challenges will always be revealed, and creative thinking allows for the exploration of unconventional ideas and the development of unique strategies. Creativity is a necessity for STEM professionals, and is at the heart of all STEM pursuits.

If you’re a student or a young professional looking to start a career in a STEM field, it’s important to remember that soft skills are a great way to set yourself apart from other candidates during your job search. With the four Cs, you’ll not only have a solid foundation to build off of, but you’ll also have an integral set of skills to fall back whenever you face a new challenge.