When industry employers look for specific professional skills in potential hires, it’s not just to get out of training them. Having these types of skills already in hand helps the new employees, too. Right away, they can focus on the work they ultimately need to do, rather than on acquiring the basic “soft” skills that are necessary for success in industry. That’s the takeaway from a small survey of new hires conducted by The Dow Chemical Company, presented at a recent meeting for an ongoing National Academies study on graduate education. When asked what skill they spent the most time developing when they joined Dow, the most popular response was project management, including working in a team and delivering on schedule and on budget. Other common answers included networking, leadership, and understanding the business of research.
These skills are important, of course, but when new hires have to spend a lot of time building this foundation at the beginning of their time in industry, it can mean a slow start for their work. Coming in with experience in these areas, on the other hand, can ease the transition from academia to industry. Unfortunately, many of the survey respondents—a group that also included campus recruiters and hiring managers—said that they weren’t aware of formal programs at graduate institutions to fill in these skill gaps. (A recent Council of Graduate Schools report also highlights this shortcoming.) Some graduate programs are ramping up efforts to help Ph.D. students build these skills. But trainees should also keep in mind that they can take the reins and create their own opportunities to develop their transferable skills.