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As automation increases, “uniquely human” or soft skills are among the most important skills wanted by employers, although they have difficulty finding the right candidates, according to a new survey. The survey of more than 650 employers and more than 1,500 current and former college students was conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of Cengage, the largest U.S.-based education and technology company serving the higher education market.

The survey revealed soft skills are most in demand by employers (by at least 65 percent), while quantitative skills and computer and technical skills were less so (47 percent and 50 percent, respectively).

The top skills today’s employers are looking for in candidates include:

  • Listening skills (74 percent)
  • Attention to detail and attentiveness (70 percent)
  • Effective Communication (69 percent)
  • Critical thinking (67 percent)
  • Interpersonal skills (65 percent)
  • Active learning/Learning new skills (65 percent)

However, the majority of employers (73 percent) said it was very or somewhat difficult finding qualified candidates, and about one-third (34 percent) say schools have not properly prepared students for jobs.

“These results show that we must not underestimate the power of the people factor in the workforce.  Technology and automation will continue to change and replace jobs, but there are skills that cannot be automated, such as the ability to think critically or problem solve,” said Michael Hansen, CEO of Cengage.

“There is a need for more soft skills training, both in college and on the job, and today’s learners and graduates must continue to hone their skills to stay ahead,” Hansen continued. “The onus is on everyone – students, colleges, employers and industry partners like Cengage – to make learning more accessible, relevant and affordable.”

Students are not having an easy time either: 65 percent say finding a job is more difficult compared to their parents’ generation.  A quarter of students (25 percent) are worried that jobs will be replaced by technology; however, what worries them even more is having the skills needed for a job (77 percent). One in three students believe their education has not adequately prepared them for the workplace.

“For candidates willing to hone their ‘uniquely human skills,’ there is opportunity,” said Hansen.   “While employers anticipate that computer and tech skills will be among the most coveted in the next five years, many human skills, such as critical thinking, communication, and the ability to learn new skills will remain important.”

For more information about the survey, please visit

About Cengage

Cengage is the education and technology company built for learners. As the largest US-based provider of teaching and learning materials for higher education, we offer valuable options at affordable price points. Our industry-leading initiatives include Cengage Unlimited, the first-of-its-kind all-access digital subscription service.  We embrace innovation to create learning experiences that build confidence and momentum toward the future students want. Headquartered in Boston, Cengage also serves K-12, library and workforce training markets around the world. Visit us at or find us on Facebook or Twitter.

About the Survey Methodology

Employer Survey: Conducted online from September 11-16, 2018, among 502 managers who have hired in the past 6 months and 150 HR decision-makers directly involved in hiring. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. Student Survey: Conducted online from September 11-24, 2018, among a national sample of 1564 Students, with 1050 Current Students and 514 Former Students from community colleges, two-year and four-year colleges, vocational or technical schools, and graduate schools. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.