Work requires broad skills

More evidence that work increasingly requires broad, rather than narrow occupation specific, skills.

Terrific article in the Atlantic entitled The Unexpected Schools Championing the Liberal Arts: Military academies and chef schools say the humanities are essential to their graduates’ success. How can that be you ask. Aren’t the liberal arts useless skills that lead to crushing student loan debt and low wage jobs? Don’t we need to get colleges to stop teaching the liberal arts and instead teach occupational skills? That certainly is the story we are told repeatedly by too many of political, business and media leaders.

Turns out the folks that are preparing people for real jobs don’t agree. The Atlantic writes:

“People without a liberal-arts background really have no place to go with their skill sets,” said Frank Guido, a Culinary Institute student from Rochester, New York, sitting in the campus café and studying the Mayan Indians for a course he’s taking in history and culture. “They lack an overall knowledge, and an ability to relate to people and make educated decisions, and not jump to conclusions.”

… “It’s important to develop in young people the ability to think broadly, to operate in the context of other societies and become agile and adaptive thinkers,” (Brigadier General Timothy) Trainor said. “What you’re trying to do is teach them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. They’re having to deal with people from other cultures. They have to think very intuitively to solve problems on the ground.”

That’s what employers say they need in their new hires, too. Three-quarters want more emphasis on critical thinking, problem-solving, written and oral communication, and applied knowledge, according to a survey of 318 corporate leaders by the Association of American Colleges and Universities—exactly the kinds of skills advocates for the liberal arts say they teach. Ninety-three percent agree that “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems” is more important than a job candidate’s undergraduate major.

The New York Times explores the skills needed in the 21st Century workplace in an Upshot article entitled Why What You Learned in Preschool Is Crucial at Work. The Times writes:

For all the jobs that machines can now do — whether performing surgery, driving cars or serving food — they still lack one distinctly human trait. They have no social skills.

Yet skills like cooperation, empathy and flexibility have become increasingly vital in modern-day work. Occupations that require strong social skills have grown much more than others since 1980, according to new research. And the only occupations that have shown consistent wage growth since 2000 require both cognitive and social skills.

The ability to think broadly, to operate in the context of other societies and become agile and adaptive thinkers, cooperation, empathy and flexibility. These are among the essential skills required in the workplace of today and, even more so, tomorrow. They may be even more essential skills for each of us to put together successful forty year careers in a world where occupations increasingly come and go.

And yet they are the very skills that too many of our policy makers, often times supported by the business community, are trying to drive out of our schools. Not smart!


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