Mark Craemer 1 Comment

The American K-12 public education system is failing to keep up with our counterparts around the world. There is much blame to pass around and despite governmental programs like “No Child Left Behind,” many challenges have yet to be addressed.

Recent documentary films such as “Waiting for Superman” and “Race to Nowhere” are helping to bring this concern front and center, but it may take no short of a revolution to change how we currently educate our children.

And if American-educated students fail to meet the grade, this likely means they will not have the knowledge and skills to compete for twenty-first-century jobs. This is a huge concern.

Tony Wagner, a Harvard-based education expert and author of “The Global Achievement Gap,” explains it this way. There are three basic skills students need if they want to thrive in a knowledge economy: the ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and the ability to collaborate.

Wagner’s thesis revolves around “Seven Survival skills”—the core competencies he sees as necessary for success both in college and in the twenty-first-century workforce. These seven survival skills are:

  1. problem solving and critical thinking
  2. collaboration across networks
  3. adaptability
  4. initiative
  5. effective oral and written communication
  6. analyzing information
  7. developing curiosity and imagination

In this knowledge economy it should also be clear that organizations need to prepare existing workers to meet today’s challenges. Many have focused on recruiting workers with critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and these are the things many colleges and universities focus on in their curriculum.

But what about the other skills not easily measured with academic tests? These include such straight-forward things as the ability to collaborate and effectively communicate as well as the more esoteric “developing curiosity and imagination.” If these are also essential skills that will enable workers to succeed in the new economy, how can they be developed with current employees?

Many in today’s workforce not only need assistance in learning these skills, but the organizations they work for must also encourage their use. If a company truly wants their employees to collaborate more, they must encourage teams to work together more cooperatively rather than compete with each other for projects and promotions.

Excellent written and oral communication skills are so often requested by employers and documented on resumes by prospective employees that there should be no problem. But, of course, there is. Improving written communication skills beyond text messaging and cryptic tweeting will only continue to be of concern.

Organizations who truly want their workers to take initiative must back it up with incentives (financial and otherwise) to reward this behavior. How often is the phrase “it’s better to beg for forgiveness, than ask for permission” heard around your office?

And if the company wants a worker to develop his or her curiosity and imagination, then the company must accept that there will be missteps, mistakes, and bad decisions along the way. Individual and organizational learning is the likely output and encouraging it can lead to the innovative thinking necessary to compete.

To thrive in the knowledge economy, organizations must have workers capable of critical thinking and problem-solving. They must have employees who effectively communicate, collaborate across networks, analyze information and are adaptable. They also need each employee to take individual initiative and develop their curiosity and imagination.

As with any employee improvement strategy, this requires management to back up their words with deeds. This means providing the training, support, learning, and incentives that truly promote the development of all these essential skills.

How well do employees in your organization problem-solve, effectively communicate and collaborate? If not very well, are there programs in place to address them?

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