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From Campus to Corporate: Developing Essential Workplace Competencies and Capabilities



I have witnessed firsthand the importance of developing critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills in employees. In today's complex and rapidly changing work environment, these skills are essential for success, and employers must prioritize their development. However, measuring progress in developing these skills can be challenging, and employers may face a variety of obstacles when trying to develop these skills in their employees.


In this article, I will discuss some effective ways to measure progress in developing critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills, and examine some common challenges that employers face when trying to develop these skills in their employees.


The Importance of Traditional Higher Education


One of the dominant narratives in the media is that we need to produce more workers who possess short-term vocational skills to fulfill the demands of the 21st-century workplace. Many policymakers and employers believe that vocational skills-based programs are the best solution to address the shortcomings of American higher education. However, I believe that this is not an acceptable policy choice for several reasons.


Firstly, we cannot afford to privilege short-term job training over demanding educational experiences. While short-term vocational programs may reduce short-term costs for students, institutions, and employers, they do not provide a foundation for continuous life-long learning. As leaders, we must focus on creating a culture of continuous learning and development. We should provide our learners with the intellectual, personal, and social skills that they need to thrive in the ever-changing and complex world of work. We should not be satisfied with just providing our learners with the skills they need to fulfill their job requirements. We should strive to equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to develop new skills, adapt to new challenges, and create new opportunities.


Secondly, we must recognize that liberal education outcomes are not relatively useless. Quite the contrary, liberal education outcomes are essential for the long-term vitality of the American economy and our democracy. Liberal education outcomes provide learners with the critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills they need to succeed in the 21st-century workplace. They also provide learners with the cultural awareness and civic engagement skills they need to become responsible and engaged citizens. These skills are essential for creating a vibrant and thriving economy and a healthy and inclusive democracy.


Thirdly, we must recognize that short-term vocational programs are not well-suited for everyone. While vocational programs may be suitable for some people, they are not suitable for all people. There are many people who prefer a more demanding educational experience that provides them with a broader understanding of the world and the skills they need to succeed in a variety of contexts. These people may not be interested in a specific vocational skill, but they are interested in developing their intellectual, personal, and social skills. As leaders, we must recognize and respect these differences and provide our learners with the educational experiences that meet their needs and aspirations.


I urge all of you to resist the dominant narrative that short-term vocational programs are the best solution to address the shortcomings of American higher education. Instead, let us focus on creating a culture of continuous learning and development that provides our learners with the intellectual, personal, and social skills they need to thrive in the ever-changing world of work. Let us recognize the value of liberal education outcomes and their essential role in creating a vibrant and thriving economy and a healthy and inclusive democracy. And let us recognize and respect the diversity of our learners and provide them with the educational experiences that meet their needs and aspirations.


Examples of Liberal Education Outcomes that Are Essential for the 21st-Century Workplace


I believe that liberal education outcomes are essential for developing the skills that are necessary for success in the 21st-century workplace. Some specific examples of liberal education outcomes that are essential for the 21st-century workplace include critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills.


Critical thinking is the ability to analyze and evaluate information, arguments, and evidence. It is essential for making informed decisions, solving complex problems, and adapting to new challenges. In the 21st-century workplace, critical thinking skills are essential for employees at all levels, from entry-level positions to executive leadership roles.


Problem-solving skills are also essential for success in the 21st-century workplace. Employees who possess strong problem-solving skills are able to identify problems, develop solutions, and implement effective strategies to overcome challenges. They are also able to work collaboratively with others to address complex challenges and achieve organizational goals.


Communication skills are another essential liberal education outcome for the 21st-century workplace. Effective communication skills are essential for building strong relationships, managing conflicts, and achieving organizational goals. Employees who possess strong communication skills are able to express their ideas clearly and effectively, listen actively to others, and work collaboratively to achieve shared goals.


Critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills are just a few examples of the essential liberal education outcomes that are necessary for success in the 21st-century workplace. As leaders, we must prioritize the development of these skills in our employees to ensure that they are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in today's complex and rapidly changing work environment.


How Employers Can Assess and Develop these Skills in Their Employees


Employers can assess and develop these skills in their employees through a variety of methods.


To assess critical thinking, employers can use various methods such as problem-solving exercises, case studies, and scenario-based assessments. These methods can help to identify employees who possess strong critical thinking skills and those who may need further development.


To assess problem-solving skills, employers can use performance-based assessments, such as simulations or role-playing exercises, to evaluate employees' ability to identify problems, develop solutions, and implement effective strategies to overcome challenges. Employers can also encourage employees to participate in cross-functional teams and provide opportunities for employees to work on complex projects that require strong problem-solving skills.


To assess communication skills, employers can use various methods such as performance-based assessments, such as presentations or role-playing exercises, to evaluate employees' ability to express their ideas clearly and effectively, listen actively to others, and work collaboratively to achieve shared goals. Employers can also provide training and development programs to help employees improve their communication skills, such as workshops or coaching sessions.


In terms of developing these skills in employees, employers can provide training and development programs that focus on developing critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills. These programs can include workshops, coaching sessions, and on-the-job training opportunities. Employers can also encourage employees to participate in cross-functional teams and provide opportunities for employees to work on complex projects that require strong critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills.


Assessing and developing critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills in employees is essential for success in the 21st-century workplace. Employers can use a variety of methods to assess these skills and provide training and development programs to help employees improve their skills. By prioritizing the development of these skills, employers can create a culture of continuous learning and development that will help their employees thrive in today's complex and rapidly changing work environment.


Common Challenges Employers Face When Trying to Develop These Skills in Their Employees


I have worked with many employers who have faced challenges when trying to develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills in their employees. Some common challenges employers face include:

  1. Lack of resources: Developing these skills requires time and resources, and some employers may not have the necessary resources to provide training and development programs. This can be especially challenging for small businesses or organizations with limited budgets.

  2. Resistance to change: Employees may be resistant to change and may feel uncomfortable or uncertain about learning new skills. Employers may need to provide additional support and encouragement to help employees overcome these challenges.

  3. Limited opportunities for practice: Developing these skills requires opportunities for practice and application. Employers may need to provide employees with opportunities to apply their skills in real-world settings, such as through cross-functional teams or complex projects.

  4. Difficulty measuring progress: Measuring progress in developing critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills can be challenging. Employers may need to use a variety of methods, such as performance-based assessments or surveys, to evaluate progress and identify areas for improvement.

  5. Lack of alignment with organizational goals: Developing these skills should be aligned with the organization's goals and objectives. Employers may need to communicate the importance of these skills to employees and demonstrate how they are essential for achieving organizational success.

While developing critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills in employees is essential for success in the 21st-century workplace, employers may face a variety of challenges when trying to develop these skills. By addressing these challenges proactively and providing the necessary resources, support, and opportunities for practice, employers can create a culture of continuous learning and development that will help their employees thrive in today's complex and rapidly changing work environment.


Measuring Progress in Developing These Skills


Measuring progress in developing critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills can be challenging. However, there are some effective ways to measure progress, including:

  1. Performance-based assessments: Performance-based assessments, such as simulations or role-playing exercises, can provide employers with a measure of employees' ability to apply their critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills in real-world settings.

  2. Surveys and self-assessments: Surveys and self-assessments can provide employers with insights into employees' perceptions of their own skills and areas that need improvement.

  3. Employee feedback: Feedback from employees can provide valuable insights into the effectiveness of training and development programs and identify areas for improvement.

  4. On-the-job performance: Observing employees' on-the-job performance can provide employers with insights into how effectively employees are applying their critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills in their work.

  5. Metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs): Metrics and KPIs can provide employers with objective measures of the impact of employees' critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills on organizational outcomes.

While measuring progress in developing critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills can be challenging, there are some effective ways to measure progress. By using a combination of performance-based assessments, surveys and self-assessments, employee feedback, on-the-job performance, and metrics and KPIs, employers can gain a comprehensive understanding of employees' progress in developing these essential skills.


Conclusion


Developing critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills in employees is essential for success in the 21st-century workplace. However, measuring progress in developing these skills can be challenging, and employers may face a variety of obstacles when trying to develop these skills in their employees. By using a combination of performance-based assessments, surveys and self-assessments, employee feedback, on-the-job performance, and metrics and KPIs, employers can gain a comprehensive understanding of employees' progress in developing these essential skills. By addressing these challenges proactively and providing the necessary resources, support, and opportunities for practice, employers can create a culture of continuous learning and development that will help their employees thrive in today's complex and rapidly changing work environment.

 

Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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