These Are The Five Soft Skills Recruiters Want Most

 

Fastcompany

Things like time management and organization aren’t typically taught in school, but they are increasingly important in order to be competitive at work.

These Are The Five Soft Skills Recruiters Want Most
[Photo: yurii_zym/iStock]

While education, degrees, and certification are important for scoring an interview, a new study by the HR software provider iCIMS finds that recruiters place a higher value on soft skills. From an ability to communicate well to being organized, these intangible qualities can be tough to measure, but they affect everything from productivity to collaboration.

“Hard skills are what you do, and soft skills are how you do it,” says Susan Vitale, chief marketing officer for iCIMS. “Unfortunately, one in three recruiting professionals believe job candidates’ soft skills have gotten worse in the past five years.”

The good news for both candidates and employers is everyone possesses some soft skills, says Jodi Chavez, president of the staffing firm Randstad Professionals. “The challenge is determining which are strongest, and which are most in-demand for certain roles,” she says. “Companies can train employees in technical skills. Soft skills, on the other hand, are far harder to teach, which is why, in a low unemployment market, companies should be looking to hire for soft skills and train for technical skills.”

If you’re looking for a new job, these are the top-five soft skills recruiters are looking for:

1. PROBLEM SOLVING

The most important soft skill was the ability to solve problems, with 62% of recruiters seeking people who can find solutions, according to iCIMS. This soft skill was also the most important for the employee who wants to work in management.

“Problem solving isn’t practiced as much today as it once was,” says Vitale. “You can go to Google for answers, and we’re not challenged the way we used to be.”

2. ADAPTABILITY

The second most important soft skill is adaptability, with 49% of recruiters looking for this trait. This skill was ranked as very important for entry-level positions.

“Larger organizations value problem solving and adaptability the most,” says Vitale.

3. TIME MANAGEMENT

The third soft skill in demand is an ability to successfully manage time, with 48% of recruiters placing importance on this characteristic.

“Entry-level workers often come out of the gate being poor at time management, but they can learn strategies on how to run their day,” says Vitale. “It’s most important in smaller organizations, because you have to pivot and wear many hats.”

4. ORGANIZATION

Being organized is the fourth most sought-after soft skill, with 39% of recruiters ranking it as desirable. It’s often demonstrated in your behavior during the interview process. The most common mistakes, according to the study, include showing up late, forgetting to thank the interviewer, and forgetting the interviewer’s name.

5. ORAL COMMUNICATION

Finally, the ability to speak in public and communicate with others is the fifth most valued soft skill, with 38% of recruiters looking for this skill.

“Good communication skills are, of course, essential,” says Chavez. “Poor communication can lead to misunderstandings and even slow down the workflow, preventing a company from moving forward.”

ROLE AND INDUSTRY

While soft skills are important in nearly every job, they can be role specific, says Chavez. “In a management position where the role requires one to lead a team, deliver on a project, or drive results, soft skills like emotional intelligence and teamwork are most important,” she says. “However, in roles where someone might work remotely from home, the key soft skills would be adaptability, communication and multitasking.”

The iCIMS study found that certain fields look for soft skills more than others, such as people who work in customer service, human resources, and sales/marketing. For technical jobs, they aren’t as vital. Nearly 1 in 5 of recruiters for IT jobs think soft skills are more important than hard skills, and 24% of recruiters weigh soft skills over hard skills for R&D jobs.

“I want my doctor to have hard skills first and soft skills next,” says Vitale. “But if they’re lacking in soft skills, I might not return.”

HOW TO CONVEY YOUR SOFT SKILLS

While we all have soft skills, demonstrating them during the job application process can be a challenge. “They don’t come across on a resume because there’s no certification,” says Vitale.

Be sure to highlight your strengths by using searchable keywords in your job description. “Whether a candidate lists their soft skills all together or breaks them out under the individual positions in which they honed them, it’s essential to include them somewhere,” says Chavez.

Recruiters will also use the screening processes to look for soft skills, so be prepared. Prior to an interview, come up with a short list of your strongest soft skills and be ready to share a few specific examples of when you showcased them in the workplace, Chavez suggests.

“For instance, talk about a time when your communication skills clarified a misunderstanding, or discuss how your leadership style came into play when they took charge of a negative situation and turned it into a positive one,” she says. “Candidates must also emphasize their ability to work well with others and should refrain from speaking poorly of a previous or current employer or company, as it will never reflect positively on them.”

Don’t be afraid to ask a recruiter which soft skills the organizations values most, adds Vitale. “Most employers fall down when it comes to transparency, and they aren’t saying out of the gate what they want,” she says. “Not all call them soft skills; sometimes they describe core competencies or workplace culture.”

In the end, candidates need to be cheerleaders for themselves, says Chavez. “Shift the conversation to highlight your soft skills even if an interviewer does not specifically ask,” she says.

The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students

 December 20, 2017

(Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

The conventional wisdom about 21st century skills holds that students need to master the STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math — and learn to code as well because that’s where the jobs are. It turns out that is a gross simplification of what students need to know and be able to do, and some proof for that comes from a surprising source: Google.

This post explains what Google learned about its employees, and what that means for students across the country.  It was written by Cathy N. Davidson, founding director of the Futures Initiative and a professor in the doctoral program in English at the Graduate Center, CUNY, and author of the new book, “The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux.” She also serves on the Mozilla Foundation board of directors,  and was appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Council on the Humanities.

By Cathy N. Davidson

All across America, students are anxiously finishing their “What I Want To Be …” college application essays, advised to focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) by pundits and parents who insist that’s the only way to become workforce ready.  But two recent studies of workplace success contradict the conventional wisdom about “hard skills.” Surprisingly, this research comes from the company most identified with the STEM-only approach: Google.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page, both brilliant computer scientists, founded their company on the conviction that only technologists can understand technology. Google originally set its hiring algorithms to sort for computer science students with top grades from elite science universities.

In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

Those traits sound more like what one gains as an English or theater major than as a programmer. Could it be that top Google employees were succeeding despite their technical training, not because of it?  After bringing in anthropologists and ethnographers to dive even deeper into the data, the company enlarged its previous hiring practices to include humanities majors, artists, and even the MBAs that, initially, Brin and Page viewed with disdain.

Project Aristotle, a study released by Google this past spring, further supports the importance of soft skills even in high-tech environments. Project Aristotle analyzes data on inventive and productive teams. Google takes pride in its A-teams, assembled with top scientists, each with the most specialized knowledge and able to throw down one cutting-edge idea after another. Its data analysis revealed, however, that the company’s most important and productive new ideas come from B-teams comprised of employees who don’t always have to be the smartest people in the room.

Project Aristotle shows that the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety. No bullying. To succeed, each and every team member must feel confident speaking up and making mistakes. They must know they are being heard.

Google’s studies concur with others trying to understand the secret of a great future employee. A recent survey of 260 employers by the nonprofit National Association of Colleges and Employers, which includes both small firms and behemoths like Chevron and IBM, also ranks communication skills in the top three most-sought after qualities by job recruiters. They prize both an ability to communicate with one’s workers and an aptitude for conveying the company’s product and mission outside the organization. Or take billionaire venture capitalist and “Shark Tank” TV personality Mark Cuban: He looks for philosophy majors when he’s investing in sharks most likely to succeed.

STEM skills are vital to the world we live in today, but technology alone, as Steve Jobs famously insisted, is not enough. We desperately need the expertise of those who are educated to the human, cultural, and social as well as the computational.

No student should be prevented from majoring in an area they love based on a false idea of what they need to succeed. Broad learning skills are the key to long-term, satisfying, productive careers. What helps you thrive in a changing world isn’t rocket science. It may just well be social science, and, yes, even the humanities and the arts that contribute to making you not just workforce ready but world ready.

A Stanford dean on adult skills every 18-year-old should have

Quartz

April 13, 2016

 

1. An 18-year-old must be able to talk to strangers

Faculty, deans, advisers, landlords, store clerks, human resource managers, coworkers, bank tellers, health care providers, bus drivers, mechanics—in the real world.

The crutch: We teach kids not to talk to strangers instead of teaching the more nuanced skill of how to discern the few bad strangers from the mostly good ones. Thus, kids end up not knowing how to approach strangers—respectfully and with eye contact—for the help, guidance, and direction they will need out in the world.

2. An 18-year-old must be able to find his or her way around

A campus, the town in which her summer internship is located, or the city where he is working or studying abroad.

The crutch: We drive or accompany our children everywhere, even when a bus, their bicycle, or their own feet could get them there; thus, kids don’t know the route for getting from here to there, how to cope with transportation options and snafus, when and how to fill the car with gas, or how to make and execute transportation plans.

3. An 18-year-old must be able to manage his assignments, workload, and deadlines

The crutch: We remind kids when their homework is due and when to do it—sometimes helping them do it, sometimes doing it for them; thus, kids don’t know how to prioritize tasks, manage workload, or meet deadlines, without regular reminders.

4. An 18-year-old must be able to contribute to the running of a house hold

The crutch: We don’t ask them to help much around the house because the checklisted childhood leaves little time in the day for anything aside from academic and extracurricular work; thus, kids don’t know how to look after their own needs, respect the needs of others, or do their fair share for the good of the whole.

5. An 18-year-old must be able to handle interpersonal problems

The crutch: We step in to solve misunderstandings and soothe hurt feelings for them; thus, kids don’t know how to cope with and resolve conflicts without our intervention.

6. An 18-year-old must be able to cope with ups and downs

Courses and workloads, college-level work, competition, tough teachers, bosses, and others.

The crutch: We step in when things get hard, finish the task, extend the deadline, and talk to the adults; thus, kids don’t know that in the normal course of life things won’t always go their way, and that they’ll be okay regardless.

7. An 18-year-old must be able to earn and manage money

The crutch: They don’t hold part-time jobs; they receive money from us for what ever they want or need; thus, kids don’t develop a sense of responsibility for completing job tasks, accountability to a boss who doesn’t inherently love them, or an appreciation for the cost of things and how to manage money.

8. An 18-year-old must be able to take risks

The crutch: We’ve laid out their entire path for them and have avoided all pitfalls or prevented all stumbles for them; thus, kids don’t develop the wise understanding that success comes only after trying and failing and trying again (a.k.a. “grit”) or the thick skin (a.k.a. “resilience”) that comes from coping when things have gone wrong.

Remember: Our kids must be able to do all of these things without resorting to calling a parent on the phone. If they’re calling us to ask how, they do not have the life skill.

How to Prepare for an Automated Future

Photo

Sebastian Thrun, left, the co-founder of Udacity, which provides online courses, recording for a programming class with Andy Brown, a course manager. Experts say online courses will be essential for workers to remain qualified as more tasks become automated. CreditMax Whittaker for The New York Times

We don’t know how quickly machines will displace people’s jobs, or how many they’ll take, but we know it’s happening — not just to factory workers but also to money managers, dermatologists and retail workers.

The logical response seems to be to educate people differently, so they’re prepared to work alongside the robots or do the jobs that machines can’t. But how to do that, and whether training can outpace automation, are open questions.

Pew Research Center and Elon University surveyed 1,408 people who work in technology and education to find out if they think new schooling will emerge in the next decade to successfully train workers for the future. Two-thirds said yes; the rest said no. Following are questions about what’s next for workers, and answers based on the survey responses.

How do we educate people for an automated world?

People still need to learn skills, the respondents said, but they will do that continuously over their careers. In school, the most important thing they can learn is how to learn.

At universities, “people learn how to approach new things, ask questions and find answers, deal with new situations,” wrote Uta Russmann, a professor of communications at the FHWien University of Applied Sciences in Vienna. “All this is needed to adjust to ongoing changes in work life. Special skills for a particular job will be learned on the job.”

Schools will also need to teach traits that machines can’t yet easily replicate, like creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, adaptability and collaboration. The problem, many respondents said, is that these are not necessarily easy to teach.

“Many of the ‘skills’ that will be needed are more like personality characteristics, like curiosity, or social skills that require enculturation to take hold,” wrote Stowe Boyd, managing director of Another Voice, which provides research on the new economy.

Can we change education fast enough to outpace the machines?

About two-thirds of the respondents thought it could be done in the next decade; the rest thought that education reform takes too much time, money and political will, and that automation is moving too quickly.

“I have complete faith in the ability to identify job gaps and develop educational tools to address those gaps,” wrote Danah Boyd, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research and founder of Data and Society, a research institute. “I have zero confidence in us having the political will to address the socioeconomic factors that are underpinning skill training.”

Andrew Walls, managing vice president at Gartner, wrote, “Barring a neuroscience advance that enables us to embed knowledge and skills directly into brain tissue and muscle formation, there will be no quantum leap in our ability to ‘up-skill’ people.”

Will college degrees still be important?

College is more valuable than ever, research shows. The jobs that are still relatively safe from automation require higher education, as well as interpersonal skills fostered by living with other students.

“Human bodies in close proximity to other human bodies stimulate real compassion, empathy, vulnerability and social-emotional intelligence,” said Frank Elavsky, data and policy analyst at Acumen, a policy research firm.

But many survey respondents said a degree was not enough — or not always the best choice, especially given its price tag. Many of them expect more emphasis on certificates or badges, earned from online courses or workshops, even for college graduates.

One potential future, said David Karger, a professor of computer science at M.I.T., would be for faculty at top universities to teach online and for mid-tier universities to “consist entirely of a cadre of teaching assistants who provide support for the students.”

Employers will also place more value on on-the-job learning, many respondents said, such as apprenticeships or on-demand trainings at workplaces. Portfolios of work are becoming more important than résumés.

“Résumés simply are too two-dimensional to properly communicate someone’s skill set,” wrote Meryl Krieger, a career specialist at Indiana University. “Three-dimensional materials — in essence, job reels that demonstrate expertise — will be the ultimate demonstration of an individual worker’s skills.”

What can workers do now to prepare?

Consider it part of your job description to keep learning, many respondents said — learn new skills on the job, take classes, teach yourself new things.

Focus on learning how to do tasks that still need humans, said Judith Donath of Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society: teaching and caregiving; building and repairing; and researching and evaluating.

The problem is that not everyone is cut out for independent learning, which takes a lot of drive and discipline. People who are suited for it tend to come from privileged backgrounds, with a good education and supportive parents, said Beth Corzo-Duchardt, a media historian at Muhlenberg College. “The fact that a high degree of self-direction may be required in the new work force means that existing structures of inequality will be replicated in the future,” she said.

Even if we do all these things, will there be enough jobs?

Jonathan Grudin, a principal researcher at Microsoft, said he was optimistic about the future of work as long as people learned technological skills: “People will create the jobs of the future, not simply train for them, and technology is already central.”

But the third of respondents who were pessimistic about the future of education reform said it won’t matter if there are no jobs to train for.

“The ‘jobs of the future’ are likely to be performed by robots,” said Nathaniel Borenstein, chief scientist at Mimecast, an email company. “The question isn’t how to train people for nonexistent jobs. It’s how to share the wealth in a world where we don’t need most people to work.”

Our kids will face a workplace that is completely different from today’s — here’s how to prepare them

Business Insider

kids hairdoOur kids will face a much different world than we live in now.Mike Blake/Reuters

Our education system was designed for the 20th century. It is largely focused on teaching kids how to retain information and manipulate numbers.

It regularly tests these abilities and, if you do well, you are promised to get into a good college, have a successful career and live a happy, prosperous life.

Unfortunately, those promises have become empty. Today, when we all carry around supercomputers in our pocket, tasks like remembering facts and doing long division have largely been automated.

The truth is, there is little taught in school that today can’t be handled with a quick Google search and an Excel spreadsheet.

Working in a team

Traditionally, schoolwork has been based on individual accomplishment. You’re supposed to study at home, come in prepared and take your test without help. If you look at your friend’s paper, it’s called cheating and you get in a lot of trouble for it. We’re taught to be accountable for achievements on our own merits.

Yet consider how the nature of work has changed, even in highly technical fields. In 1920, most scientific papers were written by sole authors, but by 1950 that had changed and co-authorship became the norm. Today, the average paper has four times as many authors as it did then and the work being done is far more interdisciplinary and done at greater distances than in the past.

Make no mistake. The high-value work today is being done in teams and that will only increase as more jobs become automated. The jobs of the future will not depend on specific expertise or crunching numbers, but will involve humans collaborating with other humans to design work for machines.

Clearly, value has shifted from cognitive skills to social skills, which is one reason why educators see increasing value in recess. Unfortunately, very few schools have adapted. Many are so unaware of the value of social interaction and play that they still take recess away as a punishment for bad behavior. We desperately need to shift the focus of our schools to collaboration, play and interpersonal skills.

Communicating effectively

In recent years a lot of emphasis has been put on the need for stronger STEM education to compete in an ever more technological world. However, there is increasing evidence that the STEM shortage is a myth and, as Fareed Zakaria points out in his book, “In Defense of a Liberal Education,” what we most need to improve is communication skills.

To understand why, think about an advanced technology like IBM’s Watson, which is being applied to fields as diverse as medicine, finance and even music. That takes more than just technical skill, but requires computer scientists to work effectively with experts in a wide variety of fields.

In fact, Taso Du Val, CEO of Toptal, an outsourcing firm that focuses on the world’s most elite technology talent told me that when his company evaluates programmers, they not only look at technical skills, but put just as much emphasis on communication skills, initiative and teamwork. You simply can’t write great code for a problem you don’t fully understand.

Clear and cogent writing, critical thinking and learning how to learn — to take in disparate facts, put them in context and express them clearly — these are all skills that will be even more crucial for professionals in the future than they are today.

Learning patterns rather than numbers

Of the “three R’s” that we learned in school, arithmetic was generally the most dreaded. Multiplication tables, long division and deceptively constructed word problems have been the bane of every young student’s existence. In my day, at least, the utility was clear, but now children can rightly ask “why can’t I use the calculator on my phone?

Clearly, in our increasingly data driven age, mathematical skills are more important than ever. Yet they are not the same ones we learned in school. It’s not so important to be able to count and multiply things — those tasks are largely automated today — but it’s imperative to be able to ascribe meaning from data.

Valdis Krebs of Orgnet explains that, “Schools are still stuck on teaching 20th century math for building things rather than 21st century math for understanding things” and suggests that curricula focus less on the mathematics of engineering (e.g. algebra and calculus) and more on the mathematics of patterns (e.g. set theory, graph theory, etc.).

This may seem like a newfangled idea, but in actuality it is a shift to higher level math. As the great mathematician G.H. Hardy put it, “A mathematician, like a painter or a poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas.”

Focus on exploring things rather than knowing things

Take a look at any basic curriculum and there are lists of things that kids are supposed to know by the end of the course. Dates of historical events, mathematical formulas, the name of specific biological structures or whatever. Yet today, knowledge is truly a moving target. Much of the information in textbooks today will be obsolete by the time our kids start their careers.

Clearly, the notion that education will give you knowledge that will prepare you for an entire career is vastly outdated. Today we need to prepare our kids for a world that we don’t really understand yet. How can we possibly make good judgments about what information they need to know?

So instead of cramming their heads full of disparate facts, we need to give them the ability to explore things for themselves, take in new information, make sense of it and communicate what they’ve learned to others. In a world where technology is steadily taking over tasks that were once thought of distinctly human, those are the skills that will be most crucial.

In an age of disruption, the most crucial ability is to adapt. That is what we need to prepare our kids to do.

Read the original article on Inc.. Copyright 2017. Follow Inc. on Twitter.

Are You Ready for the Post-College SAT?

The Wall Street Journal

Employers Say They Don’t Trust Grade-Point Averages

      By

DOUGLAS BELKIN

    image

    Joe Philipson for The Wall Street JournalDavid Pate, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at St. John Fisher College outside Rochester, N.Y. The college will offer the new CLA + test.

    Next spring, seniors at about 200 U.S. colleges will take a new test that could prove more important to their future than final exams: an SAT-like assessment that aims to cut through grade-point averages and judge students’ real value to employers.

    A new test for college seniors that aims to be the SAT for prospective employers is the latest blow to the monopoly long-held by colleges and universities on what it means to be well-educated. Doug Belkin and Michael Poliakoff, American Council of Trustees and Alumni V.P. of Policy, discuss on Lunch Break. Photo: AP.

    The test, called the Collegiate Learning Assessment, “provides an objective, benchmarked report card for critical thinking skills,” said David Pate, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at St. John Fisher College, a small liberal-arts school near Rochester, N.Y. “The students will be able to use it to go out and market themselves.”

    The test is part of a movement to find new ways to assess the skills of graduates. Employers say grades can be misleading and that they have grown skeptical of college credentials.

    “For too long, colleges and universities have said to the American public, to students and their parents, ‘Trust us, we’re professional. If we say that you’re learning and we give you a diploma it means you’re prepared,’ ” said Michael Poliakoff, vice president of policy for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. “But that’s not true.”

    The new voluntary test, which the nonprofit behind it calls CLA +, represents the latest threat to the fraying monopoly that traditional four-year colleges have enjoyed in defining what it means to be well educated.

    Even as students spend more on tuition—and take on increasing debt to pay for it—they are earning diplomas whose value is harder to calculate. Studies show that grade-point averages, or GPAs, have been rising steadily for decades, but employers feel many new graduates aren’t prepared for the workforce.

    Meanwhile, more students are taking inexpensive classes such as Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, but have no way to earn a meaningful academic credential from them.

    HNTB Corp., a national architectural firm with 3,600 employees, see value in new tools such as the CLA +, said Michael Sweeney, a senior vice president. Even students with top grades from good schools may not “be able to write well or make an argument,” he said. “I think at some point everybody has been fooled by good grades or a good resume.”

    The new test “has the potential to be a very powerful tool for employers,” said Ronald Gidwitz, a board member of the Council for Aid to Education, the group behind the test, and a retired chief executive of Helene Curtis, a Chicago-based hair-care company that was bought by Unilever in 1996.

    Only one in four employers think that two- and four-year colleges are doing a good job preparing students for the global economy, according to a 2010 survey conducted for the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

    Meanwhile, GPAs have been on the rise. A 2012 study looking at the grades of 1.5 million students from 200 four-year U.S. colleges and universities found that the percentage of A’s given by teachers nearly tripled between 1940 and 2008. A college diploma is now more a mark “of social class than an indicator of academic accomplishment,” said Stuart Rojstaczer, a former Duke University geophysics professor and co-author of the study.

    Employers such as General Mills Inc. and Procter & Gamble Co. long have used their own job-applicant assessments. At some companies such as Google Inc., GPAs carry less weight than they once did because they have been shown to have little correlation with job success, said a Google spokeswoman.

    image

    At Teach for America, which recruits college students to teach in rural and urban school districts, the GPA is one of just dozens of things used to winnow nearly 60,000 applicants for 5,900 positions. Candidates who make it to the second step of the process are given an in-house exam that assesses higher-order thinking, said Sean Waldheim, vice president of admissions at the group. “We’ve found that our own problem-solving activities work best to measure the skills we’re looking for,” he said.

    The Council for Aid to Education, the CLA + test’s creator, is a New York-based nonprofit that once was part of Rand Corp. The 90-minute exam is based on a test that has been used by 700 schools to grade themselves and improve how well their students are learning.

    The CLA + will be open to anyone—whether they are graduating from a four-year university or have taken just a series of MOOCs—and students will be allowed to show their scores to prospective employees. The test costs $35, but most schools are picking up the fee. Among schools that will use CLA + are the University of Texas system, Flagler College in Florida and Marshall University in West Virginia.

    The CLA + is scored on the 1600-point scale once used by the SAT “because everyone is familiar with that,” said Chris Jackson, director of partner development at the Council for Aid to Education. Instead of measuring subject-area knowledge, it assesses things like critical thinking, analytical reasoning, document literacy, writing and communication.

    Cory LaDuke, a 21-year-old senior at St. John Fisher, said he had mixed feelings about taking the CLA + but understood why employers might be skeptical of some graduates because “some people don’t work that hard and fake their way through it,” he said.

    “It kind of sucks that an employer can’t trust your GPA, but that’s the way it is right now, so this also an opportunity,” said Mr. LaDuke. “It’s another way to prove yourself.”

    Other groups also have been seeking ways to better judge graduates’ skills. The Lumina Foundation, which aims to boost the number of college graduates, is offering a way to standardize what students should know once they earn a degree. The MacArthur Foundation has helped fund a system of “badges” for online learning to show mastery of certain skills. Last Thursday, President Barack Obama said he wants the federal government to devise a ratings system to gauge colleges’ performance based on student outcomes.

    Meanwhile, established testing companies are introducing new tools. Earlier this year, Educational Testing Service, which developed the Graduate Record Exam, announced two certificates to reward high marks on its Proficiency Profile, which assesses critical thinking, reading, writing and math.

    And ACT, the nonprofit that administers the college-admission exam of the same name, has a National Career Readiness Certificate, which measures skills such as synthesizing and applying information presented graphically.

    Educational Testing Service was surprised to learn through a survey last spring that more than a quarter of businesses were using the GRE to evaluate job applicants, said David Payne, an ETS vice president.

    Sean Keegan, a 2011 graduate of Tufts University, has posted his GRE on his resume because he landed in the 97th percentile, even though he isn’t applying to graduate school. “I think it shows I’m relatively smart,” said Mr. Keegan, who is looking for work in finance. “So far, I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from employers.”

    Rigor Redefined by Tony Wagner

    Dr. Tony Wagner, an educational researcher and Harvard University professor, was our guest speaker at our January 13 professional day.  Here’s a link to his website:

    http://www.tonywagner.com/

    Here’s Dr. Wagner’s article “Rigor Redefined,” which has helped shape Sacred Heart’s academic program:

    Even our “best” schools are failing to prepare students for 21st-century careers and citizenship.

    © Tony Wagner, 2008 (first published in Educational Leadership, October, 2008)

    In the new global economy, with many jobs being either automated or “off-shored,” what skills will students need to build successful careers? What skills will they need to be good citizens? Are these two education goals in conflict?

    To examine these questions, I conducted research beginning with conversations with several hundred business, nonprofit, philanthropic, and education leaders. With a clearer picture of the skills young people need, I then set out to learn whether U.S. schools are teaching and testing the skills that matter most. I observed classrooms in some of the nation’s most highly regarded suburban schools to find out whether our “best” was, in fact, good enough for our children’s
    future. What I discovered on this journey may surprise you.

    The Schooling Students Need

    One of my first conversations was with Clay Parker, president of the Chemical Management Division of BOC Edwards—a company that, among other things, makes machines and supplies chemicals for the manufacture of microelectronics devices. He’s an engineer by training and the head of a technical business, so when I asked him about the skills he looks for when he hires young people, I was taken aback by his answer.

    “First and foremost, I look for someone who asks good questions,” Parker responded. “We can teach them the technical stuff, but we can’t teach them how to ask good questions—how to think.”

    “What other skills are you looking for?” I asked, expecting that he’d jump quickly to content expertise.

    “I want people who can engage in good discussion—who can look me in the eye and have a give and take. All of our work is done in teams. You have to know how to work well with others. But you also have to know how to engage customers—to find out what their needs are. If you can’t engage others, then you won’t learn what you need to know.”

    I initially doubted whether Parker’s views were representative of business leaders in general. But after interviewing leaders in settings from Apple to Unilever to the U.S. Army and reviewing the research on workplace skills, I came to understand that the world of work has changed profoundly.

    Today’s students need to master seven survival skills to thrive in the new world of work. And these skills are the same ones that will enable students to become productive citizens who contribute to solving some of the most pressing issues we face in the 21st century.

    1. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

    To compete in the new global economy, companies need their workers to think about how to continuously improve their products, processes, or services. Over and over, executives told me that the heart of critical thinking and problem solving is the ability to ask the right questions. As one senior executive from Dell said, “Yesterday’s answers won’t solve today’s problems.”

    Ellen Kumata, managing partner at Cambria Associates, explained the extraordinary pressures on leaders today. “The challenge is this: How do you do things that haven’t been done before, where you have to rethink or think anew? It’s not incremental improvement any more. The markets are changing too fast.”

    2. Collaboration and Leadership

    Teamwork is no longer just about working with others in your building. Christie Pedra, CEO of Siemens, explained, “Technology has allowed for virtual teams. We have teams working on major infrastructure projects that are all over the U.S. On other projects, you’re working with people all around the world on solving a software problem. Every week they’re on a variety of conference calls; they’re doing Web casts; they’re doing net meetings.”

    Mike Summers, vice president for Global Talent Management at Dell, said that his greatest concern was young people’s lack of leadership skills. “Kids just out of school have an amazing lack of preparedness in general leadership skills and collaborative skills,” he explained. “They lack the ability to influence.”

    3. Agility and Adaptability

    Clay Parker explained that anyone who works at BOC Edwards today “has to think, be flexible, change, and use a variety of tools to solve new problems. We change what we do all the time. I can guarantee the job I hire someone to do will change or may not exist in the future, so this is why adaptability and learning skills are more important than technical skills.”

    4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism

    Mark Chandler, senior vice president and general counsel at Cisco, was one of the strongest proponents of initiative: “I say to my employees, if you try five things and get all five of them right, you may be failing. If you try 10 things, and get eight of them right, you’re a hero. You’ll never be blamed for failing to reach a stretch goal, but you will be blamed for not trying. One of the problems of a large company is risk aversion. Our challenge is how to create an entrepreneurial culture in a larger organization.”

    5. Effective Oral and Written Communication

    Mike Summers of Dell said, “We are routinely surprised at the difficulty some young people have in communicating: verbal skills, written skills, presentation skills. They have difficulty being clear and concise; it’s hard for them to create focus, energy, and passion around the points they want to make. If you’re talking to an exec, the first thing you’ll get asked if you haven’t made it perfectly clear in the first 60 seconds of your presentation is, ‘What do you want me to take away from this meeting?’ They don’t know how to answer that question.”

    Summers and other leaders from various companies were not necessarily complaining about young people’s poor grammar, punctuation, or spelling—the things we spend so much time teaching and testing in our schools. Although writing and speaking correctly are obviously important, the complaints I heard most frequently were about fuzzy thinking and young people not knowing how to write with a real voice.

    6. Accessing and Analyzing Information

    Employees in the 21st century have to manage an astronomical amount of information daily. As Mike Summers told me, “There is so much information available that it is almost too much, and if people aren’t prepared to process the information effectively it almost freezes them in their steps.”

    It’s not only the sheer quantity of information that represents a challenge, but also how rapidly the information is changing. Quick—how many planets are there? In the early 1990s, I heard then–Harvard University president Neil Rudenstine say in a speech that the half-life of knowledge in the humanities is 10 years, and in math and science, it’s only two or three years. I wonder what he would say it is today.

    7. Curiosity and Imagination

    Mike Summers told me, “People who’ve learned to ask great questions and have learned to be inquisitive are the ones who move the fastest in our environment because they solve the biggest problems in ways that have the most impact on innovation.”

    Daniel Pink, the author of A Whole New Mind, observes that with increasing abundance, people want unique products and services: “For businesses it’s no longer enough to create a product that’s reasonably priced and adequately functional. It must also be beautiful, unique, and meaningful.”[i]Pink notes that developing young people’s capacities for imagination, creativity, and empathy will be increasingly important for maintaining the United States’ competitive advantage in the future.

    The Schooling Students Get

    I’ve spent time observing in classrooms across the United States for more than 20 years. Here is a sampling of what I’ve seen recently. These examples come from secondary honors and advanced placement (AP) classes in three school systems that enjoy excellent reputations because of their high test scores.

    AP Chemistry

    Students work in groups of two and three mixing chemicals according to directions written on the chalkboard. Once the mixtures are prepared, students heat the concoction with Bunsen burners. According to the directions on the board, they are supposed to record their observations on a worksheet.

    I watch a group of three young men whose mixture is giving off a thin spiral of smoke as it’s being heated—something that none of the other students’ beakers are doing. One student looks back at the chalkboard and then at his notes. Then all three stop what they are doing, apparently waiting for the teacher to come help them.

    “What’s happening to your mixture?” I ask the group.

    “Dunno,” one mutters. “We must have mixed it up wrong.”

    “What’s your hypothesis about what happened—why it’s smoking?”

    The three look at one another blankly, and the student who has been doing all the speaking looks at me and shrugs.

    AP U.S. Government

    The teacher is reviewing answers to a sample test that the class took the previous day. The test contains 80 multiple-choice questions related to the functions and branches of the federal government.

    When he’s finished, he says “OK, now let’s look at some sample free-response questions from previous years’ AP exams.” He flips the overhead projector on and reads from the text of a transparency: “Give three reasons why the Iron Triangle may be criticized as undemocratic. How would you answer this question?”

    No one replies.

    “OK, who can give me a definition of the Iron Triangle?”

    A student pipes up, “The military-industrial-congressional complex.”

    “OK, so what would be three reasons why it would be considered undemocratic?” The teacher calls on a student in the front row who has his hand half raised, and he answers the question in a voice that we can’t hear over the hum of the projector’s fan.

    “Good. Now let’s look at another one.” The teacher flips another transparency onto the projector. “Now this question is about bureaucracy. Let me tell you how to answer this one. . . .”

    AP English

    The teacher explains that the class is going to review students’ literature notes for the advanced placement exam next week. The seven students are deeply slouched in their chairs, arranged in a semicircle around the teacher’s desk.

    The teacher asks, “Now what is Virginia Woolf saying about the balance between an independent life versus a social life?”

    Students ruffle through their notebooks. Finally, a young woman, reading from her notes, answers, “Mrs. Ramsey sought meaning from social interactions.”

    “Yes, that’s right. Now what about Lily, the artist? How did she construct meaning?”

    “Through her painting,” another student mumbles, her face scrunched close to her notes.

    “So what is Woolf saying about the choices these two women have made, and what each has sacrificed?”

    No reply. The teacher sighs, gets up, goes to the board, and begins writing.

    A Rare Class

    Once in a great while, I observe a class in which a teacher is using academic content to develop students’ core competencies. In such a class, the contrast with the others is stark.

    At the beginning of the period in an Algebra II class, the teacher writes a problem on the board. He turns to the students, who are sitting in desks arranged in squares of four that face one another. “You haven’t seen this kind of problem before,” he explains. “Solving it will require you to use concepts from both geometry and algebra. Each group will try to develop at least two different ways to solve this problem. After all the groups have finished, I’ll randomly choose someone from each group who will write one of your proofs on the board, and I’ll ask that person to explain the process your group used.”

    The groups quickly go to work. Animated discussion takes place as students pull the problem apart and talk about different ways to solve it. While they work, the teacher circulates from group to group. When a student asks a question, the teacher responds with another question: “Have you considered . . .?” “Why did you assume that?” or simply “Have you asked someone in your group?”

    What makes this an effective lesson—a lesson in which students are learning a number of the seven survival skills while also mastering academic content? First, students are given a complex, multi-step problem that is different from any they’ve seen in the past. To solve it, they have to apply critical-thinking and problem-solving skills and call on previously acquired knowledge from both geometry and algebra. Mere memorization won’t get them far. Second, they have to find two ways to solve the problem, which requires initiative and imagination. Third, they have to explain their proofs using effective communication skills. Fourth, the teacher does not spoon-feed students the answers. He uses questions to push students’ thinking and build their tolerance for ambiguity. Finally, because the teacher announces in advance that he’ll randomly call on a student to show how the group solved the problem, each student in every group is held accountable. Success requires teamwork.

    Rigor for the 21st Century

    Across the United States, I see schools that are succeeding at making adequate yearly progress but failing our students. Increasingly, there is only one curriculum: test prep. Of the hundreds of classes that I’ve observed in recent years, fewer than 1 in 20 were engaged in instruction designed to teach students to think instead of merely drilling for the test.

    To teach and test the skills that our students need, we must first redefine excellent instruction. It is not a checklist of teacher behaviors and a model lesson that covers content standards. It is working with colleagues to ensure that all students master the skills they need to succeed as lifelong learners, workers, and citizens. I have yet to talk to a recent graduate, college teacher, community leader, or business leader who said that not knowing enough academic content was a problem. In my interviews, everyone stressed the importance of critical thinking, communication skills, and collaboration.

    We need to use academic content to teach the seven survival skills every day, at every grade level, and in every class. And we need to insist on a combination of locally developed assessments and new nationally normed, online tests—such as the College and Work Readiness Assessment (www.cae.org)—that measure students’ analytic-reasoning, critical-thinking, problem-solving, and writing skills.

    It’s time to hold ourselves and all of our students to a new and higher standard of rigor, defined according to 21st-century criteria. It’s time for our profession to advocate for accountability systems that will enable us to teach and test the skills that matter most. Our students’ futures are at stake.

    Pink, D. (2005). A whole new mind: Moving from the information age to the conceptual age. New York: Riverhead Books, pp. 32-33.

    Tony Wagner is Codirector of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education; tony_wagner@harvard.edu; www.schoolchange.org. The themes of this article are discussed more fully in his book The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need—and What We Can Do About It (Basic Books, 2008).