Monday, November 3, 2014

Employers are looking for critical thinkers

From a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, employers today now find themselves looking to hire recent graduates who demonstrate critical thinking skills. You might define critical thinkers as “forming your own opinion from a variety of different sources.” Too often, new hires have a tendency to use the first answer they find, perhaps from Wikipedia or a Google search, rather than delve into several information sources on their own to build a full picture of things.

It is no longer enough to talk about your history and regurgitate stock answers. The article mentions interview questions where candidates must show how they would tackle business problems, such as whether it makes more sense for a company to make or buy a product, and why.

A particular excerpt from the article which I found interesting:
Colleges’ capacity to mold thinkers has been a topic of heated debate. Richard Arum, co-author of “Academically Adrift” and “Aspiring Adults Adrift” as well as an NYU sociology professor, is a prominent critic of how schools are faring on that front.

“Schools have institutionally supported and encouraged [a] retreat from academic standards and rigor,” he says, adding that he thinks colleges have allowed students to focus on their social lives at the expense of academic pursuits.

According to research detailed in those books, students rarely study on their own for more than an hour a day, and most don’t write in-depth papers that require sustained analysis.

For their part, students seem to think they are ready for the office. But their future bosses tend to disagree. A Harris Interactive survey of 2,001 U.S. college students and 1,000 hiring managers last fall found that 69% of students felt they were “very or completely prepared” for problem-solving tasks in the workplace, while fewer than half of the employers agreed.
Fortunately, I work at a liberal arts university where we do teach critical thinking skills. And we have started to match our undergraduates with real-world student-work experience on campus. Rather than use students as cheap labor, we seek to expand the educational mission of the university by giving "stretch" assignments to our student workers, according to their individual capabilities.

This is a key moment for many colleges and universities. The success of a higher education degree is often judged based on how well it prepares students for life. Students (and by extension, universities) cannot be successful if our students lack critical thinking. I am glad Morris provides a strong liberal arts background to every student.
photo: Sam Howzit

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