What does the modern workplace look like?
In many ways, this is a challenging question for educators to answer. Their modern workplace is obviously a school. We have a responsibility as educators to spend time outside of our schools to better understand the environments, expectations, and working conditions in which our students will operate when they leave our schools.
As it turns out, the average modern workplace doesn’t look like a school.
Several friends of mine are hiring managers. We have had multiple conversations about the successes and challenges of this role. The most common complaint is the lack of ability for folks to think for themselves. They have no problem finding folks who can do what they are told. They follow directions well, but these employees are constantly looking to their supervisor to provide them with what to do next. Not only does this overwhelm the management team, it is an incredibly inefficient way to operate a business or organization.
What skills are desirable in the modern workplace?
Employers want to find workers who are self-directed and able to manage themselves. They need little supervision because they do their work. When they find themselves with down time, they find another task worthy of their time. They are independent and only ask questions when they truly don’t understand a task or the complexity of a situation.
Using the Wrong End of the Funnel
Employers also want to find divergent and creative thinkers. Understand the way things have been done in the past can be an asset. However, oftentimes problems have no simple or easy solution. We can’t just look to the past to find all solutions. In some cases, we can take information from a previous situation and apply it to a new context. Or, it may require a fresh perspective at a situation. One shouldn’t presume to know the correct answer from the beginning.
Recently, I heard this idea of starting with the right answer as using the wrong end of the funnel. Too many people start at the narrow end to make a decision. Only then do they explore other options as reassurance for their choice. A divergent thinker will explore all possibilities to gather as much information as they can. They will consider each possibility. Afterwards, they will make an informed decision congruent with the information they have gathered.
Another key skill that is essential in the modern workplace (and frankly in our society) is the ability to work well with others. In particular, working with folks you disagree with. Many students and adults develop a perspective or an idea, then go looking for others that agree with them and support the same idea. While there is great comfort in knowing you are not alone in your thoughts/beliefs, we need to understand varying perspectives. Counter arguments actually strengthen our ideas and beliefs. Healthy disagreement and hearing opposing viewpoints are actually part of most successful ideas.
I have heard our modern high school students referred to as “garden kids.” Think about plants that are in a garden. They are tended, protected from pests, nurtured, fertilized, and given every opportunity to thrive. But if you take that same plant out of the garden and put it in the wild, it often will not survive. It does not have deep roots that are needed in the wild because it has not had to develop those roots in the garden. There is a clear parallel to our students that never work with others from varying backgrounds and viewpoints whose ideas can’t stand up to opposition.
Students need to be able to practice flexibility and adaptability to be successful in the modern workplace.
The conditions will never be right or perfect for them, but they still must push through. They need to respond to changing dynamics, situations, and conditions. Things will often not go the way they want or expect. Success in life and the workplace is often a direct correlation to how we make adjustments and changes.
We are seeing a rapid transition from the importance of knowledge (content) to the importance of skills. Most jobs have a basic set of knowledge needed to be successful. Nonetheless, it is really what you do with that knowledge that ultimately will determine an individual’s success.
Hiring managers often remark that they can teach the knowledge, but it is much tougher to teach the skills. Give them someone that can learn and has skills. That someone will become a successful employee. In fact, many businesses have proprietary systems and processes that can’t be taught outside of the company.
Questions to Ask
In your school, how much time is devoted to teaching students how to be self-directed and independent?
Do students get opportunity to practice divergent thinking with multiple potential solutions that they must work through to find the best one?
How does your school model flexibility and adaptability so that students understand it is just part of life?
How much time, energy and space is devoted to helping students understand how they best learn?
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