Critical Thinking Skills: Building Blocks for the Next Generation
How will you harness the brainpower of your employees to tackle the challenges of the 21st Century?
The Importance of Critical Thinking Skills
Over two decades ago, the Secretary of Labor appointed a commission to determine the skills our young people would need to succeed in the working world. The commission's fundamental purpose was to encourage a high-performance economy characterized by high-skill, high-wage employment. Although the commission completed its work in 1992, its findings and recommendations ring true in the new millennium.
The Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) report[i] identified critical thinking skills as being essential for a high-performance workplace. The report identifies a three-part skills foundation: basic literacy and computational skills, the thinking skills necessary to put knowledge to work, and the personal qualities that make workers dedicated and trustworthy. This foundation in thinking skills includes creativity, decision making, problem solving, seeing things in the mind's eye, knowing how-to-learn, and reasoning. The report states: "Today's work place puts a premium on reasoning skills and an ability and willingness to learn."
The findings in the SCANS report have been reinforced in subsequent studies. In 2009 the Economist Intelligence Unit published a report, The Intelligent Enterprise: Creating a culture of speedy and efficient decision-making.[ii] The report states that “despite the wide recognition that accurate and timely decision-making is crucial, most firms’ ability to make good decisions needs improvement.”
The Conference Board identified two key skills needed by successful leaders in their report, Developing Business Leaders for 2010—analytical ability—especially the ability to sort through information sources and focus on the most relevant aspects—and the ability to make sound decisions in an environment of ambiguity and uncertainty. [iii]
In September 2011, the Corporate Executive Board surveyed 5,000 workers, globally, and found a lack of analytical skills was “pervasive among both the general employees and among management.” Only 38% of the average workforce uses a balance of judgment and data in their decision making. [iv]
Critical Thinking Skills are Essential
Critical thinking skills can be defined as the ability to exercise sound reasoning and analytical thinking, using knowledge, facts and data to resolve workplace issues. They are essential for:
- Solving problems and making decisions. Rapid changes in the workplace require delegating decision making and problem solving farther and farther down the organization. Among today's workers the critical thinking skills for analysis, problem solving, and teamwork are in high demand and short supply.
- Problem prevention. Preventing problems does not happen automatically. Identifying potential problems and planning preventive and contingent actions require good, solid analytical thinking.
- Effective teamwork. The benefits of teamwork are oft reported; but teamwork is not automatic. Teams experience growing pains and they take time to mature into productive units. Team members need critical thinking skills for communication, conflict resolution, decision making, problem solving, and self-management.
- Empowerment. Effective empowerment means providing the responsibilities and the skills for people to manage their own work and to do it effectively. To keep teams cohesive, a common language for solving problems and making decisions is needed. These skills empower people to work together to solve problems, make better-balanced decisions, and manage business-critical projects.
The Challenge of the 21st Century
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that during the 2010-20 decade, over 54.8 million job openings are expected and more than half—61.6%—will come from the need to replace workers from the baby boom generation as they retire or otherwise permanently leave an occupation.[v] A lack of critical thinking skills among new employees compounds the loss of institutional knowledge held by employees leaving the workplace.
- As organizations become more global, the diversity of the workforce requires a common approach to resolving organizational issues that can surmount cultural and language barriers.
- The information explosion continues to move at a rapid pace with no end in sight. This accelerates the rate that technical knowledge becomes obsolete while exponentially flooding our lives with data. As a result, the ability to organize and evaluate information with an analytic eye is increasingly important.
Putting the puzzle together
Rapid fire changes in the workplace mean increased responsibilities for many employees. These new responsibilities mean that analytical skills, driven by a process that is underpinned by logic and good questioning, are key to maintaining competitive advantage. Sharpening the thinking skills of workers and providing a context in which they want to and can succeed is a key to solving the 21st century challenge of staying competitive in environment of rapid change.
Kepner-Tregoe: Clear Thinking for a Complex World
For over 50 years, Kepner-Tregoe has worked with the world’s leading companies to improve business outcomes. We recognize the challenges you face from limits to time and resources, increasingly complex operations, and escalating customer expectations.
We provide time-proven rational and data-driven thinking processes that help you reduce costs, improve efficiency, increase quality and exercise control by providing clarity and structure. Because we emphasize skill transfer and sustainability, we provide value for today and every day that follows.
Read Training, the Means to an End:
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[i] U.S. Department of Labor Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills. 1991. What Work Requires of Schools. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Labor.
U.S. Department of Labor Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills. 1992. Learning a Living: A Blueprint for High Performance. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Labor.
[ii] Economist Intelligence Unit, The Intelligent Enterprise: Creating a culture of speedy and efficient decision-making, December 2009.
[iii] Barrett, A. & Beeson, J., Developing Business Leaders for 2010. The Conference Board, 2003.
[iv] Corporate Executive Board (CEB), Overcoming the Insight Deficit: Big Judgment in an Era of Big Data, September 7, 2011.
[v] U.S. Department of Labor, Employment Projections: 2010-20, February 1, 2012, USDL-12-0160.