Thursday, January 3, 2013

Competencies for Today's Workforce - Critical Thinking

In a recent survey conducted by the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) a significant skills gap was identified in addition to a lack of the following critical soft skills: communication, creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking.  Respondents also reported that leadership or executive-level skills were the number one skills gap in their organization (Pace, 2012).

Pace (2012) identified the following competencies that employees look for in their young workforce. These competencies are provided as they were reported 20 years ago, today, along with predictions for the future workforce (see table below). 

Top 5 competencies employees look for in youths entering workforce
20 Yrs. AGO
Technical Mastery
Self-motivation and Discipline
Self-motivation and Discipline
Effective Communication
Effective Communication
Learning Agility
Learning Agility
Effective Communication
Multicultural Awareness
Self-motivation and Discipline


There are two discrepancies from the previous information. The first is that even though respondents identified the following skills gap lacking in their workplace (communication, creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking), they also reported that leadership training was the number one skill gap in their organization. Additionally, the top five competencies for the entering workforce do not include those missing skills that were already identified, with the exception of communication and collaboration, although collaboration was only listed in the future category. This leaves out creativity and critical thinking skills.

With nearly $12 billion dollars dedicated to leadership training in the US alone (Peters, Stephens, & Baum, 2012), there is a disproportion of training leadership related skills compared to training the required critical skills needed to complete everyday tasks. Pace (2012) highlighted that collaboration between higher education and businesses was essential to developing these skills and to assist in closing these gaps. However, examples provided were for leadership skills collaboration programs. I agree with Pace, there must be collaboration between higher education and businesses (private & public) so that the workforce employed today will have appropriate competencies and skills. Unfortunately, concentrating on leadership training will not resolve the skills gap.

Concentrating on the competencies identified above would be the best place to begin closing the skills gap between what today’s businesses are requiring and what new employees are offering. Essential in closing this skills gap is to concentrate on providing today’s students with critical thinking skills. If students are not able to think on their feet and solve complex problems how can you expect them to lead these efforts from others (through leadership training?). If businesses concentrated on demanding and hiring employees that were able to demonstrate true critical thinking skills, then, their workforce would be able to be trained to be future leaders. Higher education should be able to train their students to practice critical thinking skills through workshops and groups assignments in classrooms (group projects add the collaboration to the mix, with collaboration being one of the competencies). Teaching critical thinking skills can be practiced and taught through the following three criteria:

  • Reflective scepticism.
  • Identifying and challenging assumptions.
  • Imagining and exploring alternatives (Martin, 1995, p. 5).

Additionally, teaching students to become self-directed learners could be easily accomplished through the following four stages presented by Grow (1991), the student’s stage is listed first followed by the teacher’s role listed second:

  • Dependent - Authority Coach
  • Interested - Motivator, Guide
  • Involved - Facilitator
  • Self-Directed - Consultant, Delegator

By addressing the competencies, rather than trying to train leaders, businesses and higher education will be able to address the skills gap more effectively. Resulting, ultimately, in a better qualified workforce for the future.


Grow, G. O. (1991). Teaching learners to be self-directed. Adult Education Quarterly, 41, 125-149. doi: 10.1177/0001848191041003001

Martin, G. W. (1995). An approach to the facilitation and assessment of critical thinking in nurse education. Nurse Education Today, 16, 3-9.

Pace, A. (December, 2012). Preparing Today’s Youths for Tomorrow’s Workplace. Training + Development, 42-46.

Peters, L., Stephens, G. K., & Baum, J. (December, 2012). When developing leaders, don’t blame training! Training + Development, 59-62.

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