The Loop

Who Is Responsible for the “How”?

Filed under: Training & Leadership Development

The finger pointing continues. America's corporations claim that they have jobs available but not enough qualified candidates to fill them. Some employment industry watchdogs – and jobseekers themselves – refute this assertion, claiming qualified candidates exist but companies are reticent to pay the salaries they command.

Administrators at America's colleges and universities assert that it's not their job to train students how to do a job, but rather to provide them with communication, analysis, and intellectual "soft skills" to understand how individuals contribute to the overall scheme of capitalism and commerce. Yet the Obama administration has launched a program requiring career college programs to better prepare students for "gainful employment" or risk losing access to Federal student aid.

Still, the question remains: Who is responsible for training workers to do their jobs? It does appear there has been a significant shift in expectations of entry and mid-level workers over the last 15 years. For example, only about 10% of the people who obtained information technology jobs during the Silicon Valley tech boom of the 1990s had IT-related degrees. And no doubt even the ones with those degrees needed substantial on-the-job training to perform at high levels.

According to a recent national survey of business leaders, there appears to be a nod toward the value of a basic liberal arts education to arm young jobseekers with foundational knowledge that will allow them to better absorb on-the-job training and the ability to think independently. Leaders of both for-profit and non-profit organizations agree that colleges are in the business of education ("knowing why") and not training ("knowing how"). According to the survey:

  • 93% said that "a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than [a candidate's] undergraduate major."
  • Even more (95%) say they prioritize hiring college graduates with skills that will help them contribute to innovation in the workplace.
  • About 95% of those surveyed also say it is important that those they hire demonstrate ethical judgment and integrity; intercultural skills; and the capacity for continued new learning.
  • More than 75% of those surveyed say they want more emphasis on five key areas: Critical thinking, complex problem solving, written and oral communication, and applied knowledge in real-world settings.
  • 80% of employers agree that, regardless of their major, college students should acquire broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences.

Indeed, one would think that the task of delivering a high-quality, liberal arts education and helping students get jobs are not mutually exclusive. But it is important that employees – both young adults and mature, mid-career workers – believe that the skills they learn in the classroom and through training and experience are valued by their employers. Consider whether some of the most popular "soft skills" are appreciated and encouraged within your company culture:

  • Critical thinking – are those who raise questions and concerns labeled "not a team player"?
  • Challenging the status quo – how often are these rebels told they need to "get onboard"?
  • Effective communication – emails tend to be over-utilized and often misconstrued; is this communication misuse practiced by managers to avoid difficult face-to-face conversations?
  • Collaboration among people with different backgrounds and ideas – do your teams, committees, and task forces tend to include only like-minded people?

Along with considering how these particular traits are perceived, you might address whether the objective of company training programs is to adapt employees to your organizational culture, or to provide skills needed for individual jobs. While not necessarily a bad thing, the former may not be accomplishing your organization's on-the-job training needs.

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