What Employers Want

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education describes the abilities that employers say they want in college and university graduates. Part of the job of faculty who develop courses and programs is to be responsive to this stakeholder, as well as students who seek a degree in order to get a job. Among the top abilities that employers say they want are:

  • Critical thinking
  • Communicate clearly
  • Solve complex problems
  • Judgment and integrity
  • Intercultural skills
  • Flexible and Adaptable
  • Life-long learning

Overall, I think I do a good job of teaching these things to students, some better than others (e.g. critical thinking better than flexibility and adaptability). Another part of the job of faculty is to share with students applied knowledge gained from real-world settings. So, based on my 15 years of industry experience, I inform my undergraduate students that what employers ask for may not be what they really want or may not be what they reward. I tell them they should be prepared to experience cognitive dissonance and discord with their supervisor, possibly on an ongoing basis. Often, the true meaning of these seven abilities is:

  • Critical thinking – Cut costs any way you can.
  • Communicate clearly – Tell the boss what they want to hear.
  • Solve complex problems – Quickly find shortcuts.
  • Judgment and integrity – Don’t make any mistakes and accept blame for any mistakes.
  • Intercultural skills – Don’t embarrass senior managers or the company.
  • Flexible and Adaptable – Do work that is not in your job description and get a new boss every two years.
  • Life-long learning – Remember the previous six items your whole life.

It has always been so interesting to me that in conventionally managed organization, the gap between the ability and its actual meaning is often very large. As critical thinking educators, we should respectfully call-out employers on that when appropriate. If an employee cannot speak truth to power, then the employer does not truly desire critical thinking skills in graduates. In contrast, in a Lean organization, there is little or no the gap between the ability and its actual meaning. Graduates seeking to avoid cognitive dissonance and discord with their supervisor should seek employers whose leaders practice Lean management well.

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