By Bernard Marr
Used to be that reading, writing, and arithmetic were all you needed to get by and do well in the world — but that was also around the time that the vast majority of jobs were agricultural, factory work, or service jobs like maids and butlers.
While our society and jobs market has changed drastically since then, our education system has not. Today, our education system focuses too much on learning facts by heart, rote memorization and basic writing and algebra — all things computers can do much better.
Remember asking your maths teacher why you couldn’t use a calculator in class, and hearing the reply that no one would walk around with calculators in their pockets every day?
Enter the smartphone. That’s one excuse destroyed.
In my opinion, our schools are filling students’ heads with trivia rather than teaching them skills that are important and useful in the real world. The popular U.S. TV show, Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? didn’t prove that adults were dumber than children, but rather that the adults have jettisoned much of the “knowledge” they learned in grade school as being unimportant in daily life.
In truth of fact, the people that will be able to compete for the best jobs in the future will be those who work with and alongside computers and AI, that are able to ask new questions, are creative and innovative and have a high degree of emotional intelligence and social skills (the things that actually make us human). I believe we need to focus more on those skills instead of spoon feeding our kids facts.
According to a survey by The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), these are some of the skills top employers say they are looking for in 2016 — and the ways in which our schools are failing to prepare students to fulfil them:
- Ability to obtain and process information.
As data becomes more and more important and integral in the workplace, companies will be looking for employees who can hit the ground running when it comes to obtaining and processing that data. This means that it’s much less important to know facts and figures that our current education system emphasizes, than it is to possess the skills to locate and process any kind of information required.
Finding data is the easy part; anyone can conduct a Google search or even a customer survey these days. But data is dumb; it may have the answers you want, but it will only reveal them if you ask the right questions. The jobs of the future will require today’s students to think critically about whether the data they have is answering the question they really want to answer.
- Ability to analyze quantitative data.
Believe it or not, this was in the top 10 skills employers are looking for in 2016, so it stands to reason that it will become more and more important in the future. Don’t assume that skills like this are only needed for “numbers crunching” type jobs any more. Everyone from creatives to HR to sales will be dealing with data more and more in the near future. Having a basic understanding of how statistics and mathematical reasoning work will be essential to understanding data sets and drawing conclusions.
As with facts, it’s less about the ability to solve the maths problem and get the right answer, and more about the ability to understand the relationships between numbers and the underlying principles of statistics and probability. Ask the right questions, and that calculator in your pocket can do the actual computing.
- Proficiency with computer software programs.
It’s no longer acceptable to learn basic computer skills on the job. Luckily, today’s kids are digital natives and using technology practically from birth. But our education system is not providing students with adequate training in computer programs; students are left to teach themselves.
For example, no matter what your occupation today, it’s time to become familiar with the graphing functions in Excel and the visualisation tools in PowerPoint and the like. Why? Because a big part of business today is understanding, interpreting, and explaining data. Students need to be well versed in these basic tools.
- Ability to create and/or edit written reports.
Written and verbal communications skills are vital to almost any position these days, and if you can add visualisation skills (creating charts, graphs, etc.), you become that much more marketable. Future applicants who can demonstrate that they can clearly communicate information in a written format will rise above their competition.
But we don’t necessarily need to be teaching students the five paragraph essay. Instead or in addition, schools should be teaching how to write persuasively, how to compose a professional email or letter, and how to effectively communicate information via the written word.
Paper may be going the way of the dinosaur, but text is here to stay.
- Ability to sell and influence others.
Whether you’re looking for a position in sales or not, many, many more jobs require one person to be in charge of influencing others. Social media managers must influence followers positively, managers and leadership teams must influence employees, anyone who deals with customers must influence those customers (whether they are directly selling or not). These kinds of “soft” skills are becoming more important in separating those who will easily win jobs from those who won’t.
Yet schools very rarely focus on any kind of communications or other soft skills — mainly because they’re difficult to measure and grade in any kind of standardized fashion. But this is to the great detriment of our students. These skills can be taught; it’s not only the naturally gifted speakers, writers and salespeople who can learn them, and our schools are doing our students a great disservice by not teaching them.
Of course, I believe that certain about of basic knowledge is important to create functioning members of society. But I believe our education systems focuses too much on the memorization and recitation of facts, and not enough on the critical thinking skills that allow us to put those facts to use.