Six Critical Skills for College Graduates in the New Economy

I read an article in the paper version of the Chronicle of Higher Education today (yes, there are still paper versions of stuff) that got me thinking. The article is called The Case Against Assessment Tests and is basically a rant against normalized tests as a good metric for admission, graduation, and institution comparison. As more and more colleges pull back from requiring SAT scores from their new students, this article seemed very timely.

Most of the article is based on a speech by Daniel H. Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future (a definite must-read for my summer). Pink cleverly exposes six new skills that are required by the new economy:

  1. Design: This skill is described as the ability to solve problems, to look at an issue and articulate a creative way to solve it.
  2. Story: This goes along the way of a lot of people I have met in the last year. I recently attended Alan Levine’s 50 Ways to Tell a Story (video version, CoverItLive version), and storytelling is now definitely one of my top priority.
  3. Empathy: I would describe this one as “the ability to give a c***” about what others are living and feeling. Empathy is at the heart of the motivation to help others.
  4. Play: The ability to bring something from boring to fun and engaging.
  5. Meaning: How do you give a meaning to what you do? What drives you? Student will have to be able to put meaning into words, to share it with others.
  6. Symphony: The skill to get a global vision of a project or a topic. This is the opposite of focused and narrow, which is what most graduate programs are all about. Personally, I think this skill could be embedded within Design.

Now, getting back into my “support staff for faculty using IT” shoes, I see a lot of obstacles to implementing such a right-brained perspective in my institution. Here are some of my observations:

  • This change cannot take place on a course by course basis. Programs must be reassessed and redesigned to make sure students are exposed to the opportunity to develop their creative side, even in sciences.
  • This change will be leveraged by network-savvy knowledge workers. The ability for universities to constantly redesign themselves will be a critical factor of success.

Assuming that the six skills we have to train our students on are not necessarily the skills the current workforce possesses, what strategy would you envision to make this change of culture happen?

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