The Evidence Is Mounting: What You Can Do Is More Important than What You Know

The shift from a manufacturing-based to an information-based economy has created an unprecedented need for employees who are multi-skilled and adaptable. It has taken a while for higher education to catch up to this reality, but a 2013 study commissioned by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) can help us keep moving in the right direction.

The researchers surveyed business and nonprofit leaders to ask what they look for in job applicants and how colleges and universities can better prepare graduates for the current demands of the workplace. Of particular relevance to us in bcomm is the finding that the applicant’s “cross-cutting capacities” are more important to employers than his or her choice of major.

Specifically (quoting from the report),

  • Nearly all those surveyed (93%) agree, “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.”
  • More than nine in ten of those surveyed say it is important that those they hire demonstrate ethical judgment and integrity; intercultural skills; and the capacity for continued new learning.
  • More than three in four employers say they want colleges to place more emphasis on helping students develop five key learning outcomes, including critical thinking, complex problem-solving, written and oral communication, and applied knowledge in real-world settings.

The respondents recommend that schools help develop the needed competencies by requiring more coursework in the liberal arts and sciences and by giving students multiple types of opportunities for hands-on learning (e.g., collaborative projects and problem-solving assignments).

If you’re like me, you nodded your head when you read each point above, thinking “Yep—that’s what we do in bcomm!”

So carry on with the real-world assignments, the collaborative projects, the focus on adapting to audience and context, the study of other cultures’ values, and everything else we do that requires students to think and apply. The need for the skills we teach has never been greater.

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