The Critical Thinking Skills Employers Think They Want…And the Ones They Actually Need

Start with the inverse: you would never want someone on your team who lacks critical thinking skills.

And yet, the very fact that employers are putting critical thinking in job descriptions along with field-specific competencies implies that they think it’s something special that not everyone has. In fact, it’s so special that a recent study found that fewer than one-third of employers believe that university graduates have the critical thinking skills to succeed in the workplace, which means that either these skills need to be acquired on the job or they are going to be extinct.

The trouble is that most companies don’t know what to look for when they select project teams and make hires, and also don’t know how to nurture critical thinking skills.

An upcoming study is looking at critical thinking as a function of six general skills, which fits many common conceptions of the construct:

  • Problem-Solving — applying some version of the scientific method
  • Analysis — considering the parts relative to the whole and vice versa
  • Creative Thinking — generating novel and useful ideas
  • Interpretation — explaining and defining constructs
  • Evaluation — assessing significance
  • Reasoning — applying logic and/or inference to draw conclusions

While this is a great start, and certainly an important definition of critical thinking skills, something more is needed. Here’s why:

  • Problem-Solving — presumes you know what the problem is, and/or that you can find it
  • Analysis — presumes you can identify which wholes are made of which parts
  • Creative Thinking — presumes you know what has been done and what would be useful
  • Interpretation — presumes you are familiar with the constructs
  • Evaluation — presumes you have the requisite experience to know what something’s worth
  • Reasoning — presumes you know enough to draw reasonable inferences and conclusions

It’s one thing to have critical thinking skills, and quite another to have the experience, maturity, and worldliness to use them effectively and appropriately. The baseline of having critical thinking skills is a necessary-but-not-sufficient criterion for being an effective project team participant, but what else is needed?

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