At times I have my doubts.

Sure, you need to learn accounting skills if you want to become an accountant. Or know how to trade derivatives if you wish to become a securities trader.

But to become truly successful, you need to master the softer skills. And from what I have seen in my educational days and my career, not too mention what I read every so often in the press, you do not learn these crucial skills in school.

For example, 

Students Do Not Like Being Challenged

This week’s example comes courtesy of Utah Valley University.

Although I note that the linked article contains links of its own to other similar stories. They are also worth a read.

Some students at Utah Valley:

“complained that in the professor’s “capstone” business course, he asked them questions in class even when they didn’t raise their hands. They also didn’t like it when he made them work in teams.”

The professor was denied tenure, it appears, as a result. So it seems that the University believes that challenging students is not a good way to teach.

Now I was a student once, a millennia or so ago. I remember what it was like to be called upon when I was not prepared, possibly while nursing a hangover. I hated it (and the prof).

And I hated working in teams. I always ended up in a group that had one dominant person, a worker bee or two, and the rest slackers who did nothing.

University was so unfair. Not like the real world.

Ah, The Real World

Then I entered the real world!

An Expectation to Contribute

Suddenly I would be in meetings and my superiors would want to know my thoughts on how to proceed. The fact that I never raised my hand, kept my eyes down, always wore neutral colors, went to the washroom at key moments, etc., never seemed to help me avoid their questions.

And they expected well thought out responses. Ones that were well communicated and clearly showed the thought process involved in my recommendations.

Further, I never met a boss that enjoyed an explanation for why my work was not done on time or my lack of preparedness. I was not feeling well yesterday; I had to attend a friend’s birthday function; it was the weekend and I was off the clock; etc. These perfectly reasonable (in my mind) justifications did not seem to be found acceptable by my superiors.

Excuses, no matter how legitimate, did not matter. All that matters is getting the job, on time, on budget, and in a professional and competent manner.

Funny how that works in the real world.

It often makes me wish I was back in school.

Teamwork is the Rule

As well, there are not too many positions where you can work completely on your own. Most employees end up as members of teams. You need to work with and rely on the competence of others if you wish to succeed.

Being the slacker from college and relying on the work of others will not cut it in the business world. Better to be a leader and a driving force within the team.

And being able to get everyone working efficiently together is a major skill in itself. Usually one you will not be taught in school.

I remember my first controllership position. I was inheriting a staff of 13 in an oil services company. During the transition, my predecessor was cleaning out his office and tossed me one of his textbooks from the bookshelf. He told me this would be the most important book I would need in the job. I looked down at the title, expecting something to do with accounting, tax, or oil and gas. Instead it was a psychology textbook from his university days. At the time I laughed. But looking back, understanding and being able to deal with the mentality, emotions, and motivations of 13 very different people was a skill worth knowing.

So when a professor gives you the opportunity to work in groups, take advantage of the situation. Begin to develop your leadership and team skills. Work on strengthening your communication skills within the team dynamic and in your final outputs.

These are extremely important skills to develop. Equally important as your accounting, legal, engineering, etc., technical skills.

The Socratic Method of Teaching

I like the Socratic method of teaching. I use it with my staff all the time.

I am sure many do not like it. Making staff think and challenging their responses is not the easiest thing for an employee. Especially when he or she simply wants the right answer. But I find it an effective means of improving employee skills.

If asked a question, and I merely give the answer, the employee does not learn. I want to get staff thinking about the process, how we get to the answer. That will hopefully allow them to improve their cognitive abilities and be able to arrive at the correct conclusions on their own over time.

Thinking about the process and arriving at a well-thought out response, I believe improves communication skills as well. By knowing how one arrives at an answer, assists in articulating the reasoning to others.

In the long run, I want to create employees who are more independent and self-assured. Employees who are able to properly communicate their thoughts and solutions to issues and problems.

This saves me time in answering the same questions over and over. As well, persuasive arguments allow me to change my opinions on issues.

It also allows me to better assess staff. Employees that understand the hows and whys of the position can take on greater roles. These employees can assume more ownership for their tasks and take on greater responsibilities.

Because they understand the processes, they are in better position to take on leadership roles within their groups. They are also better positioned for advancement within the company over those who are not comfortable operating outside their comfort zone.

So I think that being challenged in school, especially by tools such as the Socratic method, helps develop valuable skills for the work world.

And I am not alone in this belief.

As we will see next time, companies place an extremely high value on certain softer skills. Skills that you can develop by being challenged in class.

1 Response » to “Learning Real Job Skills in School?”

  1. business says:

    I have learned that when I am challenged and taken out of their comfort zone, I am able to become more confident in my own abilities knowing that I can achieve something I originally didn’t think I could, or felt uncomfortable doing. Is this true for most people? So why do we send our staff to classes and workshops to help them learn skills in industries they’re already comfortable with? Why send your engineer to another Cisco class or an administrative assistant to a MS Word class? Also, what happens when we try to create team building activities within our organizations? Do we team up 2 employees that we know have a grudge against each other? Do we send employees out to lunch together? I am wondering if it wouldn’t make more sense to send employees out on their own to network outside of your organization. For example, if you have a top engineer that knows your network like the back of his hand but being an introvert, he didn’t have the capability to cross-train. Is he now indespensable? Or, can you send him to Toastmasters where he can network with other business professionals, learn public speaking, share how great his company is because his employer sends him off for 2 hours twice a month to toastmasters lunch group. The result could be that he improves his communication skills so much that he can now conduct a training class within the company and cross-train his co-workers. Also, he turns into good PR for his company. Or a human resources employee that can be sent to chamber lunch rather than a workshop on the new H.R. laws. After all, when that employee is scheduled to update the employee manual, she’s going to review the updated laws anyway. And, as she enjoys lunch and meeting new people at the chamber, she’ll share how great her employer is by sending her to lunch twice a month for 2 hours creating good PR for the company.

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