Why Problem Solving Is The Best Skill To Develop

The more people talk about the skills gap, the more I realize it’s a problem employers, and not candidates are going to have to fix. Sure, there’s the issue of candidates not seeking and learning the skills required of some of the world’s most high-paying jobs, and schools may need to focus on showing students how learning a trade can help them out in the long run. But if candidates aren’t interested, they won’t learn, and employers will be the ones who suffer. The candidates will find somewhere else to work — we’re in a candidate-driven market, after all. But if we attain better hires, we’re going to have to focus on things outside of learned skills. My recommendation? Problem-solving.

Problem-Solving: The Hardest Soft Skill to Find

Employers are realizing schools aren’t producing the candidates they need, and are adapting accordingly. Rather than focus purely on skills that make resumes look good, 77% of employers are now looking for candidates with “soft skills” and 16% of employers consider them more crucial than hard skills. Soft skills are those you can’t easily learn on the job: communication, ethic and of course, problem-solving.

But while they may be looking, employers are coming up short on these kinds of candidates as much as they are those with the hardest of skills. A 2013 survey of the St. Louis workforce recently found candidates came up short with regards to the three skills I mentioned earlier. When candidates lack these skills, on-the-job training becomes much more difficult, and employers know this. It’s why they’re looking so hard, and the reason they’re coming up short is because they’re screening for problem-solving effectively, and not encouraging the kind of training employees need to improve at this crucial skill.

Why Problem-Solving Matters

Why is this soft skill so important? Because proper problem-solving skills will help employees learn all the hard skills they’ll need on the job, and help them thrive in whatever environment they may be working in. Once a problem-solving ethic kicks in, employees are less likely to have to ask questions about the work they’re doing, as they’ll be more inclined to look for their own solutions to the various problem they’ll encounter. As they solve more problems and continue learning, they’ll eventually become the self-sufficient and knowledgeable employees everyone is looking for.

Candidates know this as well, and are attempting to learn these skills as they look for jobs. Tim Murphy, founder of job-search company ApplyMate, catalogs his experience in learning to problem solve in order to get better jobs:

“Like any other highly -valued skill set, a can-do attitude requires practice, practice, practice. When preparing for different government jobs, I knew I’d face a lot of problem-solving or puzzle questions, and my early attempts at these challenges did not go well . . .  I needed work. So I tried as many sample questions as I could and bought puzzle and mental exercise books like How Would You Move Mt. Fuji? Most of these questions deal more with how to react to and work through the problem at hand, so they’re great practice even if you don’t get many of the answers.”

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First published on Talent Culture by Sean Pomeroy

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