About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Monday, June 2, 2008

New skills for the workplace

Tony Karrer and Michele Martin are pleased to announce the founding of Work Literacy

This is an area that I have been working around for the past few years. In answering the questions they posed to begin this group, I began to think of the skills that new workers will need for the next decade. This is a partial list:

  1. The ability to dig for information. Many of my students comment that they have trouble finding information, yet I can go to the computer and find it in a few minutes. Why? I can scan results quickly, make connections with the information, and make new connections. Now, on top of that, I am able to save it so I can return and dig deeper when I have time.
  2. Have a flexible ability to write and speak in different registers ( informal, formal, international, local, business, social, etc...).
  3. Be able to look at the forest AND the trees and know where he or she is located. Details are important as is the big picture knowing where you fit. Organizations need to move away from the specialist and instead focus on the trainable (who can become a specialist with minimal training).
  4. The ability to think critically and ask questions. For many organizations and managers, this can be threatening. However, we need to begin to recognize that everyone is fallible. How failures or mistakes are handled are important. Therefore, we need as many eyes and ears and minds open that can help an organization stop before it gets in too deep. The culture of blame needs to be changed.
  5. Speaking of culture, knowledge workers need to understand the different ways in which knowledge can be constructed and used. One shortcoming to American business today is the assumption that we understand another culture and its intentions without trying to understand the underlying idea of "knowledge" in that culture. Relationship building is one form of knowledge, as is an understanding of the artifacts within a culture.
  6. Learning how to learn is important. However, recognizing that there will be learning throughout our lifetime is even more important. The need to learn needs to be emphasized throughout schooling and the transition into the workplace.
  7. How to make choices. Unfortunately, our educational system has not developed this skill as students are given checklists to follow. However, knowledge workers will need to be able to measure options, think through problems, analyze the situation, and make decisions as new tools allow them (and even force them) to take more responsibility for their decisions in the workplace. For example, the internet requires that they know what they are looking for and allows them to tailor their tools to optimize their work (i.e. blogs, wikis, etc...). As these tools (and managers) require more individual responsibility and choice, workers will need to understand the impact that their choices have on the individual, groups in which they work, and the organization as a whole.
  8. Finally, the ability to identify the affordances of any new technology is important. As more and more tools are introduced, workers need to know how to choose which tools and which of those tools they need to master (and spend time mastering).
This is just the beginning of the list. I am sure many have other ideas.


Michele said...

I think this is an excellent list! I particularly like your points about the need for cultural literacy. This can extend internationally as well as within our own country. I'm White and my husband is Black--in the past 5 years that we've been together, I've been able to learn on a very deep level our differences in how we see the world and how we construct and view knowledge and relationships.

I also think there are cultural differences between disciplines--IT people, for example, see the world differently than marketing people. These cultural differences mean that how we use language and think about knowledge create opportunities for both conflict and learning that we need to pay attention to.

Thanks for making me think!

Tony Karrer said...

Some of these are going to be very hard to teach!

V Yonkers said...

Michele, I sometimes wonder if I am drawn towards interdisciplinary studies (I have a degree in International studies, International Management, and my Ph.D. program in Education has included courses in anthrolinguistics, comparative education, and applied psychology) because I see the world as many different epistemologies. I find it difficult to explain to those that have never been out of their own culture (discipline, organization, ethnic group, school, geographic reason) how cultural differences the create conflict often are subtle.

Tony: It will be especially difficult if workers aren't taught before they enter the workforce. I think that transitional programs into the workforce needs to 1)determine the level of these skills and 2) provide training to develop these and other skills as they evolve.

However, the choice of instructional design can help to develop these skills.

Michele said...

I think that the more time you spend connecting with other "cultures" the more you realize that the differences do exist and have an impact on communication and understanding. To me it's a circular kind of connection.

V Yonkers said...

What do you think the starting point for connecting to the other cultures are? If we have graduates coming into the workplace who have never been exposed to other "cultures" what can we do to get them to start connecting with others from other cultures?