Problem-solving perfection in 3 steps

Kirstie Mackey

In 2013, Kirstie created and launched LifeSkills. From teaching CV writing skills in classrooms to hiring people for her various teams, Kirstie has years of experience in knowing what employers are looking for and how to get ahead in your chosen career. As well as heading up LifeSkills, Kirstie is a champion for young people and is leading the call for businesses to support young people get work-ready.

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Image credit: Pxhere. Image credit: Pxhere.

The world of work is changing, as the types of jobs and industries change in response to economic, societal, global and technological developments. This means that we cannot say with any certainty what jobs today’s young people will find themselves in in five, 10 or even 20 years’ time. What we can do, however, is ensure that the younger generation are prepared for this uncertainty. By instilling them with the core, transferable skills that will be needed in the 21st century workplace, we can help them to be ready for whatever industry they choose to enter, allowing them to thrive in a changing environment.

One skill which needs particular focus and attention is problem-solving. Giving students the framework and tools to critically think through a problem not only sets them up for greater academic success, “Two-thirds of businesses see skills gaps as a threat to the UK’s competitiveness.”but will be a valuable skill that can be used throughout their career. The confidence of knowing that they can deal with any unpredictable problems that they may face in the workplace can make all the difference in helping young people flourish in interviews and in day-to-day working life.

To help educators support young people in strengthening their problem-solving skills, there are three simple steps that I’ve found to be successful:

1. Structured thinking

It’s important that young people understand that approaching a problem in a logical and structured manner will often make it much easier to achieve a positive outcome. Here are six simple steps to help young people solve problems through a structured and clear process.

  • Identify: what is the problem?
  • Break down: chunk the problem into manageable parts.
  • Observe: look for recurring patterns.
  • Think freely: focus on the big picture.
  • Apply: work out a better way of doing things.
  • Evaluate: test the solutions.

These are adapted from computational thinking, a process used in the development of computer applications.

2. Use role-play to demonstrate problem-solving in action

Working through practical scenarios as a group not only enables young people to see how this approach applies to everyday life, but it can also empower them with a new, adaptable approach to solving problems.

In groups, you can ask students to discuss various work-related scenarios, from a tricky customer making a complaint, to pitching for funding to launch a new product. Let the students work the problems through as a group, but add in additional challenges as they discuss.

Encourage them to use a systematic thought process like the one above, and share their different answers and approaches with each other. You can then challenge the students to explain how and why they’ve taken different trains of thought to solve the problem, and discuss any potential issues with the solutions they’ve proposed.

3. Demonstrate how important problem-solving is and why it’s relevant to employers

Young people will already possess some problem-solving skills, but may not recognise them as a strength or understand how they can be developed. We need to take the time to not only refine these skills in young people, but to make them realise their importance, how attractive they can be to employers, and their relevance for working life.

This is where employers can play a vital part in helping educators to equip young people with the key skills and experience they need to succeed in the modern workplace. Businesses are already concerned about finding enough people with the right transferable skills, with nearly two-thirds seeing skills gaps as a threat to the UK’s competitiveness. This is especially true of problem-solving skills, with research showing that 40% of employers are unhappy with school leavers’ problem-solving skills.

However, despite their importance, only 3% of teenagers believe problem-solving skills are essential for their CVs. Partnering with businesses can help young people to hear first-hand how valued these skills really are, and give them practical experience in speaking to employers about their skill set. This could be through having an employer in to talk about why problem-solving skills are relevant to their industry, or to run a practical workplace challenge session with the students.

The workforce of the future

Whatever their chosen careers, the workforce of the future will undoubtedly experience challenges and need to solve problems in the workplace. Understanding the basics of problem-solving and how to approach challenges logically, with a positive approach, can help young people arrive at solutions or recommendations. Educators have a key role to play in helping young people to do this, but they needn’t do it alone: educators and employers must work together to ensure that the younger generation is as prepared as they can be for the future workplace.

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