Teaching skills in a demanding and ever-changing job market

My spouse and I just returned from our annual holiday trip to the United Kingdom to visit her family and friends. I enjoy the holidays in the UK. The culture promotes taking time off to (almost) completely disconnect from work. We can concentrate on relationships, spending time with family eating a Christmas meal whilst wearing a funny hat and catching up with friends on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day.

Our social circle in the UK includes no lawyers, but it does include some highly successful people engaged in a variety of professions. This year, our conversations focused – understandably, given the post-Brexit political climate – on the future, in particular, its uncertainty. I soaked up these conversations like brandy butter on Christmas pudding.

One friend owns an agency that brings strategic thinking and creative problem solving to a variety of businesses. He’s been in high demand lately. He told us that organizations are discovering that they are not well-equipped to solve the problems of the future. These organizations find that they don’t have employees with the skill sets to appropriately define problems and devise creative solutions. This friend, a man educated at one of the most reputable universities in the world, complained that universities aren’t teaching the skills students will need to compete in the job market of the very-near future, and he urged me to take a look at The Future of Jobs Report published by the World Economic Forum.

The Report is worth a look. It shows that across industries, employers expect that over fifty percent of their work forces need significant reskilling or upskilling. Interestingly, it is the executive workforce – those in leadership positions – who will need to have the most flexibility. And, according to employers’ predictions, the skills employees will need most in 2022 are:

Analytical thinking and innovation

Active learning and learning strategies

Creativity, originality and initiative

Technology design and programming

Critical thinking and analysis

Complex problem-solving

Leadership and social influence

Emotional intelligence

Reasoning, problem-solving and ideation

Systems analysis and evaluation

The good news for legal education is that we traditionally focus on developing our students’ reasoning, critical-thinking, and analytical-thinking skills. But as our friend explained, few employees in any industry or profession have been explicitly trained in complex problem-solving methodology or schooled in creative thinking. Although many law students may display creativity and the ability to solve complex problems, few are explicitly trained in a method to do so effectively. And not many law school syllabi contain emotional intelligence components – defined in the Report as being sensitive to others’ feelings and needs, being pleasant and cooperative, preferring to work with others rather than alone, and being aware of others’ reactions and understanding why they react as they do.

Today, the world of work is changing at a rapid pace. Just as employers are constantly assessing and addressing the changing world and attempting to maintain a workforce that will meet the demands of continual change, law schools would be wise to regularly venture outside of their silos and evaluate their curriculum, their teaching methods and the need for innovation. Instead of simply looking at what other law schools are doing to meet the market’s future needs, it is useful to explore other disciplines and learn from other industries and thinkers – such as the World Economic Forum. In addition, law professors should be asking themselves which of these skills-for-the-future they teach and how they might revamp their courses to better prepare their students to solve new and challenging problems. For those who like New Year’s resolutions, you may want to put this self-evaluative process on your list for 2019.

 

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