As a company, we mostly cater to two markets: business and education. That's been our main focus since we started, and it will likely be our larger focus going forward. As we learn more about these markets, though, it becomes obvious that sometimes you miss some things about the bigger picture. For instance, looking at the big picture, the education market itself is really all about catering to the business market. Schools, especially higher-ed institutions, are all about getting students graduated and placed, after all. So it makes sense that the big drivers in the way schools are moderninzing (like flipped classrooms, project based learning, or using huddle spaces) are all directly relatable to kinds of things businesses are looking at in regards to new hires. But what do these modern learning techniques provide that "normal" classrooms don't? Let's work it out...
The Bottom Line: Book Smarts Aren't Enough If You Can't Work With People
If you take away one thing from this article, let it be that heading. There has been a massive push for increasing enrollment in STEM programs, which has, in turn, increased spending in those programs. Almost any college you investigate will have some manner of STEM program as its most highly budgeted department, and for good reason. STEM graduates have a high placement rate and high average salaries to match.
However, it's becoming obvious that there's a serious deficiency in these programs, because there's still a shortage of personnel to fill STEM positions. Why? This article by the Washington Post points to three skills that just aren't being taught: time management, networking, and the ability to work with other people. In short, the best degree means nothing if you can't learn to get along with people. This is where collaboration comes in.
There is no equation you can teach an engineering student to tell him how to compromise. There's not a periodic table of "getting along with your team members". You can't derive a function that will explain the best way to settle a personal disagreement. These skills come from the one place that STEM programs typically fail to address: working together in teams as part of the learning process.
Proof the World Needs Engineers Who Double as Diplomats
- In 2007, the Association of American Colleges and Universities commissioned a research report titled "How Should Colleges Prepare Students to Succeed in Today's Global Economy?" 305 employers responded, and of those who did, 44% said the ability to work in a team and collaborate with others was at the top of their list. That response made up the highest percentage of responses.
- In a 2016 study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, four out of the top five responses to the question "What attributes to you look for on a prospective employees resume" were collaboration- and teamwork-oriented. These responses were leadership (80.1%), the ability to work in a team (78.9%), written communication skills (70.2%), and verbal communication skills (68.9%).
- A 2011 study by Fierce, Inc. showed that of 1400 corporate executives, employees, and educators, 86% stated that lack of collaboration was to blame for workplace failures. What's more, 90% of respondents believed that a lack of team alignment negatively impacts the outcome of a task or project.
These statistics aren't cherry-picked. Before my time here at wePresent, I spent four years in the IT industry, where the lack of teamwork, communication, and collaboration skills sent many applicants right out the door. Even doing something so rote and technical as fixing computers required the ability to talk to people, to work with them (or around them), and the capability to collectively solve problems. The day of the curmudgeonly sysadmin, locked in a musty basement and sending sardonic emails to help tickets is over (much to the chagrin of many curmudgeonly sysadmins. This trend is not limited to the technical support sector, nor is it limited to the STEM fields as a whole. People will not hire prospective employees if they don't have good communication and teamwork skills.
How Do You Teach Teamwork to Architects, Geneticists, and Doctors?
While I've been pretty cutesy with the sub-heading in this article, that's the problem we're actually looking at. During my time in college, I noticed that STEM track students had a reputation for being hard to work with, and many of them seemed to be insular and detached from the student population as a whole. I won't even go into the occasional bouts of arrogance they were capable of, an unfortunate side effect of the push for STEM students is that those who go into STEM seem to think very highly of themselves before they even graduate.
However, as a business school graduate, I was often told about the necessary compartmentalization of companies, especially large ones. The need to work with other departments was stressed. Friends of mine who graduated from STEM tracks often looked down their noses at us...despite our business school having one of the highest placement rates at our university.
Anecdotal as that evidence may be, it wasn't until I began reading up on active learning that I began to deduce why things were that way. In business school (just like the real world) almost every project is a group project. In our classes, we were taught not only to seek out information ourselves, but to help others seek out the same information. Nothing was done in a vacuum - and that has absolutely been my experience in the real world.
This isn't to say that STEM track students are completely deficient, active learning methodologies have a place in every single aspect of higher education. Flipped classrooms work great in the liberal arts, project-based learning is a staple for business school students, and huddle spaces make the best places for both classes and study sessions. However, STEM tracks do tend to suffer from a lack of attention to the human factor, and active learning concepts are likely the best way to remedy this. STEM classes tend to be taught very traditionally, with lecturers lecturing as they were lectured, and without a lot of improvement on the teamwork front.
We'll be talking more about active learning methodologies and how they're being driven by feedback from employers in later blogs, but I for now, I leave you with the food for thought this article has hopefully provided, and an invitation to come talk to us about what you think the importance and future of collaboration is in the future. You can find our social media accounts below, or just leave a comment on this blog and let us know what you think.