You can learn to use graphic design software or run a table saw in a classroom. Someone can teach you the steps to making an omelet or baking a cake. Employers commonly train employees on following procedures specific to their workplace or equipment. But what happens when you encounter a new problem, one for which there is no manual or process? That’s when the soft skill of problem-solving becomes critical.
What Are Problem Solving Skills?
The U.S. Department of Labor says problem-solving and critical thinking are among the most sought-after soft skills. The definition they offer simply says, “problem-solving and critical thinking refers to the ability to use knowledge, facts and data to effectively solve workplace problems.” That sounds easy enough, but employers struggle to find staff with the problem-solving skills their companies need.
The Problem With Finding Problem Solvers
A recent SHRM article says almost three in four employers report having a hard time finding recent college graduates with the soft skills their companies require. When it came to critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, 64 percent of respondents said it was “very or somewhat difficult,” to hire staff that could solve problems on their own.
The article suggests a growing reliance on technology might make it harder for young people to learn soft skills. Young adults go online to click through life tasks that used to require in-person interaction. Instead of joining fraternities or sororities, participating in sports, marching in band or socializing in person, communication happens electronically. There’s less requirement for personal problem-solving and more reliance on technology.
However, the more machines take over tasks that can be automated, the more employers will need people who can solve problems computers can’t, who can think like humans instead of relying on a procedure or algorithm. Employers need workers who don’t go to a machine or computer to find the answers, but who are willing to look themselves.
How Problem Solvers Operate
People who effectively use the soft skill of problem-solving break their approach down into a series of steps.
- Pinpoint what’s causing the problem – That might require gathering and analyzing data, looking at what happened in the past and seeking facts about contributing circumstances.
- Brainstorm possible solutions – Once they identify all the possible sources of the issue, problem solvers, either individually or with their team, generate possible solutions. They might call this step brainstorming, creative thinking, project planning or something else, but the process is usually creative and informal.
- Evaluate options – Problem solvers go through their list of ideas and pick the one they believe has the greatest chance of success.
- Implement plan – Critical thinkers use their problem-solving skills to find a way to act.
- Evaluate – Problem solvers analyze results to see if their solution worked. If it can be tweaked, they do so. If it didn’t work, they go back to step one and start over.
Developing Problem Solving Skills
If unusual problems make you feel confused or frustrated, it would benefit your career to develop problem-solving skills. Here are some actionable ideas anyone can use.
Play Logic Games
Work your strategic thinking muscles with games that require you to think through problems. Sudoku, a Rubik’s Cube, crossword puzzles and online brain training programs challenge you to work problems backward and keep trying until you find a solution.
Start an Idea Journal
Get in the habit of regularly identifying something that causes friction in the workplace or in everyday life. Generate possible solutions and explore ideas.
Change Your Language
Allow your mind to relax by using language that creates possibility. When you propose possible solutions, start with words like, “imagine if…” or “what if we tried…”.
Make Mind Maps
People who have a hard time brainstorming sometimes find it easier to sketch their way to a solution. To get started, write your problem in the center of a piece of paper. Add branches around that hub to note factors contributing to the problem. Then continue to “map” out ways to address those factors.
Hire Problem Solving Employees
Brelsford Personnel is a full-service staffing agency providing qualified, pre-screened candidates for East Texas employers. We work hard to find productive solutions to your staffing needs. Contact us to find employees with soft and hard skills to run your business at its peak.