What Google learned about its employees and implications for today’s students?

Over the last year there has been a great deal of discussion about 21st Century learning and whether schools are still preparing their students well enough for their future careers. There has been a major focus on STEM or Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in the curriculum. Others would add the letter A and consider STEAM a better acronym. The A stands for Artistic. The argument is that with a quantitative focus in subject disciplines the importance of creative thought is essential.

Schools are redesigning their science laboratories to be STEM laboratories and students are engaging in activities such as coding, programming, robotics, electronics and advanced manufacturing using 3-D printers or advanced equipment such as CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines. A visit to Flinders University Tonsley Park will give you an immediate impression that the jobs of the future are very different to the jobs of today and yesterday.

Google, a major multi-national company has researched its employees and came to an interesting conclusion. First, the conventional wisdom has always been that “hard skills” were valued the most. These skills are fundamental skills such as job specific competence, for instance a Chef having all the skills to cook and bake. A person at Google having all the IT skills to master a computer, software and associated tasks.

A project at Google reported that the top 8 most important qualities with its top employees had STEM related skills dead last. In fact the top 7 skills included “soft-skills” such as being a good coach, communicating and listening well, possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view), having empathy toward and being supportive, being a critical thinker and problem solver and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

STEM skills are vital to our future and the jobs that will be created in a very advanced technological world. But technology alone will not be enough! These soft-skills are what we fundamentally teach and integrate in subjects such as The Arts, English, Religious Education and Humanities as well as the Sciences, Technology and Mathematics. A secondary education which continues to provide a basis for growing and nurturing a student is critical.

Dr Paul Rijken is principal of Cardijn College, a secondary co-educational school in the southern region of Adelaide with a total of 900 students and 120 staff. Marcellin Technical College is a campus of Cardijn College. It provides students in Years 11 and 12 with SACE, training and apprenticeships. It has an enrolment of over 120 students and 30 staff. Paul has been the principal at Cardijn College since 2005. He has a Ph.D. from Curtin University in Science and Mathematics Education. He is a Fellow of the Australian College of Educational Leaders.

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