Have you ever been regularly stuck in traffic?  Smelled something funky in your basement?  Wondered why your baby was crying? 

Most people would agree that not a day goes by that you haven’t had a challenge to overcome or a fire to put out.  Facing problems and challenges are a certainty in all aspects of life – at home, school, and at work.

It should be no surprise that employers are always looking for employees who demonstrate strong problem solving skills.  In fact, according to iCIMS, a talent acquisition software company, 62% of recruiting professionals identify problem-solving as a skill that gets you hired.

Why do you need problem-solving skills at work?

There are several reasons why effective problem solving is a much sought after skill by employers including:

  • Bringing a fresh perspective to “old” problems
  • Fixing issues on your own without constant input from manager
  • Recovering quicker and back to productivity in a timely manner because you’ve used a structured problem solving process
  • Demonstrating perseverance and the ability to stick with a challenge until it’s resolved

62% of recruiting professionals identify problem-solving as a skill that gets you hired. – iCIMS

How to improve your problem solving abilities

At the heart of a good problem solving process is the ability to reflect and ask good questions, research thoroughly, and practice active listening:  

  • If you’ve faced a similar problem in the past, reflect on the strategies you used at that time.  What worked?  What didn’t work?  Using your intuition and past experiences can help you find solutions to similar or smaller problems.
  • More complex problems – those that you have no prior experience in or knowledge of – require a deeper process.  The ability to conduct effective research is an important skill here.  Doing an internet search, sourcing books and articles from reputable sources, or seeking out the expert opinions of others are all ways that you can start tackling bigger issues.
  • Active listening and questioning are important skills needed to better understand a problem that involves other people.  There are many perspectives to consider in these situations, and improving your active listening will ensure you’re taking all stakeholders into consideration.

Problem solving skills in the classroom

Adult education programs are a great place to work on improving your problem solving skills.  You will have the chance to tackle a variety of challenges through independent work, group work, and instructor-led lessons.  Creative thinking, critical thinking, and collaboration are three strategies that are regularly practiced in the classroom:

  • Creative thinking
    • Looking at problems in different ways and generating new ideas through brainstorming are ways to tap into your creative thinking ability.  For example, in a science lesson about energy consumption, your instructor might ask you to brainstorm a list of items in your home or habits of each family member that use a lot of electricity.
    • Connecting situations or lessons  in the classroom with personal experiences is a useful creative strategy.  If a fellow classmate is having trouble coming up with ideas for an essay they are writing, sharing your own personal experience or story related to the topic may help them generate ideas and get the ball rolling.
  • Critical thinking
    • Critical thinking is a process that encourages you to look at all angles of an issue, through questioning, before deciding on the best solution.  
    • Your instructor may ask you open ended questions on a variety of topics to get your logical and critical thinking skills moving.  In a reading lesson, your instructor might ask you questions about a passage such as “What other outcomes might have occurred?”, “Where would you most often find the type of problem the main character faced?”, or “How would the story change if it took place in a different setting?”  
    • You can also use critical thinking to evaluate your own work.  If you wrote an essay that received a poor grade, rather than tossing it to the side and hoping for the best next time, ask yourself, “What are the strengths and weaknesses of this essay?”, “Did I monitor and regulate my distractions when I was writing it?, and “Did I ask questions if I needed help?”.  Asking yourself self-assessment questions can help you zero in on possible solutions/strategies for your next piece of writing.
  • Collaboration
    • Working on a problem as a team through group work allows you to “talk things out” and hear different perspectives that you may have never thought of on your own.  Each person comes with a unique set of experiences that allows them to see things differently.
    • Active listening is important in collaboration because it requires you to move outside of your own head-space and focus on the needs and concerns of others.
    • In a social studies activity, you might work as a group to decide on the top characteristics of the ideal prime minister.  What one student feels is important may not be the same as another student because it is rooted in their own unique personal experiences and values. Hearing their perspective and why they chose those characteristics may open your mind to broader possibilities and lead to a stronger “candidate profile” for the group assignment.

By practicing your problem solving skills using a well-planned approach, you’ll get better at it over time.

If you’ve been thinking about upgrading your academic skills for employment, college, or apprenticeship, an adult education program like the one at PALC will also help you sharpen the skills that your future employers are looking for.