Critical thinking is commonly listed in job descriptions and important to employers.

In fact, the mention of critical thinking doubled in job postings since 2009. Yet companies struggle to define this sought-after skill and say they have a hard time finding employees who possess it. Many job seekers have an equally challenging experience trying to demonstrate their competency in this area.

So what is critical thinking and how do you develop this skill? There are many definitions, but most converge around major themes of data, logic, and decisiveness. Steve Siebold, business author and consultant, described the skill as, “The ability to remove all emotion from an issue and observe the facts objectively to make a logical decision.” Critical thinking is a structured thought process that includes information gathering, data and situation analysis, and proposal of optimal solutions. Critical thinkers should be confident and decisive, having eliminated most potential errors early in the process. Competency-based education  helps students build these marketable skills.


Skill Building with Competency-Based Education

In competency-based learning environments, students experience simulated real-world scenarios developed around industry standards. They develop critical thinking skills by making assessments, analyzing everyday situations, and making recommendations based on the information uncovered by research. Here are three components of critical thinking and how competency-based learning supports their development.


1. Data Analysis

Data analysis involves taking findings from a survey or research and breaking that down into meaningful insights and company decisions. This is a vital function for the survival of any company in any industry. With competency-based education, students look for patterns in data to make a decision and avoid trying to simply make the data fit their end goal. An explosion in big data jobs and technical positions heightens the need for on-the-job data crunching, but there are plenty of other careers that look to professionals to demonstrate their data analysis skills as well. Think about teachers being able to decipher standardized test scores to improve student achievement, or health care professionals observing increases in infectious diseases within certain populations—data analysis is a skill that is valuable in almost any career field.


2. Effective Communication

Good communication is important for every business and should stretch across every department. Critical thinking is a building block to effective communication—helping individuals communicate by conveying clear arguments and opening channels for ideas and innovations. Competency-based education programs help develop this skill by providing a platform for students to explain what they’re learning, the assessments they’re making, and how they solved a problem or came to a particular conclusion.


3. Problem Solving

Some say problem solving is the mark of an independent employee. Competency-based education provides a solid background for developing critical thinking skills in problem solving. Students learn not to take information at face value; instead they are encouraged to ask questions, confirm the facts behind data, and present a creative, cogent solution.



Get Hired: Why Critical Thinking Matters in the Workplace

Many consider critical thinking to be the key to closing the wisdom gap in the U.S. Companies are experiencing threats to their success in areas of innovation, reckless hiring, and poor leadership, many of which can be linked back to employee competency (or lack thereof). Employers understand that a successful, high-performing organization is dependent on the skills and abilities of the team.

Companies are looking for employees that can provide value right away, with minimal training and the critical thinking skills needed to jump right in. Competency-based education programs hone these skills and can provide a competitive edge in the job market.