UBC experts discuss relationship between academic ability and hirability
As grade-schoolers concentrate on the three Rs, many university students are already planning their future careers. Many believe top grades are the key to landing successful jobs, but does this always hold true? UBC Okanagan researchers, including Assoc. Prof. Andis Klegeris and Heather Hurren, have published new findings that highlight the importance of problem-solving skills and how these are not always correlated with an A+.
What do you believe employers are looking for?
Assoc. Prof. Andis Klegeris: Today’s job market is highly competitive across almost all sectors. Previous research findings have shown that the most sought-after skills of new employees are the ability to work in a team environment and being able to apply meaningful problem-solving skills.
Can you explain how you define problem-solving skills?
AK: Problem-solving skills involve several interconnected tasks such as processing information, reasoning, planning and decision-making. We believe that these are learnable, with experience, but they tend to be unteachable through classical lecturing because often, there is no clear path or “right answer.” Examples may include how to fix a broken appliance, putting furniture together and travelling abroad without knowledge of the local language.
What was your most recent research and what are the take-homes?
AK: In our latest study, we administered a generic problem-solving test to almost 1,000 university students. We compared the scores achieved in this test with the students’ academic marks and found that these two measures were not correlated. In other words, academic learning and problem-solving may represent two independent skill sets for students. This further suggests that high academic grades are not are not a predictor of problem-solving ability. And receiving great marks doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be an exemplary employee.
What can universities do to enhance a student’s employment success?
AK: Many employers already distinguish academic and job-related abilities as independent skills by placing less emphasis on grade-point-averages than students do.
We believe that different classroom approaches can be used to enhance problem-solving skills and employability. For example, some of our instructors are already using flipped classroom approaches with self-guided learning, interactive discussion and collaborative work.
A helpful approach might be to develop a problem-solving skills testing tool, with the aim of eventually developing a comprehensive student portfolio that would highlight achievements in various categories of skills. This would provide future employers with broader information about a student’s ability.
We think it would be interesting to follow up with students to see if this is something they would like.
About the authors
- Andis Klegeris is an Associate Professor of Biology in UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences
- Emelie Gustafsson is a sessional instructor of Statistics in UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences
- Heather Hurren is the Manager of Academic Development at UBC Okanagan