My Two Cents: Career Skills And MCPS

My Two Cents is a weekly opinion column from Bethesda resident Joseph Hawkins. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BethesdaNow.com.

IJoseph Hawkinsn a recent publication, Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr wrote, “…industry leaders are telling us that our graduates don’t have skills like perseverance, teamwork and creative problem solving that are so important in the 21-century workplace.”

When reading Starr’s entire essay, one realizes he is not just writing about MCPS high school graduates, but high school graduates in general.

But what do these skills really entail? How much can a public school system do to instill those skills and should that be where our focus is?

Perseverance: steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement. 

When it comes to working, perseverance is the kind of skill I believe I picked up working summer jobs. When I was in high school, I worked in a bakery. All I did every day, all day was wash pots and pans. That’s it. After I had been there for a while, the bakers let me fill various pastries with pastry cream, but for the most part, my sole purpose in life was washing pots and pans.

By the end of that summer I was the best dish washer in America.

I imagine that public schools can instill some perseverance, especially through complex research projects, sports, and other extracurriculars. But for the most part, I think perseverance is picked up elsewhere and not necessarily in a high school classroom.

Teamwork: cooperative or coordinated effort on the part of a group of persons acting together as a team or in the interests of a common cause.

I think teamwork varies on the employer workplace style and culture. My company is team-based project work. So generally, employees work in teams. But many of us end up working jobs where teamwork is not even remotely important. Probably half of America’s workforce is stuck in a cubicle and at the end of the day judged solely on how much data was entered into spreadsheets. Teamwork in these situations is meaningless.

In the summer, I can look out my Rockville office window and witness the hired landscapers cutting the grass and blow the cuttings into the nearby street. They are fast and coordinated — a well-oiled machine. A team. But gee-whiz, is this concept something one needs integrated into a high school curriculum?

Creative Problem Solving: Creative problem solving, a type of problem solving, is the mental process of searching for a new and novel creative solution to a problem, a solution which is novel, original and not obvious.

Several weeks ago, my brother had surgery and ended up in the intensive care unit at the Washington Hospital Center. During visits, I’d watch the various hospital staff moving about, doing this and doing that. But honestly, their jobs looked routine to me. I’m sure that these folks save lives.

But I’ll bet that how they go about doing that is more the result of training and consistently following the right procedures and routines.

Sure, every now and then a staff member might think “out-of-box” and solves some unsolvable problem. Still, I would think that steady and boring is probably what saves most lives — not creativity.

We have this crazy notion that all MCPS graduates will be gainfully employed and solving the world’s most pressing issues and problems. That’s a pipe dream.

The vast majority of our graduates will end up with ordinary jobs, which I think is fine. I would describe my life as ordinary.

I think Starr and MCPS might be better off not listening to industry leaders, whoever they are and they never get named And for what it’s worth — from someone who is involved in hiring young people — I’d rather take young people who have mastered the basics and seem well-rounded with both feet on the ground.

They are young people who are generally knowledgeable (I sometimes call this general “smarts”) curious, modest, polite, logical thinkers (creativity is not required) and speak and write proper English.

MCPS definitely has a role to play with those last three characteristics — thinking, speaking, and writing, especially writing. In my company, writers are worth their weight in gold.

One final thought. I’ve been at my current Rockville firm since 2000. Even during the recession, my firm was hiring. We are profitable. Since 2000, I’ve probably been involved in more than 50 job interviews.

I can’t recall what was said in each interview, but I can remember this: I don’t think what high school job candidates attended came up.

Joseph Hawkins is a longtime Bethesda resident who remembers when there was no Capital Crescent Trail. He works full-time for an employee-owned social science research firm located Montgomery County. He is a D.C. native and for nearly 10 years, he wrote a regular column for the Montgomery Journal. He also has essays and editorials published in Education Week, the Washington Post, and Teaching Tolerance Magazine. He is a serious live music fan and is committed to checking out some live act at least once a month.


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