Problem Solving: a competitive advantage in today’s labor market

The scarcity of available job positions and high unemployment rates facing young graduates require a particularly competent worker. Institutions of higher education are continuously trying to improve their didactics, or teaching and learning methods, in order to ensure that students have a competitive advantage when they enter the workforce.  In turn, students are also adapting to new methods of learning. They undergo experimentation in a controlled environment, but without the certainty of success in a practical environment, respectively a future work place. What is it that students need to learn in order to set themselves apart?

At the centre of the learning and working environment, it is the skill to identify, analyze, diagnose and solve problems that are more in demand than ever before. Oddly enough, the ability to solve problems seems to be rare these days. Great problem solving skills can greatly enhance work performance and advance the career of any professional. It can be applied in the simplest of matters and in the most complex situations.

For instance, in your working environment, you may have noticed that customers are confused when they enter your workspace and address their questions to the wrong person. This creates a chaotic situation for you and your colleagues as well as for the customer.


In this situation, you may be the one who identifies the problem. Your analysis of the situation allows you to see why this problem exists. You have gathered information by observation, at which point you may find out that there are no signs to direct the customer to the right place. This is the diagnosis: or, identification of the root cause of the problem.

The next step requires you to discuss with your team and design the best solution that would save the company resources (wasting staff time) while increasing customer satisfaction (clarity and a sense of direction). You would then follow up by checking the impact – are customers now able to see where to direct their questions?

This logic can be easily applied to more complex problems such as information processing within the institution or increasing sales of the company. Regardless of the level of complexity of the problem, this problem-solving skill is vital to any organization. Professionals who possess this skill and apply it well can find themselves at a greater competitive advantage in the labor market.

So, how can one become a great problem solver?

Well, there are a number of factors but I would mention two of the most important characteristics of great problem solvers: critical thinking and self-initiative. Critical thinking is key to problem solving and it is developed by understanding how to apply one’s knowledge and information to analyze different situations.  Self-initiative is characterized by the passion to make positive changes in the company where one works. It is important to say that management of the particular organization has to be open to innovation and self initiative in order to foster such a working environment where employees feel compelled to think critically and to take initiative. These skills are very much in demand and it is up to you as a new graduate to develop and apply this skill in order to raise to the highest levels of your potential.