New Study: Employers Rate Their Employees’ Critical Thinking Skills as Only Average

The American Management Association just released their 2012 Critical Skills Survey which surveyed over 700 managers and executives regarding the importance of the 4 C’s (Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity) in the workplace.

The results were clear.  Not only are the 4 C’s increasingly important, but the respondents said they are assessing candidates for these skills during the selection process and evaluating their employees progress with regard to these skills in performance appraisals.


  • Over 70% of managers reported that Critical Thinking skills have been identified as key priorities in employee development and succession planning for the next 3 years.
  • 68% of managers reported that their employees’ critical thinking skills are measured on annual performance reviews.
  • 70% of respondents said that as the economy improves, critical thinking will be the most important skill to helping the organization grow.
69% of organizations surveyed assess candidates' critical thinking skills during the… Click To Tweet
And yet, while employers have clearly stated the importance of critical thinking skills both now and in the future, there is a serious skills gap in the workforce.
Sadly, the number of managers who admitted their employees were below average in critical thinking has increased (9.8% in 2012 compared to 6.2% in 2010).  Forty percent of executives rated their employees’ critical thinking skills as average.
So, what should we do to address this skills gap?
 “The AMA 2012 Critical Skills Survey shows that managers and executives believe it is easier to develop these skills in students and recent graduates (59.1%) than it is to develop them in experienced workers (27.1%), suggesting that students and recent graduates may be more open to new ideas, versus experienced workers with established work patterns and habits.”
The training and coaching must start early.  If colleges and universities are unable to produce graduates with excellent critical thinking skills, then it will be up to employers to foster these skills and embed them in their training, coaching, and mentoring programs.
 What do you think?  
Are you seeing the same skills gap in your organization?  
How are you building the critical thinking skills of your employees?

To learn more about why critical thinking matters in the workplace, download the Critical Thinking Means Business white paper here.

Editor’s Note: Breanne Harris is the Solutions Architect for Pearson TalentLens.  She works with customers to design selection and development plans that incorporate critical thinking assessments and training.  She has a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and has experience in recruiting, training, and HR consulting.  She is the chief blogger for Critical Thinkers and occasionally posts at ThinkWatson.  Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter for more of her thoughts.

9 responses to “New Study: Employers Rate Their Employees’ Critical Thinking Skills as Only Average”

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  2. T Sherry

    Are lessons in Critical Thinking the Solution?
    Consider the root causes of violence, depression, any act that harms oneself or another. Lessons that teach critical thinking skills throughout grade school and high school may have a dramatic effect in reducing some of the ills that continue to plague society. Humility, self-worth, skepticism, and perseverance are some of the critical thinking skills attributed to success in love, work, or finance. If our social scientists can evolve these skills, after a few generations, I suspect our country would see a new period of growth, enlightenment, and perhaps all the biased news outlets fade away.

    During my first semester in college, I elected a social science/humanities class where my professor posed a solution that would address harmful thinking, promote positive thinking, and the possible effects on society. I am not a young student, and I was most intrigued. The solution was to teach Critical Thinking, as a required subject, in grade school and high school. This prompted thought, I considered the cost, measurable targets/goals, effects of an education value-based engineering approach, and the social return on said investment. The Age of Aquarius is over; perhaps we are ready for a different approach.

    College teaches these skills in humanities classes and psychology classes. Some parents attempt to teach these skills throughout their life, and some times, at some point, wisdom, intelligence, and age “do the trick”. Self- help books make are one source, religion another, but regardless of the source, for most I think critical thinking is a learned skill.

    Learning these skills, and having the patience to implement, takes practice. If I had Critical Thinking classes in grade school, I probably wouldn’t have enrolled in that record club at age twelve and may have deduced that 13 records for one penny was not such a good deal when you read the fine print. I received albums every month, bills piled up and in the end my parents paid them off. It’s not that my parents didn’t have the legal knowledge that a child could not enter into a binding contract without parental/guardian approval, it is that they could hardly afford a legal battle.

    Many of us know the phrase “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”. After watching forty years of television, I think you can make that horse drink, but only if that horse it somewhat thirsty, and has seen the commercials. If tv ratings are an indication, we like to “drink” adventures that don’t involve critical thinking skills and/or teach moral outcomes. Morals according to whose morality is an issue addressed by our laws. I want our laws to mandate critical thinking, and teach that horse the thirst for knowledge.

    Our country being among the last to abolish slavery, shows a lack of critical thinking. When do we abolish preferential treatment? When is a moral debt paid? How many generations does it take to erase the call for retributions for war crimes? To react poorly, because our ancestors or other countries ancestors acted poorly, is not a critical thinking skill. An evolution/revolution in critical thinking skills may offer practical solutions to many tough questions.

    For me, the crux is, how do we socially engineer behavior to have the desired outcome? The answer I return to is “critical thinking skills”. To believe that behavior cannot be socially engineered is best disproved by television and examples of propaganda that caused great harm. Ben Franklin was no saint, and while some biographies paint that picture, I admire him for him for his accomplishments in critical thinking. He developed these critical thinking skills successfully and demonstrated them throughout his life, via business, science and communication (letters, articles, laws). Ben’s recorded daily habit of fresh air, preferably cold, we can now scientifically validate as a healthy recommendation. We now know this to be “common sense”, but how did that evolve to be common? At what point did the majority say, I know this to be of “common sense”? Washing our hands after the rest room is now known as “common sense”, particularly in the hospitality industry. I think we have the technology and social education to speed up learning “common sense”.
    Teaching critical thinking skills begins with parents, and should be continued by educators throughout our legally mandated school life. When we invest in positive social engineering, I believe we, and future generations, will reap the rewards.
    Thank you for your consideration.
    TJS, phi1103

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  5. Chris

    Do managers have critical thinking skills? Can they apply in communicating effectively? Initiate, model collaborative behavior in a workplace? Can they foster creativity? Sadly, these behaviors are not the norm in workplace America.

  6. Estudo: Como anda o censo critico de seus colaboradores? |

    [...] Você também enxerga esta lacuna em sua organização? referência: [...]

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  9. Status of Critical Thinking in the Workplace | mindstorm tools

    […] rated by employers as being a skill of increasing importance, and yet a recent study showed 49% of employers rate their employees’ critical thinking skills as only average or below […]

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