Real-World Experience Develops Real-World Skills

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This is one article in a series on addressing the need employers have for real-world ready workers. What do real-world skills look like? How can science and math combine with creativity in the classroom? Watch for future articles on ideas to inspire the necessary creativity and innovation, while teaching and learning specific skills.

Students across the U.S. have headed back to class, but as we embark on a new school year we have to question: are we preparing kids to be real-world ready? A recent PayScale Study suggests we have more work to do. The research revealed half of hiring managers in the U.S. don’t believe recent college graduates are prepared with the most important skills for the workforce. Surprisingly, employers are not citing technical skills as a gap, but rather critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration and creativity.

Whatever the underlying reason, the challenge for educators, graduates, and corporations is real. And, it’s going to take a joint effort to solve the skills gap. I see three ways we are making progress.

  • STEM to STEAM: Adding Creativity to the Sciences. With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act in December 2015, STEM has officially evolved into STEAM (science, technology, engineering, math — and now art!). This addition is an acknowledgement that creativity is the key component of a well-rounded approach to thinking, learning, and problem solving. Art and design education will be critical to helping prepare students for success in technology fields. We couldn’t agree more—creativity goes beyond artistic expression. Giving students the opportunity to create equips them to think critically, collaborate, and solve problems. Schools are seeing this too, and it’s encouraging. This year, I visited high schools that were experimenting with bridging creativity, technology and entrepreneurship. I saw students come up with an idea, bring it to life on a 3D printer, and develop a business plan to take it to market.
  • Bringing Design to the Classroom. Students are embracing the opportunity to add art and design to their studies. For instance, students at the U.C. Berkeley Innovative Design Club teach courses on design and photography. Of more than 100 student-run courses, the Introduction to Photoshop and Illustrator course is the most popular, with all available sessions this semester at full capacity. More advanced courses taught by the Innovative Design Club are also popular, including Web Design and Principles of Graphic Design. Of course this is not unique to the Bay Area — students across the country are taking part in the design-led innovation phenomenon.
  • Giving Students Real-World Challenges to Solve. When I meet with teachers, they say that the best, most-inspiring curriculum involves real-world experiences — either with a non-profit or a business. This spring, we experimented with offering students at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena one of our business challenges and we were simply amazed at what they were able to accomplish. We asked them to design the Creative Cloud onboarding experience for students. Together with two product managers and two designers from Adobe, the students came up with five compelling designs for different aspects of onboarding. Not only were the designs excellent, but the process of watching them think through the problems gave us a new perspective. We presented the concepts to the Vice President and General Manager of Creative Cloud Product, Marketing and Community, and she was blown away. The scope of the project has grown and it is a top initiative for the company.

Looking Forward

For us, working with students was a great way to change our perspective and to solve problems that we are implementing today. For the students, this was a chance to use the knowledge they had gained from the classroom and apply it to a business challenge. On their resume, they will have an example of a real-world business problem that they were able to solve.

This fall, we’ll be working with students on more projects – gaining insight from their ideas while providing real-world experiences for them. As we head into this back to school season, I am thinking about how we can do more. The world’s most creative companies are customers of Adobe’s Creative Cloud. We are working on a few ideas to bring opportunities at these creative companies to our student community. In the meantime, what are you doing to spark creativity in the classroom and bridge learning with real-life experiences?