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In part one of a two-part article published on EdCircuit, Roger Stark and Betsy Hill discuss the role of cognitive skills in the workplace.

Many employers bemoan the fact that too many workers are unprepared for the demands of today’s workplace. Because the amount of new technical information is doubling every two years, students starting a four-year technical or college degree today will find that half of what they learn in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year. Following that logic, much of what students learn by the time they earn their diploma and find a job will be obsolete and will need to be updated and relearned on the job. According to Cathy Davidson, co-director of the annual MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions, 65% of today’s elementary school children may eventually work in jobs that haven’t yet been created.

That’s why the job of training a workforce is vastly different than it was just a few decades ago. As one leading researcher characterizes it, “Today’s central managerial challenge is to inspire and enable knowledge workers to solve, day-in and day-out, problems that cannot be anticipated.” And if most workers must be knowledge workers, they must be adept at acquiring knowledge. In other words, they must be learners. Whatever the specific skills workers need to acquire, each employee’s cognitive capacity to take in and process information, store, retrieve, and problem-solve with it, and continue learning determines his or her effectiveness. The evidence is becoming stronger every day that, as one group of researchers expressed it, “The modern workplace runs largely on the cognitive abilities of its workforce.”

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