Essential Skills Definition Review

Review of definition for Thinking Skills

HRSDC would like to change the definition of Thinking Skills to:

"Thinking skills involve mental processes used in cognitive functions that enable people to make meaning from, and create with, information: solving problems, making decisions, critical thinking, planning and organizing job tasks, using a significant amount of memory, and finding, synthesizing and analyzing information.

In the workplace, the various functions of thinking skills are applied to most tasks. Some examples include looking for details in a report, planning and coordinating activities such as meetings, recommending actions to be taken, and interpreting the results of a study."

What are your thoughts and comments about this change?


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  1. Comment

    Finding Information, Significant Use of Memory and Job Task Planning and Organizing should be removed from our set of skills.

    Finding Information should be removed because it duplicates Reading, Document Use and Computer Use (Internet searches).

    Significant Use of Memory should be removed because there are extremely few occupations where the need for this skill is significant (actors would be one of them).

    Job Task Planning and Organizing should be removed from our set of skills because the need for it cannot be assessed at the occupational level. The need for Job Task Planning and Organizing largely depends on the job incumbent’s position. If the job incumbent is in an entry-level position with no employee, his need for Job Task Planning and Organizing for himself is fairly basic and he has no need to plan for others. If the job incumbent is in a senior position with 30 employees, his own Job Task Planning and Organizing gets more complicated; he gets more often interrupted; he needs to adjust his schedule more frequently. Moreover, he has to plan and organize the work of 30 other people. The need for Job Task Planning and Organizing is defined by the position in which the job incumbent works and not by his occupation. Thus describing

    Job Task Planning and Organizing needs at the occupational level does not make any sense.

    Comments on this comment

    1. Comment

      I agree

  2. Comment

    Carol MacLeod's Recommended Process for Updating HRSDC’s Framework for Thinking Skills.

    This framework for Thinking Skills is too important to offer comments that are not informed by deeper research and analysis. The time required to offer helpful feedback on HRSDC’s proposed definition of Thinking Skills exceeds the scope and timelines associated with the work of this Panel. Given the modest amount of information provided in the foundation document circulated in advance, and the lack of reference to the Problem Solving framework in ALLS, I am concerned about possible shortfalls in the upfront effort leading to the proposed definition that we have been asked to consider. As such, I am prepared to offer some food for thought that may be a path to moving forward.

    It appears that the proposed definition is a roll-up of the various cognitive functions and that a decision has already been made to include all six cognitive functions. I would like to provide feedback on which cognitive processes should be included and suggest that attention be focussed on the definition for each cognitive function. From there, a roll-up definition of Thinking Skills makes sense.

    What cognitive functions should be included? The heavy hitters from a cognitive perspective are Problem Solving and Critical Thinking. The ALLS framework for Problem Solving is state-of-the-art and the degree to which this has been considered is not clear to me.

    What was formerly referred to as Job Task Planning & Organizing (as applied to organizing own tasks—the basis for the complexity scale) I feel is also important although the scale is a little unwieldy. I once prepared an Essential Skills Profile for the occupation of Dispatcher (working in the trucking industry) and Job Task Planning & Organizing was the most important skill.

    The construct for Decision Making is light and I do not find it valuable as a stand-alone skill. It is embedded in Problem Solving and Critical Thinking. Keep in mind that there was an argument for its value before Critical Thinking was included as one of the cognitive processes.

    The absence of a workable complexity scale for Significant Use of Memory is an indicator that the foundation is shaky for continuing to position this as a cognitive process supporting Thinking Skills. In research on Thinking, Memory is typically referenced but, unless HRSDC is prepared to invest in developing a workable scale, I do not support its inclusion. In practical terms, the current definition is typically misunderstood by end-users and the quality of the related data collected as part of the ES Research Project is not as strong as it is for Problem Solving or Critical Thinking for example. I recommend dropping it. If it stays then note that framing the proposed definition as “using a significant amount of memory” is inaccurate. The significance is not derived from the amount of memory used. What is significant relates to whether use of memory is required by the organization (e.g., cashiers may be required to memorize codes and are tested on them) or whether the analyst can link memory with job performance, efficiency and/or productivity.

    Finally, I strongly recommend eliminating Finding Information as a sub-skill of Thinking. The data shows that Finding Information is done through by reading text, using documents, interacting with people and using computers. Related tasks are already captured in the ESP.

    Comments on this comment

    1. Comment

      I agree with Carol on her discussion of thinking skills. The challenge with defining all thinking skills is that each manifests itself differently from one occupation to another, and from my perspective, one learner to another. The further we go into defining and determining rating scales for complexity for all thinking skills, the more confusing this will become. Maybe we need to have the dominant skills such as critical thinking, creative thinking and problem solving at the top of a heirarchy/flow chart and the various tasks feeding into the dominant skills. I agree 100% that Job Task Planning and Organizing is a very practical necessary thinking skill that needs to be addressed but could also be rolled into critical thinking skills if you are looking at an occupation that deals with emergencies for example (fire figher). When teaching internationally educated professionals I often highlight the need for people to focus on Job Task Planning as a skill because they are adapting to our culutre that does not have people to do that skill.

  3. Comment

    I think that the focus of thinking skills should be Problem Solving and Critical Thinking. I would omit Finding Information, Significant Use of Memory and Job Task Planning and Organizing. I think that making an all inclusive roll-up of so many elements will diminish the value of thinking skills. I support looking at research conducted by others to come up with a worthy definition and complexity scale.

  4. Comment

    I agree that the focus should be on CT and PS, and that FI is embedded in other skills. I like the approach that Carol has suggested - defining each skill and then developing the over arching definition of Thinking Skills.

    I have appreciated the background informaton that Carol has provided in many of her comments.

  5. Comment

    Chantal agrees with Carol and others that more work is needed with Thinking Skills.

  6. Comment

    It's apparent further thought is required for this one & the proposed definition needs reworking. I agree with others re dropping certain cognitive functions from the current list of 6 & focusing on a few key ones such as problem solving & critical thinking.

  7. Comment

    This sparked great debate among our team. We all agreed that the inclusion of PS and CT. Decision making can be rolled into PS. JTPO seems to be somewhat dependent on the job. Finding information is included in many other skills including problem solving and Critical Thinking. Significant use of memory could also be included in PS and CT.

    What we ended up asking is for parameters around the ES definitions - We try to use these to identify common skills in Canadian occupations and in learning and life. We use the underlying complexity structure to assist individuals with developing skills. Is there a way to develop a clear framework that would assist with redefining the Thinking Skills. We agree that there is much more work needed in this area in order to develop a definition.

  8. Comment

    Oops forgot a comment. We recommend changing the second paragraph "In the workplace, the various functions of thinking skills are applied to most tasks". We aren't aware of a task that does not require thinking skills so we recommend either changing or eliminating this sentence.