Manufacturing in the 21st Century: Time to Rethink What We Teach

Bob Talbert used to say: “Teaching to count is fine, but teaching them what counts is best.”

Over the past couple of years I’ve had the opportunity to give many speeches and presentations to different audiences. This past week I had the pleasure to speak to a group of parents and students on the value of Skilled Trades. I wanted them to know that university is not the only route to a successful and meaningful career. It was definitely important for me to clear up some career myths once and for all.

Whenever I prepare for a presentation I think about my audience, and I start with the end in mind. What do I want my audience to think, feel and do?

Parents of high school children certainly don’t have it easy because most of these youngsters have absolutely no idea what they want to do with their life. Are you surprised? I’m not. I know people who are in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s who are still searching for meaning in their personal and professional life.

What if we can help children to discover their talents and strengths early on? I think it would be an absolute win-win situation.

If children discover their strengths and their interests, they will know what they are good at. If they know what they are good at, it will increase their self-worth and confidence, and make it easier to figure out what they want. If they know what they want, it will save energy, time and money, and most certainly reduce stress.

Now what did I want these parents to think? To think differently – there is a better way to look at education than we currently do.

What did I want these parents to feel? To fee powerful – exploring their ability to help their children to figure out what they would really like to do, and explore the options.

What did I want these parents to do afterwards? To take action – put my simple tools and techniques into practice.

I was quite nervous because I was taking somewhat of a risk by trying a different approach. Although I spoke about the value of skilled trades, the main focus of my speech was to provide these parents with different insights and ideas that were entirely focused on how to discover the strengths and talents of their children. What can parents do to figure out what their child is naturally good at?

One very powerful tool is for parents to start a strengths journal where they can jot down every little observation they make. How does their child express joy and happiness? What keeps his or her attention the longest? Does the child get energy from some alone time or from being around people? Is she caring? Is he funny? Does she like to be the center of attention? Does he show empathy? Is she athletic? Is he organized? Is she motivated? Is he a good communicator? Is she helpful? Does he have great social skills? Does she like arts and crafts? Is he a handy man?

All these reflections can provide clues for a future profession.

Strengths are more than interests. Interests can change over time but strengths stay with us over a lifetime. They can be developed and are often associated with our interests. If children are able to discover their strengths in combination with their interests, there is a great chance that they can develop a passion for what they do.

The principal of this school told me after my speech, “Karin, I expected a completely different presentation based on facts and figures in skilled trades. However, I must say that I think you have nailed it by speaking to the parents’ hearts.”

This was a very nice compliment. Facts and figures do not inspire people. Of course, we all need to work in order to make a living but it must be more than that. It is about working in a space where we can provide the best possible value by having the opportunity to fully utilize our talents, strengths, and abilities.

Despite all the technological advancements most people in our organizations are not thriving. Dealing with different personalities in the workplace is often one of the biggest challenges and frustrations. Many people do not have or have never been taught proper communication skills and have no idea how to build rapport while connecting with others. In other words, the lack of being able to effectively relate to one another makes our personal and professional lives difficult and often unbearable.

People almost avoid real life conversations because it is easier to hide behind a tablet, cell phone or laptop. How sad is that? If people are not connected with themselves, how can they possibly connect withothers? We must reflect on what’s important to us. What are our strengths, values, accomplishments, talents and possible weaknesses? The more we learn about ourselves, the better we will understand others.

As a person who enjoys to WOO people (winning others over), I believe in helping people to discover their full potential. Have you ever noticed how much emphasis we place on a person’s resume? After all a resume is written to showcase the value a person brings to the marketplace. While we may be good at building our external careers, what about building our inner character?

In the age of technology and the knowledge worker we have to work on character as well as competence. In our schools we have to educate not only the mind but also the heart.

If you would like to do a little experiment, try this. Ask three of your colleagues or co-workers if they know their top 3 strengths, their top 3 values and how they create value for the organization.

Don’t be surprised if they don’t know. Most people are so disconnected that they never even think about how their personal contribution impacts the overall success of the organization. This can be a great wake-up call to make time for training and reflection.

It’s time to change our perspective. Let’s have “Mut zur Menschlichkeit” (courage for humanity) sooner rather than later and help our young generation to discover purpose and meaning in their personal and professional lives.

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