More than skills

Published 29th May 2014

Written by: Cheryl Phillips

The recent report commissioned by the Royal Academy of Engineering called ‘Thinking like an engineer – implications for the education system’ describes six engineering habits of mind; characteristics which, taken together, describe the ways engineers think and act. It describes D&T, among other subjects, as a vehicle for enabling young people to put many engineering skills into practice and the need to influence pedagogy to ensure strategies are planned and built into creative lesson planning.

As director of the Skills Gap Programme, I find this a helpful framework for reference.  With each Skills Gap Programme iteration, we look to develop not only design and technical skills, but also the soft skills young people need to gain and sustain employment within engineering and other D&T-related industries.  For companies currently participating in the programme, they have identified creativity and risk taking, self management, team working and others as areas where they find gaps when looking for potential new recruits.  If we delve into the meaning behind the six engineering habits of mind described within the report, I expect these will align.  I agree that it is very important to plan the integration of these habits and skills carefully to ensure they are not contrived but visible enough to the student so they realise they have thought and acted in a particular way.

Personalised Learning and Thinking Skills (PELTS) were embedded into the school curriculum a few years ago and many schools still follow the framework provided by the Government.  Although PELTS were about more than being ready for the world of work they are often now referred to as ‘employability skills’ or ‘soft skills’.

Whichever way we choose to describe these, it is interesting to reflect and appreciate that we don’t always mean ‘skills’.  In reality, we are seeking to support teachers to enable young people to develop competencies which require them to think and act in a particular way.  The word ‘skill’ can sometimes detract from that and perhaps it is more helpful to think about soft skills in terms of habits of mind.

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