Something new and something old: Critical thinking, empathy and communication skills

We know that the growing use of new technologies changes the structures and practices of work around us. There are changes in the way people work as well as in the types of pressures they are facing. Thus, there is an urgent need for universities to ask themselves, what kinds of future managers or employees are we educating?
Hertta Vuorenmaa ja Eero Vaara. Kuva: Venla Helenius.
Hertta Vuorenmaa and Eero Vaara / photo: Venla Helenius

Changing nature of work challenge education

Thinking about the future of work and trying to estimate what it could look like is an uncertain business. However, we do know that the growing use of new technologies changes the structures and practices of work around us. There are changes in the way people work as well as in the types of pressures they are facing. On the macro level, changes in employment structures are creating an unequal world of work where the global talents possess more individual skill-based power than ever before, and the uneducated low-skilled workers are in a more precarious position than ever before. Thus, there is an urgent need for universities to ask themselves:

  • What kinds of future managers/employees are we educating?
  • What type of values are we advocating?
  • What kind of questions do we raise during our classes?
  • What are our efforts and stance regarding the large societal questions surrounding us?
  • What kind of skills are we offering for our students for them to go out and tackle the next 20-100 years of changing nature of work and the challenges of change management?

Critical thinking back into a central position

The growing micro and macro level complexity means growing demands on the individuals for example in terms of the volumes of data they have to be able to handle. The use of technologies further complicates the situation as we already know technology is changing the way we communicate with each other. How to deal with all this?

We argue that critical thinking, empathy and communication skills become central for tackling the future working life regardless of your task/industry. The good news is that in the heart of any traditional university education is critical thinking and understanding what is ‘good’ data. We thus suggest that there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Rather, university education should lift the skill of critical thinking back into a central position in our pedagogical approaches.

Bridging the empathy gap

Simultaneously, as we need to raise even more critical thinkers and relentless data analysts, we also need to focus on providing skills for even more responsible and empathetic managers/employees. Our classroom cases and exercises, group work, team-building approaches and for instance gaming applications should thus all be geared towards nurturing and raising employees/managers able to bridge the empathy gap created by the growing use of technologies.

Badly needed communication skills

All this is also linked with communication; being able to use multiple available communication channels, technologically-mediated as well as face-to-face, is a crucial challenge for tomorrow’s workplaces per se. Moreover, communication is badly needed to foster critical thinking and empathy in and around our workplaces and organizations.


Eero Vaara

Visiting Distinguished Professor
Teaching Lab
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