Study: Creativity is important but neglected

Educators and employers agree that creativity is increasingly important in U.S. workplaces, according to a recent report. Yet, the report suggests a disconnect exists between what survey respondents say they believe and how they act: In fact, findings indicate most high schools and employers provide creativity-conducive education and training only on an elective or "as needed" basis.

The report, "Ready to Innovate: Are Educators and Executives Aligned on the Creative Readiness of the U.S. Workforce?," was released in April by the Conference Board and Americans for the Arts, in partnership with the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). Researchers surveyed 155 public school superintendents and 89 American business executives to identify and compare their views on creativity.

The study is a follow-up to a 2006 report from the Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the Society for Human Resource Management, titled "Are They Really Ready to Work? Employers’ Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st Century U.S. Workforce." In that earlier report, employers rated creativity and innovation among the top five most increasingly important workplace skills over the next five years. (See "Survey reveals the skills employers covet.")

The Conference Board also noted in a study last year that stimulating creativity and enabling entrepreneurship are among the top 10 challenges now facing U.S. CEOs.

Yet, while 97 percent of employers say creativity is of increasing importance, only 72 percent say hiring creative people is a primary concern, according to the "Ready to Innovate" report–a discrepancy of 25 percentage points.

"We believe it is time for employers to evaluate how well their corporate support of education and the arts, as well as their own employee training programs, stack up against the strategic value they themselves place on innovation and its creative underpinning," said Jonathan Spector, chief executive officer of the Conference Board. "It is also time for greater dialogue within and across all sectors to better understand and align efforts to foster creativity in current and future employees."

Of employers seeking creativity, 63 percent prefer creative employees over those who are technically skilled, and employers who are concerned with hiring creative people use job interviews as their primary tool for assessing creativity. In these interviews, employers say they evaluate the candidate’s ability to look spontaneously beyond the specifics of a question (78 percent); responses to hypothetical scenarios (70 percent); elaboration on extracurricular activities or volunteer work (40 percent); and appearance (27 percent).

Annette Byrd, a manager in the Healthy Work Environment division of GlaxoSmithKline and a participant in the "Are They Really Ready to Work" study, said her company "need[s] people who think with the creative side of their brains–people who have played in a band, who have painted, been involved in the community as volunteers. It enhances symbiotic thinking capabilities, not always thinking in the same paradigm, learning how to kick-start a new idea, or how to get a job done better, less expensively."

Yet, when employers were presented with a list of eight activities or training options that they identified as creativity-developing endeavors, fewer than 1 in 10 said they provide these opportunities to all their employees. Only four of the eight options are offered even on an "as needed" basis by more than half of employers.

Similarly, when superintendents were presented with a list of 12 creativity-promoting educational experiences, more than three-quarters reported that each one is supported within their high schools. However, in more than half of these schools, only three or fewer of these activities are part of the required curriculum.

"There is no question that the arts should be an essential element of education," said Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts. "Additionally, the arts are an indispensable tool for building the creative thinking skills essential to ensuring that American business and culture will prosper. And this study demonstrates there is increased recognition among business and education leaders that the arts are a vital factor to building a competitive and highly effective workforce."

The survey began by asking employers and superintendents how they define creativity, giving them a list of 11 "skills of observable behaviors" and asking them to rank which ones best demonstrate creativity.

Both groups agreed that "the ability to identify new patterns of behavior or new combinations of actions" and "integration of knowledge across different disciplines" are foremost in demonstrating creativity.

However, while employers said "problem identification or articulation" best demonstrates creativity, superintendents ranked it ninth. Also, superintendents ranked "problem solving" first, while employers ranked it eighth.

The Conference Board believes this discrepancy supports the view that while schools teach students how to solve problems put before them, the business sector requires workers who can identify the problems in the first place.

Another difference occurred when most employers reported that new workforce entrants meet or exceed expectations on 7 of 11 creativity-related skills, while most superintendents reported that high-school graduates meet or exceed expectations on all 11.

Speculates the report, "It is not clear what accounts for these differences. Perhaps it’s the varied perspectives of the respondents rather than a disagreement on the importance of creativity. The results suggest there needs to be more discussion between the two groups–educators and employers–to be sure they understand each other’s points of view."

Paul D. Houston, AASA’s executive director, agrees that educators and employers need to understand one another better. "The findings of the ‘Ready to Innovate’ report present an opportunity for school systems and business leaders to further engage in a dialogue about how best to foster creativity among students, not only to produce a competitive workforce, but also to help all students succeed in life," he said.


Conference Board

Americans for the Arts

American Association of School Administrators 

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the “ Creating the 21 st Century Classroom ”resource center. Preparing today’s youth to succeed in the digital economy requires a new kind of teaching and learning. Skills such as global literacy, computer literacy, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and innovation have become critical in today’s increasingly interconnected workforce and society–and technology is the catalyst for bringing these changes into the classroom. Go to Creating-the-21st-century-classroom

Meris Stansbury

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