For the past few years, I am hearing a lot about problem-solving(PS) skills. The curriculum has been redesigned focussing on problem-solving and everyone seems to be talking about it. Job Descriptions are using such words which were not so common 10 years back.

So my question is why PS has suddenly become so important now. I know it is important but I am asking what is causing this sudden surge in the demand for problem-solving skills.

Thank you very much.

  • 4
    Problem solving is not a new skill - the human species has been solving problems before even living in caves...
    – Solar Mike
    Nov 28, 2019 at 18:46
  • @SolarMike but it was not much in JDs in the past. So why this sudden focus?
    – user5377
    Nov 28, 2019 at 18:54
  • What do you mean by a sudden surge? I chose to do a maths degree ten years ago literally because I was told "Employers love people with problem solving skills"
    – Gamora
    Nov 28, 2019 at 19:03
  • New or not new, to me this is one of those intangible, largely non-quantifiable skills. Is there a universally accepted method for solving problems against which your problem solving skills can be measured? Are there any objective tests for solving problems to which your problem solving skills can be compared and evaluated? If my method for solving a problem is different than your method, which method is correct?
    – joeqwerty
    Nov 28, 2019 at 19:15
  • It's just a trend. A few years ago it was popular for companies to ask stupid questions such as "What superhero would you be?", or "What superpower would you choose?" etc. Next it was the "biggest weakness" and "biggest strength" BS. It's the latest way in which HR is trying to justify their existence .. by finding employees who are gifted problem solvers. You know, not like every other person they've ever hired.
    – AndreiROM
    Nov 28, 2019 at 19:41

4 Answers 4


Problem solving skills have always been valued, but here is a reason they are growing in significance:

Turnover and lack of training

People used to join one company and remain for life. They would learn from the other lifers who were just a bit older. Companies had formal training programs which helped people understand how things were set up.

Now, people move companies every 1-3 years and training consists of just a few hours a year on average. Turnover leads to vast amounts of knowledge having to constantly be re-learned. Instead of having someone who built the system stay and also be the one to maintain it, that person will leave and the new person needs to come in and figure it out from near scratch.

As an example, there was a software development lead who had been at a company for close to a decade. He wrote code for all the production systems. However, he then left. His replacement had only been there for a few months and did not work on any of the production systems. Historically, the lead would have trained his replacement. Now, the replacement often must train himself.

  • 1
    And the company justifies this by paying this new guy MUCH less than the old guy... I'll bet you that's the main reason.
    – Nelson
    Nov 29, 2019 at 3:41
  • See this answer workplace.stackexchange.com/a/141945/104868. Job hopping is normal and ‘lifers’ never existed in the normality you describe. Nov 29, 2019 at 11:40
  • @morbo I knew a man who started his apprenticeship looking after the hydroplant, walked out the same door of the same hydroplant when he retired, having spent his complete career there - it happened for many, especially those in factories.
    – Solar Mike
    Nov 29, 2019 at 12:40
  • @SolarMike you apparently didn’t read my post. Everyone knows a person who had one job in their life, or knows a person who knows a person. However the statistics show that those are most certainly a rarity. Nov 29, 2019 at 12:43
  • @morbo which field - factory work with thousands turning up per shift?
    – Solar Mike
    Nov 29, 2019 at 12:44

The nature of middle class work is changing. Millions of jobs used to involve repetitive, "by the rules", processing of papers or operation of equipment. Much of that work has been, or is in the process, of being be automated by computer systems or robots. Such jobs still exist but will tend to pay very poorly. If you want to make more than minimum wage you have to be capable of some task that robots and computers still do very poorly.

  • nice advice !! Do you mean to say robots are poor at problem-solving? At least at present.
    – user5377
    Nov 29, 2019 at 0:34
  • 1
    @user5377 Lets say, if they are made for solving a specific problem they might be quite good at it. But life (and work) isn't linear, and a robot that can handle any unexpected situation well is (currently at least) pretty much impossible.
    – deviantfan
    Nov 29, 2019 at 2:36

"Proven problem-solving ability" has become just another HR buzzword to put on wanted ads, like "Ninja", "Shark", "Rockstar" or, for the more technically inclined "Distributed", "Machine learning", "AI"... you get where I'm going with this, right?

As others have noted, problem-solving skills have been part of human nature, and animals too, since... ever, really.

Putting an emphasis on it, though, and requiring it to be proven (like a career in tech isn't proof enough that I can solve problems), is just a way, as a commenter on another answer pointed out, for companies to justify paying the "new guy" less: "Sure, you know how to solve problems, in a general, fuzzy, kind of way, that's why we hired you in the first place. But you don't know, yet, how to solve our problems, so, until you do, here, take those peanuts as pay and go back to your desk, code-monkey..."


Tongue in cheek answer - the company is fully aware that on it's own it will create problems.

Matthew Gaiser asnwer is exactly about that.
Company knows that their employees create, sometimes critical, tools for them. That some positions have bus factor of 1. That people have no time to create documentations and/or even think about backup plan, let alone create one.

If you see in job description "Young team" it could not only mean the people in those teams are young. It could also mean the team itself is young. So instead of working you solve a problem of "who the hell give access to that if I'm the one who's supposed to give acces to that".

Of course "problem solving" is an empthy phrase beause companies don't know what's the difference beetwen "reading code without documentations" and "IT wiped out the data with source"

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