Only about 14% of civilian workers have to solve problems on a daily basis, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But some jobs are all about problem-solving.
Looking at the BLS 2022 data, ClickUp found that software developers, executives, and lawyers are among the top 13 jobs that demand the most frequent problem-solving. Occupations on the list are ranked by the estimated percentage of workers in each job who had to solve problems more than once per day.
Over 100 jobs were reviewed in the analysis, and only those where more than half of the workers problem-solved multiple times daily made the rankings. Nearly half of the jobs on the list involve management responsibilities.
Management positions come with many problem-solving requirements because of the need to oversee people and processes; define goals and break them down into smaller, assignable tasks; and make resource management decisions based on theory and data.
Employers value problem-solving in the workplace because workers with these skills are better able to overcome challenges independently, suggest new ideas and improve processes, and save the company and its customers time and money.
Focusing on and developing advanced, nuanced, and quick-reaction problem-solving skills might even help insulate, to a degree, some knowledge-based professionals from the most disruptive effects of artificial intelligence and automation technologies.
The MIT Sloan Management Review found the most likely skills to be automated are those that can be “standardized and codified.” The research noted that tasks requiring physical or real-time resolution typically had lower automation rates. That was due to the fact that creating tools that can handle the unpredictability of those tasks is either too expensive, involves too much work, or may not yet be technologically achievable.
Problem-solving is a skill that can be practiced and honed. There is a wide array of literature and coursework available for learning established methods of problem-solving, with specialties in topics like parallel thinking, decomposition, research, and analysis. Even practicing word and logic puzzles as a leisure activity can help hone problem-solving skills.
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- 13. Electrical engineers
- 12. Transportation, storage, and distribution managers
- 11. Computer and information systems managers
- 10. Architectural and engineering managers
- 9. K-12 education administrators
- 8. Natural sciences managers
- 7. Software developers
- 6. Physicists
- 5. Chief executives
- 4. Nurse practitioners
- 3. Personal financial advisors
- 2. Lawyers
- 1. Podiatrists
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13. Electrical engineers
- Share of workers who problem-solve more than once per day: 51.7%
- Nationwide employment: 186,020 (1.32 per 1,000 jobs)
Electrical engineers design, develop, test, and maintain electrical systems and components. They may identify problems, design circuitry and other parts, and create prototypes to test their solutions. And they can encounter surprises.
For instance, in 1945, Percy Lebaron Spencer, an electrical engineer for Raytheon, was working on radar equipment and noticed a candy bar in his pocket melted. Applying critical thinking and problem-solving skills, he devised a series of tests, observations, and experiments, ultimately inventing the microwave oven.
Hands-on experience and professional development help electrical engineers develop their analytical and critical thinking skills. Participating in professional associations can also assist in the development of their communication and teamwork abilities, allowing them to collaborate effectively with their colleagues and clients.
12. Transportation, storage, and distribution managers
- Share of workers who problem-solve more than once per day: 52.6%
- Nationwide employment: 144,640 (1.027 per 1,000 jobs)
Transportation, storage, and distribution managers are involved in the planning, directing, and coordinating of transportation, storage, and distribution activities.
These logistics professionals must organize and manage the work of subordinates, effectively use analytical and inventory software, evaluate and act on data and reports, and communicate and collaborate with other departments.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a nonstop series of problems to solve for transportation, storage, and distribution managers, who have had to deal with demand spikes, driver shortages, and soaring warehouse costs. Now rising inflation and cooling demand are going to send their own series of problems through the pipeline in the reverse direction.
Staying on top of important data, such as changing regulations, weather, software innovations, and tariffs are some of the steps transportation, storage, and distribution managers take to be better prepared to problem-solve. Obtaining certificates and pursuing coursework in supply chain management and other related fields of study are also beneficial for practicing and developing key problem-solving skills.
11. Computer and information systems managers
- Share of workers who problem-solve more than once per day: 54.0%
- Nationwide employment: 485,190 (3.444 per 1,000 jobs)
Computer and information systems managers are responsible for the planning and coordinating of computer-related activities within their organization. High levels of technical expertise, as well as people management skills, are required to be effective.
Duties for computer and information systems managers can include managing all of the organization’s personnel who are relevant to its computer systems, as well as consulting with end users and stakeholders to ensure computing plans align with organizational goals.
Staying current with the latest research and technology is an important step in preparation for becoming a better problem-solver as a computer and information system manager so that you are up to speed on current best practices when it is time to make or advise a decision.
Another way to improve problem-solving skills is to hold routine meetings and solicit team feedback as a way to work on communication skills and ensure expectations and issues are being clearly understood and acted on.
10. Architectural and engineering managers
- Share of workers who problem-solve more than once per day: 54.6%
- Nationwide employment: 187,100 (1.328 per 1,000 jobs)
Architectural and engineering managers plan, direct, and coordinate activities in the fields of architecture and engineering, according to the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook. For instance, they might oversee a construction and renovation project, develop and present project proposals and bids, and oversee the recruiting of staff for design and engineering teams.
Architectural and engineering managers need to be able to effectively lead and inspire their teams. They must also strictly adhere to project deadlines and exhibit superior written and oral communication skills, all of which require advanced problem-solving abilities.
To be better prepared as a problem-solver, architectural and engineering managers attend design showcases to examine the work of other professionals, take advantage of continuing education opportunities, and seize opportunities to gain further field experience.
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9. K-12 education administrators
- Share of workers who problem-solve more than once per day: 54.8%
- Nationwide employment: 274,710 (1.95 per 1,000 jobs)
K-12 education administrators plan, direct, and coordinate the academic, administrative, or auxiliary activities of kindergarten, elementary, and secondary schools, according to the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Whether managing teachers, helping students navigate curriculum challenges, or overseeing facility improvements, elementary administrators are constantly solving problems. And they’re expected to create “accurate, rapid, effective and accepted solutions,” depending on their visions “and school development programs,” according to a 2010 study.
Being an effective school administrator requires practice in building positive relationships, putting colleagues and families first, and using strategies to diffuse conflict and stressful situations.
Participating in research opportunities, attending seminars and classes, and joining professional educational groups are all ways to stay current with the latest problem-solving tools and trends in the field.
8. Natural sciences managers
- Share of workers who problem-solve more than once per day: 56.4%
- Nationwide employment: 74,760 (0.531 per 1,000 jobs)
Natural sciences managers are involved in supervising the work of scientists, including chemists, physicists, and biologists, according to the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook. These workers are in charge of activities that relate to research and development and coordinate testing, quality control, and production.
Natural sciences managers must use their highly developed research and scientific observation skills, and harness those of their direct reports, to uncover answers to complex technical issues.
Workers in this role are expected to perform functions like developing strategies and research projects; interviewing, hiring, and directing scientists, technicians, and support personnel; and administrative duties.
Because science moves so rapidly, natural science managers must constantly read and stay current with the latest developments so they have the knowledge and latest best practices to apply to their work. Attending health fairs, publishing papers, and working with a scientific mentor are some ways natural sciences managers build the skills and knowledge needed to be successful problem-solvers.
7. Software developers
- Share of workers who problem-solve more than once per day: 58.4%
- Nationwide employment: 1,364,180 (9.683 per 1,000 jobs)
Software developers are in charge of analyzing users’ needs and designing and developing software to meet those needs, according to the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook. They design every part of an application or system and coordinate how each will work together.
Computer science itself is the study of problem-solving, so problem-solving skills are baked into all aspects of being a software developer. When designing and implementing code, troubleshooting and bug squashing, and communicating accurately and effectively within and between teams, software developers are problem-solving mavens.
Software developers hone their problem-solving skills through on-the-job experience, obtaining additional certifications and credentials, and staying current with rapid industry developments. Outside of their core job functions, they might contribute code to open source projects, participate in coding challenges and hackathons, or volunteer their time with nonprofit groups focused on building software solutions to civic challenges, such as Code for America.
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- Share of workers who problem-solve more than once per day: 60.3%
- Nationwide employment: 20,020 (0.142 per 1,000 jobs)
Physicists are scientists who study the interactions of matter and energy. Whether tackling climate change, hunting for new subatomic particles, or figuring out how to make a chocolate cake mix rise faster, physicists are solving problems all around us.
From the epic to the everyday, physicists use step-by-step approaches, apply past solutions to new problems, diagram procedures, and verify results.
Physicists prepare themselves to be problem-solvers by drilling into the fundamentals of their field, learning and practicing problem-solving strategies, and participating in professional organizations. They may also tackle physics word problems and brain teasers in their free time and then share solutions and strategies with colleagues.
5. Chief executives
- Share of workers who problem-solve more than once per day: 61.8%
- Nationwide employment: 200,480 (1.423 per 1,000 jobs)
Top executives plan strategies and policies to ensure an organization meets its goals, according to the BLS, which includes coordinating and directing the company and organization activities.
Recognizing gaps between where an organization is and its goals—and devising and implementing solutions, often in real time—is core to the role of an executive.
Putting structures in place to develop new products, overcoming budget shortfalls, keeping pace with the competition, navigating regulations, and managing the personalities and career growth of staff are all types of problems executives need to solve.
Executives take training and development programs to improve their problem-solving and management skills. They may volunteer their management expertise to a nonprofit or become a mentor to a more junior manager. Executives attend conferences and workshops and stay current on their industry news to expand their skills, including problem-solving.
4. Nurse practitioners
- Share of workers who problem-solve more than once per day: 62.4%
- Nationwide employment: 234,690 (1.666 per 1,000 jobs)
Nurse practitioners diagnose and treat acute, episodic, or chronic illness, independently or as part of a health care team, according to the BLS, and may focus on health promotion and disease prevention. They may be involved with ordering, performing, or interpreting lab work and X-rays, and can prescribe medication.
Nurses are called upon to apply their diverse knowledge to handle various situations during their shifts in a constantly changing environment. They might apply a solution from one set of patients to another.
For example, one nurse described how a pain medication that worked for diabetic patients with neuropathy helped an amputation patient suffering from deep nerve pain who wasn’t responding well to traditional opioids.
Health care providers who stay on top of the most recent research report better patient outcomes. Nurse practitioners can use an evidence-based approach to apply a systematic process to review, analyze, and translate to the real world the latest health care and scientific evidence. Training, conferences, and social media also provide other sources of information to sharpen skills and knowledge.
3. Personal financial advisors
- Share of workers who problem-solve more than once per day: 67.1%
- Nationwide employment: 263,030 (1.867 per 1,000 jobs)
Personal financial advisors assess their clients’ financial needs and advise them on investment decisions and navigating tax laws and insurance, according to the BLS. They help their clients with short- and long-term goals, like saving for college and retirement.
Saving for retirement in an environment with rising interest rates, coping with soaring college costs, and deciding what to do with the proceeds of a house sale are some of the issues that might come up for the clients of a personal financial advisor, which require tailored solutions.
In each case, personal financial advisors define their client’s problems, identify the causes, explore and decide on solutions, and implement them, according to Vesticor Advisors Managing Director Michael Sciortino.
Certifications—like certified financial planner, chartered financial analyst, or chartered financial consultant—or professional development courses can improve personal financial advisors’ hard skills and provide structured opportunities to learn and apply proven problem-solving strategies.
Participating in a pro bono program through a professional organization allows an advisor to apply their knowledge to help individuals, families, and communities in need while getting additional opportunities to practice tackling new and pressing problems.
- Share of workers who problem-solve more than once per day: 68.1%
- Nationwide employment: 681,010 (4.834 per 1,000 jobs)
Advising and representing individuals, businesses, and government agencies on legal issues and disputes are some of the main obligations of lawyers.
Lawyers must research and analyze legal problems and provide advice to their clients. They evaluate all manner of legal decisions—such as weighing the pros and cons of filing for a judgment versus offering a settlement in a case—negotiate contracts, and respond to cease and desist letters. Problem-solving is so key to the legal profession that it was placed at the top of an American Bar Association’s report on fundamental skills for lawyers, even before legal analysis.
Lawyers prepare to be problem-solvers by being active listeners, zeroing in on the details of a case, and reading up on the latest cases and legal strategies. Specialized problem-solving workshops, exercises, role-plays, and simulations—sometimes organized through professional societies—are other ways lawyers can develop their skills.
- Share of workers who problem-solve more than once per day: 85.5%
- Nationwide employment: 8,840 (0.063 per 1,000 jobs)
Podiatrists provide medical and surgical care for people with foot, ankle, and lower leg problems, according to the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Patients come to their podiatrists presenting problems such as heel pain, bunions, ingrown toenails, and issues with gait and walking. Podiatrists listen to and diagnose the issue and prescribe solutions depending on what’s needed, such as orthotics, medical creams, or physical therapy.
Podiatrists sharpen their problem-solving skills by practicing and learning new and established methodologies for diagnosis and attending training sessions and conferences. They also practice regularly and seek feedback from patients and colleagues to improve their techniques and patient outcomes.
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Guest Writer: Ben Popken