The key skills today’s employers desire

By Laura Devaney, Managing Editor
December 10th, 2012

Pedagogy plays a key role in ensuring that students develop important 21st-century skills.

Education stakeholders are quick to champion students’ need for “21st century skills”—but what do employers say they want students to learn? And, how should schools adapt as a result?

Shifting workplace structures have led many companies to covet a new kind of employee, said Ken Kay, CEO of EdLeader21.

In the 1950s through the 1970s, workplaces were more authoritarian, and employees were taught loyalty and obeyed management’s direction. But as workplaces have changed and “flattened,” eliminating several management positions, employers are seeking workers who are self-directed, able to solve problems, and can manage their time and productivity, Kay said.

“This issue of self-direction is absolutely essential,” he said. “The culture of education today is such that … only the most cutting-edge learning environments are really teaching and allowing kids to be self-directed. That’s a real misfire today.”

Jobs of the 21st century are fundamentally self-directed, and education—pedagogy in particular—must change in response to that, Kay said, adding: “We are going to need an educational system that encourages self-direction.”

Many high school and higher-education instructors focus on their role as content experts, but Kay said that “institutions have to be sensitive to their customers, and they need to be sensitive to employers. They need effective, entrepreneurial people.”

Some institutions are breaking the mold by forming industry partnerships that create a combination of content education and internships, he noted.

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2 Responses to “The key skills today’s employers desire”

December 11, 2012

What do employers say they want student to learn? This question is answered by EdLeader21 – a company that earns its living consulting to school districts on 21st Century Skills – but no research is provided supporting the consultants’ theory.

IMHO thinking critically, writing persuasively and collaboration are timeless attributes of an excellent education.

“Why were Einstein and his associates able to collaborate so effectively? How were they able to avoid the mistrust, suspicion, and covering up that which often occurs when a group of people attempt to collaborate together? Why were they able to share their work openly and honestly with each other, while their contemporaries did not? What was their secret?

Einstein and his associates had discovered and used a set of ancient Greek principles of intragroup communication, which was developed by Socrates. Socrates and other Greek philosophers would sit around brainstorming and debating various issues. Their discussions, however, rarely got out of hand. Although hot tempers emerged, the participants were bound by seven principles of discussion Socrates established to maintain a sense of collegiality.”

In higher education, 75% of the instructors — 1 million educators — are on temporary contracts. The so-called “part-timers” are more than half of this group and are paid poverty level wages, rarely given professional support like benefits, offices, computers, professional development resources or even enough time to prepare for their classes. Their employment is completely dependent on the whim of administrators who insist that they need “flexibility” even though most of these instructors have been “temporary for years and even decades.

In spite of this, most of these instructors do their best to bring innovative pedagogical practices and creative uses of technology into the classrooms, at their own expense and at the risk of rapid burnout. Most try to combine the best of innovative new technologies with the best of classical pedagogies. See the report of the New Faculty Majority Foundation at

A culture change is absolutely necessary: one that puts students at the center of the mission of higher education again. When the faculty are disrespected and abused, students suffer. Without steps 4 and 6 — support and respect for the instructors in the classrooms — no vision for a 21st century education can be realized.