The key skills today’s employers desire

  • Less hierarchy and supervision: Fewer supervisors now oversee more people, owing to companies eliminating unnecessary management positions.
  • More autonomy and responsibility: Work hierarchies are changing, and employees are expected to take a bigger lead in managing their own work.
  • More collaboration: Teams of people work together on different projects and initiatives, both locally and globally.
  • Less predictability and stability: Employees have to adapt to new and changing demands, and 21st-century skills can aid them as they apply their knowledge to solving problems.

“In a lot of ways, the education that kids need in the 21st century is the same that our top students were getting in the 20th century,” said Patte Barth, CPE’s director. “Content still matters; content is still core to whatever it is we do.”

But what receives more scrutiny now, Barth said, is a set of skills that demonstrate students’ ability to think critically, write persuasively, and collaborate—“all of those things that we know are important in this century.”

Those skills were developed by proxy in the past, but now educators and policy makers know they are essential.

“We need to make them explicit and make sure all students develop them,” Barth said. “Technology has a key role to play, but it’s not about learning [how to use] technology—it’s about using technology to help develop these skills, and deliver content in exciting ways. Our challenge is to teach high-level content and high-level skills to all students; we’re likely not going to be able to do that unless we’re able to marshal the power of technology.”

Many of the skills students need are the same whether students enroll in a four-year college or university, attend a community college, or enter an apprenticeship or technical program, Barth said.

For instance, Barth said, math skills are necessary for students who want to major in humanities and also for students who want to learn auto mechanics and earn a technical certificate.

“Businesses are looking for the ability to collaborate, communicate well, and think critically and creatively,” Barth said. “But they also want you to show up on time, understand hard work and how the workplace operates. They still want those abilities.”


Laura Ascione

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