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New Skills Now Needed Featured

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What skills do students need to succeed in the 21st Century? 

After extensive consultation with businesses Tony Wagner identified ‘seven survival skills’  to live a productive and quality life :

1. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

To compete in the new global economy, companies need their workers to think about how to continuously improve their products, processes, or services. Over and over, executives told me that the heart of critical thinking and problem solving is the ability to ask the right questions. As one senior executive from Dell said, “Yesterday’s answers won’t solve today’s problems.”

Ellen Kumata, managing partner at Cambria Associates, explained the extraordinary pressures on leaders today. “The challenge is this: How do you do things that haven’t been done before, where you have to rethink or think anew? It’s not incremental improvement any more. The markets are changing too fast.”

2. Collaboration and Leadership

Teamwork is no longer just about working with others in your building. Christie Pedra, CEO of Siemens, explained, “Technology has allowed for virtual teams. We have teams working on major infrastructure projects that are all over the U.S. On other projects, you’re working with people all around the world on solving a software problem. Every week they’re on a variety of conference calls; they’re doing Web casts; they’re doing net meetings.”

Mike Summers, vice president for Global Talent Management at Dell, said that his greatest concern was young people’s lack of leadership skills. “Kids just out of school have an amazing lack of preparedness in general leadership skills and collaborative skills,” he explained. “They lack the ability to influence.”

3. Agility and Adaptability

Clay Parker explained that anyone who works at BOC Edwards today “has to think, be flexible, change, and use a variety of tools to solve new problems. We change what we do all the time. I can guarantee the job I hire someone to do will change or may not exist in the future, so this is why adaptability and learning skills are more important than technical skills.”

4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism

Mark Chandler, senior vice president and general counsel at Cisco, was one of the strongest proponents of initiative: “I say to my employees, if you try five things and get all five of them right, you may be failing. If you try 10 things, and get eight of them right, you’re a hero. You’ll never be blamed for failing to reach a stretch goal, but you will be blamed for not trying. One of the problems of a large company is risk aversion. Our challenge is how to create an entrepreneurial culture in a larger organization.”

5. Effective Oral and Written Communication

Mike Summers of Dell said, “We are routinely surprised at the difficulty some young people have in communicating: verbal skills, written skills, presentation skills. They have difficulty being clear and concise; it’s hard for them to create focus, energy, and passion around the points they want to make. If you’re talking to an exec, the first thing you’ll get asked if you haven’t made it perfectly clear in the first 60 seconds of your presentation is, ‘What do you want me to take away from this meeting?’ They don’t know how to answer that question.”

Summers and other leaders from various companies were not necessarily complaining about young people’s poor grammar, punctuation, or spelling—the things we spend so much time teaching and testing in our schools. Although writing and speaking correctly are obviously important, the complaints I heard most frequently were about fuzzy thinking and young people not knowing how to write with a real voice.

6. Accessing and Analyzing Information

Employees in the 21st century have to manage an astronomical amount of information daily. As Mike Summers told me, “There is so much information available that it is almost too much, and if people aren’t prepared to process the information effectively it almost freezes them in their steps.”

It’s not only the sheer quantity of information that represents a challenge, but also how rapidly the information is changing. Quick—how many planets are there? In the early 1990s, I heard then–Harvard University president Neil Rudenstine say in a speech that the half-life of knowledge in the humanities is 10 years, and in math and science, it’s only two or three years. I wonder what he would say it is today.

7. Curiosity and Imagination

Mike Summers told me, “People who’ve learned to ask great questions and have learned to be inquisitive are the ones who move the fastest in our environment because they solve the biggest problems in ways that have the most impact on innovation.”

Daniel Pink, the author of A Whole New Mind, observes that with increasing abundance, people want unique products and services: “For businesses it’s no longer enough to create a product that’s reasonably priced and adequately functional. It must also be beautiful, unique, and meaningful.” Pink notes that developing young people’s capacities for imagination, creativity, and empathy will be increasingly important for maintaining the United States’ competitive advantage in the future.

Tony Wagner's Website

Are These Skills Being Learnt in Schools Today ?

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