Virtual offices, augmented reality, artificial intelligence- these are only some of the revolutionary technological advances which have so far characterized the 21st-century. These innovations continuously transform the labor market and the modern workplace. For 2018-2022, the World Economic Forum estimates that such labor transformation may lead to 133 million new jobs and a simultaneous displacement of 75 million others. To survive and thrive in this new employment landscape, one must be equipped with the most in-demand 21st-century skills.
What are 21st Century Skills?
There is no universal definition of 21st-century skills. That is hardly surprising given the range of agendas being progressed by employers, policymakers, and others. But the adopted descriptions within the Global Partnership for Education's Report can give help us describe and categorize these new skills. They adapted the definition of Binkley et al. (2012), which states that "Twenty-first-century skills are abilities and attributes that can be taught or learned to enhance ways of thinking, learning, working and living in the world. We can look at these skills as tools to help individuals to cope with the modern world, allow people to unlock all the benefits of digitalization, keep up with the demands of everyday life, and participate in the innovation process.
Learning, Literacy, and Life Skills
21st-century skills fall into three major categories. Let's dive into each:
Learning refers to the understanding gained with experience, education, and practice. Learning skills teach individuals about the mental processes needed to adjust to the modern work environment.
Literacy skills help individuals consume and create knowledge through traditional and digital platforms. They focus on how individuals can access and analyze information, discern fact from fiction, and grasp the influences that affect public information. It protects the individual from false information that floods the internet and helps them guard their security and privacy online.
Life skills focus on the "invisible" elements of an individual's everyday life. These emphasize both personal and professional qualities needed to fully and effectively participate in modern life.
A Closer Look at Learning Skills
The four C's under the Learning Skills category are the best known 21st Century skills. They are:
Critical Thinking refers to an individual's ability to analyze, question, and relate one set of information to another to solve complex problems. Critical thinking is a mechanism that weeds out issues in business settings and replaces them with productive endeavors. It's what helps individuals figure stuff out for themselves when they don't have a teacher at their disposal.
Creativity is an equally important means of adaptation. It refers to a new way of seeing or doing things, or one's ability to deviate from the norm and see concepts in a different light. Learning creativity forces someone to shift their perspective and create novel solutions for both longstanding and emerging problems. This ultimately leads to innovation, which is key to a company's adaptability and overall success in any field.
Collaboration, once it's mastered, can breathe new life into dying companies. This skill means getting individuals to work effectively together, achieve compromises, and get them to contribute to finding the best possible solution to any problem. Willingness is a crucial element of collaboration. All participants must be ready to sacrifice parts of their ideas and adopt others for the "greater good", which in this case tends to be the company's success.
Finally, communication is what ties these qualities together. Some companies may take it for granted, but effective communication is a requirement for any company to maintain profitability. Poor communication can make well-thought-out plans and projects fall apart. It may even lead to confusion and tension in the workplace. Thus, individuals must learn how to express their sentiments and convey their ideas across different personalities.
A Closer Look at Literacy skills
The four C's are only the beginning. 21st Century skills also demand that individuals understand the information that surrounds them. Literacy skills are concerned with the different facets of digital comprehension. These are:
Information literacy is foundational of all the other literacy skills. It helps individuals understand data that they'll encounter online and critically evaluate content to separate fact from fiction. In this age of chronic misinformation, finding the truth online has become a job on its own. It's crucial that individuals can identify truth on their own. Otherwise, they can become victims of myths and misconceptions.
Media literacy helps individuals identify source and publishing methods and outlets while determining the ones that are credible and the ones that are inaccurate and unreliable. Media literacy is how individuals find trustworthy sources in a world that's saturated with misinformation. Without media literacy, anything that looks credible might be considered credible. With it, individuals can understand which media outlets to embrace and which ones to ignore. Both of which are equally important skills.
Technology literacy gives individuals the information needed to understand what gadgets perform what tasks and why. As robots, smart devices, and automation become more rampant, more people need to understand these inventions' concepts. According to the OECD Skills Outlook 2019 report, the adoption of new technologies can either enable workers to perform their tasks more efficiently (complementary effect) or replace workers with computers and robots that can perform routine tasks that can be entirely automated (substitution effect). Technology literacy can spell the difference between career advancement and unemployment. It unveils the intricacies of tools that run today's world. This leads to a deeper understanding that removes the intimidating feeling that humans tend toward new technology. As a result, individuals can adapt and play an active role in the technological evolution.
A Closer Look at Life Skills
Workers need more than learning and literacy skills to navigate the 21st century. Life skills are also crucial. Life skills are as follows:
Flexibility refers to a person's ability to change his actions and take steps to adapt to changing circumstances. It is an expression of an individual's dynamism in the face of new situations and environments. Being flexible can be a challenge to learn. It requires one to pierce their ego and abandon their preconceived notions when necessary.
It's a struggle for many individuals to learn, especially in an age when the accessibility and abundance of information often lead to a false sense of judgment and confidence. Flexibility requires humility and acceptance that they will always have a lot to learn despite their years of experience. This is crucial to an individual's long-term career success.
Leadership pertains to one's propensity to set goals and guide a team to work collaboratively to reach said targets. The ability to lead is crucial at any stage of one's career- whether someone is an experienced entrepreneur or a fresh hire entering the workforce.
Entry-level workers need leadership skills to help them comprehend the decisions that business leaders make. They can then apply their leadership skills when they're promoted or need to lead entire companies in the future. Workers must be allowed to hold leadership roles in their respective divisions at least once. This will help them learn the work process's ins and outs and enable them to demonstrate their collaboration and critical-thinking skills while directing a team.
Real success also requires initiative. Initiative often means beginning a task independently, working on projects outside of regular working hours, or spending an extra 30 minutes polishing something up before the weekend. It's mostly indicative of someone's work ethic and professional progress. The rewards for individuals with extreme initiative vary from person to person, but being a self-starter is an attribute that consistently earns rewards.
21st Century skills also require individuals to learn about productivity. An individual can complete work in a given amount of time. This is also known as efficiency and effectiveness. The common goal of any professional is to get more done in less time. By understanding productivity strategies at every level, individuals discover the best practices for their work and others' work.
Social skills or an individual's ability to approach and persuade people, respect boundaries and differences, and empathize with people from diverse cultural and social backgrounds is crucial to professional success. Business is often made through networking and forging personal and professional relationships. With the rise of social media allowing instant communication and virtual contact, the nature of human interaction has transformed. Individuals now need a wide range of social skills in response to these developments. But beware; while virtual communication and instant messaging are the new norms, etiquette and manners can still differ in the modern world.
Adaptability is the Key
The 21st Century demands a wide base of skills from the individual. Whether physical or cognitive, repetitive tasks are being automated. This means that the remaining tasks require flexibility and willingness to change. These skills boil down to adaptability.
New ideas and methodologies can disrupt industries without warning. In an era of continuous change, no industry is immune. Their time just has not come yet. Every day, new tools, products, and ways of working and living are discovered. Nothing is guaranteed.
With that in mind, individuals and businesses must be committed to developing the skills that will help them harness the powerful changes that are consuming their lives. They can either adapt to these changes or take the helms of innovation. Otherwise, they are on their way to obsolescence. With 21st Century skills, your individuals will have the qualities they need to survive and thrive in workplaces amid constant evolution.