7 skills students need for their future

I recently watched a video of Dr. Tony Wagner, co-director of Harvard’s Change Leadership Group, when he presented about what he calls a “global achievement gap”. During the presentation, he outlined the 7 most important skills our students need to be successful in the world. His message is powerful and presents the case that we are even short-changing the most capable students – AP and honor students – because we’ve prepared them in the universal curriculum of ‘taking tests’. They are not able to reason, analyze, think… He outlines the following skills as critical to solving the problems of tomorrow.

1. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving:

In order to stay competitive and relevant, businesses are forced to focus on continuous improvement of processes and products, and how they serve their customers. Toyota, as an example, expects its employees to commit to three responsibilities – 1) to produce the best quality products, 2) to find ways to make better products, and 3) to use their knowledge to create the cars of the future. They expect that of all employees. And our students need to have the thinking skills to solve the problems that are presented them in their careers.

2. Collaboration and Leading with influence:

We live in a world that is flat. We all know that there are no national boundaries when it comes to commerce, any longer. Which means, when our students eventually find themselves in the work world, it is almost a guarantee that they will find themselves working on a project as a part of a team. Most teams in businesses are without hiearachy and with that comes the need to be able to lead by influence. The most effective way to lead in the 21st century is through the ability to engage people and to ask the right questions. To do this in a global environment, our students must be able to understand and respect differences.

3. Agility and Adaptability:

It is the rare individual, in this economy, that will have the same job for their entire career; most people will change jobs at least 10 times during their working years. Even in the case where people find themselves working at the same company for some time, the organization is likely to undergo some form of structural or role change, frequently. The person who is able to adapt the the new environment and role as things change will prove to be the most productive for the company.

4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism:

During the presentation, Dr. Wagner references a conversation with Mark Chandler, VP and General Counsel of Cisco, where he compared two different types of employees – one who set 5 goals for him or herself and met all 5 with no problems versus the employee who set 10 goals for him or herself, and reached only 8 of them. He said the second example is the ideal, because he knows that he or she is setting stretch goals for themself, which is the only way Cisco can stay competitive. Businesses need employees who are stretching the envelope, to risk failure in the quest for the next innovation.

5. Effective Oral and Written Communication:

The number one complaint of both employers and college professors alike is that young people coming out of both high school and college can not communicate effectively. He quotes a senior executive at Dell who said that “the problem with their writing is with their thinking. They can’t analyze, they can’t reason. Their writing is fuzzy because their thinking is fuzzy. And that is only half the problem. The other part of the problem is they don’t know how to write with voice.” Our students are not able to write persuasively, or clearly articulate a point of view which is extremely important in professional settings.

6. Accessing and Analyzing Information:

We are bombarded with information on an hourly basis, and the amount of information that is available in the world is increasing exponentially. What becomes critical is not only the ability to find the information but to determine what is the important information, what is the really critical information versus what is trivial or unimportant.

7. Curiosity and Imagination:

Dr. Wagner references Daniel Pink’s book “A Whole New Mind”, (which I am halfway through on my Kindle), and the case that Pink makes that “in a commoditized world where every product begins to look the same, it is those products that have a more imaginative quality, a more playful element, that is going to capture people’s imagination” So to have creative skills becomes increasingly important in the market.

The video is inspiring, especially for those of us focused on transforming the education system, as we know it. I encourage you to watch the video, because he presents some solutions to this problem for teachers.

I will post on some of the solutions to these needs in a follow-up article, but please take a moment to watch the video and post your thoughts on the ideas he presents. I’d love to hear ideas for how to better prepare our students for the future:

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This entry was published on June 24, 2011 at 12:00 am. It’s filed under Innovation, Leadership, STEM Education and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

20 thoughts on “7 skills students need for their future

  1. This is a super article…more teachers should incorporate this “skill needs” approach into their instruction.

  2. latha on said:

    This article is very practical and applicable.I am sure this will help all students globally.

  3. mikeythev on said:

    It’s a shame that economic circumstances are cutting programs that already promote this type of education. What will we do without Technology and Engineering educators and their programs? Schools remain too focused on reading, writing, and math scores and they forget about the subjects which integrate them in real-world context.

    • Aint that the truth. We need to fix it and keep fighting.

      • Mary Gardom on said:

        Which means we as teachers have to think of ways to incorporate as many of these skills as possible into our lessons. Every one of those skills can be incorporated into lessons in ever subject.

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  5. The Global Achievement Gap was recently assigned as required reading for staff at my school. Good stuff. I think Tony Wagner has largely hit the nail on the head. I commend his mission to identify problems with status quo teaching and take it a step further by suggestion solutions. I sort of wish there was a less corporate feel to it all however. Perhaps the focus could easily be shifted to “skills for successful citizens.” The reality is that not all students will be fortunate enough to go on to high paying corporate jobs. I think the identified skills are still appropriate – just wish the delivery of the message could be modified to resonate with a diverse student mix.
    I’d prefer a emphasis on creativity and lifelong learning to “this is what you need to know to succeed in corporate America.”

  6. Mary Gardom on said:

    Love this article. It is so true, for students of all levels of ability and disability. We have to teach all students to be problem solvers.

  7. ecaterina on said:

    Can you please send a link of the video? Want to watch it!

  8. Irwin on said:

    It isn’t just students who need these skills. I am 54 years old, and many older adults, including supervisors and subordinates too, need to work on these skills also. I still think I am pretty bright, but am not nearly as mentally quick on my feet as I wish I was. I am not sure that can be taught or trained, frankly. Thinking is like running, I think, with the tortoise and the hair. Not sure the faster thinker is always better.

  9. Beverly Moffatt on said:

    I have included many of these concepts and skills in leadership programs and enthusiastically endorse Tony Wagner’s mission. However, I am profoundly disappointed to see the lack of roll models on the national stage both in terms of politics and business. Finding case studies and examples of these leadership qualities will be an incredible challenge.

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  12. Brock Rops on said:

    I believe wholeheartedly what Tony is saying and trying to do. I believe that education should be rigorous, relevant, build relationships and have results. One of the major hurdles are the standardized tests. If you are teaching students using project based learning and teamwork based learning, that is fantastic; however…its the scores on the ACT/SAT and other standardized tests that take priority. Standardized tests are keeping our students stagnant…Those tests need to change to mesh with the new curriculum paradigm of PBL and TBL and the 7 skills Tony mentions…and until that happens…we are spinning our wheels.

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