10 Skills All Students Need to Be Successful

January 12, 2017

Students need to learn these 10 skills to be ready for today's modern economy.

This is the first of three posts that I am writing in an attempt to inspire more discussion around the following question: How do we prepare students to be successful in their futures?

Determining an answer to this question, is a discussion that I believe needs to include students, instructors, parents, businesses and community members. In other words, this is a discussion that needs to include everyone!

In order to tackle this issue from the stance of an educator, I want to take a look at three different questions:

  1. What are the skills that our students need to be successful?

  2. In order to help students develop these skills, what type of projects and assessments can we engage them in?

  3. What are some tools and practices that we can use to implement these skills into the classroom?

The goal of this post is to address the first of these three questions.

The Issue

In the United States alone, there are approximately 55.6 million students attending elementary and secondary schools and 20.5 million students attending colleges and universities. In the majority of schools and classrooms that I have worked with, students are mainly being assessed on lower-level thinking skills such as memorization and recall. The multiple choice, short-answer and matching questions, along with the academic research paper, are still depended on as the main modes of assessment.

This needs to change.

My goal was to discover the most important skills that students need to be successful. After speaking with hundreds of business leaders and reading hundreds of articles, it became clear that it is time for education to change. The same skills continued to be mentioned. There is less demand for obedient workers who can simply show up on time and follow directions. There is an increased demand for self-directed workers who can adapt and learn quickly, think critically, communicate and innovate.

Approximately 65% of our students will be employed in jobs that don’t exist yet. So, how do we prepare them for this? I believe that we do so by helping student develop the skills that they will need to succeed in a future filled with uncertainty.

The Skills

I decided to compile the notes I took while doing my research. My goal was to identify the skills that were brought up the most in an attempt to determine which skills our students will need to be successful in their futures. The following are the 10 skills mentioned the most often:

  1. Adaptive Thinking: In the digital age, things are changing at exponential rates. By the time employees learn the newest software or program, a better version is coming about. Future employers will need to continuously adapt to changing conditions as well as be able to learn new things quickly and efficiently. We need our students to learn how to learn.
  2. Communication Skills: There continues to be an emphasis on the ability to communicate. In the digital age, however, we have access to a wide variety of new ways to communicate from video-conferencing to social media. Future employers need to be able to communicate with people within their team, as well as people outside of the team and organization.
  3. Collaboration Skills: Most classrooms foster a culture of competition and independence rather than one of teamwork and collaboration. Future employers will need to quickly adapt to a culture of collaboration. They will need to collaborate with others within and outside of the organization, often using a number of new technologies.
  4. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills: There is a decreased emphasis on employers following directions and an increased emphasis on employers thinking critically and solving problems. In a rapidly changing world, employers need employees who can solve problems, provide ideas and help improve the organization.
  5. Personal Management: This includes the ability for employers to independently plan, organize, create and execute, rather than wait for someone to do this for them.
  6. Inquiry Skills: The large majority of academic assessments ask students for answers. Rarely do we assess students on how well they can ask questions. The ability to ask great questions, however, is a critical skill that is desperately needed in a culture which requires constant innovations.
  7. Technology Skills: Almost every business that I talked to said that employers will need to be skilled at using technology. In the digital age, technology is everywhere. Schools, however, have been slow to adapt to this change. Rarely are students required or taught to learn technology efficiently. This needs to be emphasized.
  8. Creativity and Innovation: This skill is mentioned often. I believe that it correlates with the ability to ask good questions and the ability to problem solve. Employers will be looking to employees more and more for creative and innovative solutions to issues that exist.
  9. Soft Skills: Schools rarely spend time teaching students soft skills, including skills such as time management skills, organizational skills, the ability to look someone in the eyes when talking to them, or using a firm handshake. I have heard a number of times, by different business leaders, that these skills seem to be disappearing.
  10. Empathy and Perspective: Although this skill has always been important, it seems to be another one that is slowly disappearing. The ability for our students to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, to understand their feelings, and to help solve their problems.

The Action

Although it is important for our students to learn a core set of knowledge, we are not helping them develop these 10 skills by simply requiring them to regurgitate facts in an attempt to earn grades for a course. We need to have students apply what they are learning by engaging them in projects. We need to engage them in higher-order thinking skills in order for them to develop the skills that will be critical to their future success. Bloom’s Taxonomy provides a great illustration of the different levels of thinking. As educators, we need to stop depending on the lower level skills, such as memorization and recall, and help students develop higher-order thinking skills such as applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

Then, and only then, will we be helping students to develop these skills. Most educators that I have spoken with agree with this analysis. There is one question that seems to always arise, however: In order to help students develop these skills, what type of projects and assessments can we engage them in?

That question will be the focus of my next post on this topic.

Oliver Schinkten is an expert in learning and teaching, specializing in supporting educators as they work to empower their students. He’s taught more than 20 LinkedIn Learning courses, check them out here.