Skills Required for 21st Century Career Success


No matter the education level, there are a few key skills, beyond book learning, that are critical for career success in the 21st century.  These skills include critical, independent and creative thinking, problem solving, communications, and collaboration.  It also is imperative to keep up with rapid and constantly changing technology, and use it to gain new knowledge quickly.

Advances in technology will continue to lead to job and even knowledge obsolescence.  Therefore, having the ability to innovate or re-invent oneself will help students prepare for unknown future jobs, ready to solve unknown future problems.

Besides being well informed, understanding knowledge gaps and being able to fill those gaps will be useful; being nimble, flexible, and adaptable to change is also important. The following are some of the ways parents and educators can help students prepare for future success:

Critical thinking includes asking questions, and being open to differing information, positions, ideas, or opinions. Encourage your student to seek and evaluate different viewpoints. She should keep up with current events, and understand the basics of our global economy and political landscape.  The internet and media provide access to information and knowledge, but students should know how to determine credibility and biases of the sources, and expose themselves to opposing views. Your student should be able to make age-appropriate decisions by weighing the pros/cons or costs versus benefits.

Problem solving skills also can be honed through practice; give your student opportunities to first recognize, and then solve their own problems. Observation, which requires focus and time, lays the groundwork for problem-solving. Employers value employees who discover ways to improve processes, or who see problems or needed improvements that were not previously seen.  Confidence, risk taking, being assertive, and having good critical thinking and communication skills go hand-in-hand with creative problem solving.  Foster creative brainstorming and emphasize the value of diversity, as it too can lead to new and improved solutions.  Encourage initiating ideas and calculated risk-taking; have students consider possible outcomes and the likelihood of each. Remind students it’s okay to make mistakes, as they provide valuable learning experiences.

Team playing skills teach students how to work and communicate with others toward a common goal.  Besides encouraging or helping team-mates, remind students it is equally important to assert oneself through open, yet diplomatic communications when there are problems or conflicts.  Although group projects sometimes may seem cumbersome, they provide opportunities to hone these skills, while learning to lead or follow others.

Lastly the importance of communication skills—written, verbal, and listening—cannot be over emphasized.  In this rapidly changing workplace landscape, asking questions, in a timely manner is also necessary. Students can practice all of these skills through school group projects, clubs, sports, part time jobs, and community service.   Building these 21st century skills requires time, mindful thinking, and practice; and with practice comes confidence and a successful future.


Ferah Aziz is a college coach with launchphase2. Visit www. or call 720-340-8111 to learn more about coaching for college bound students, and success coaching for college students. P. Carol Jones is the author of “Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able.” Visit to read excerpts and to follow her blog.