Survey: 21st century skills contribute to success at work

Looking for the secret that will help today’s students be the successful workers of tomorrow? It may just all come down to 21st century skills.

According to a survey from Gallup, young U.S. adults who developed 21st century skills (many of which are currently emphasized in the Common Core State Standards) while in school were much more likely to report a higher work quality.

To conduct the survey, Gallup polled approximately 1,000 adults ages 18 to 35, asking about the advanced learning skills they developed during their last year of school. The skills in question are also widely referred to as 21st century skills because of their necessity in the modern American workplace.

But what exactly are 21st century skills? Without further analysis, the term can seem fairly vague. In general, they are the skills that individuals need to keep up with workplace demands in the globalized society of the 21st century. While digital literacy has a large role to play, there are other factors to take into consideration. Gallup tested for knowledge construction, collaboration, communication, real-world problem solving, global awareness and technology used in learning.

Many of these skills may seem like something students will just pick up on as they live their lives, but the survey results indicate that young adults who had a high degree of exposure to these skills in their last year of school were the ones who expressed the feeling that they are successful and valued at their current jobs.

When analyzing the survey results, Gallup measured the work quality of respondents in four ways: success in their current job, having a voice in decision-making at work, being a valued member of their workplace, and how they view their success relative to their peers around the country. The result? Real-world problem-solving skills were most strongly linked to having a higher self-reported work quality.

Perhaps even more telling is the split even within the category of young adults when it comes to learning to apply real-world skills. According to the survey, 37 percent of respondents ages 18 to 22 said they applied the knowledge they learned in the classroom to solve real-world problems during their last year of school, while only 28 percent of adults ages 23 to 25 said the same.

This difference could be the result of several factors, one of which is the shift in American education towards fostering 21st century skills by introducing technology and project-based learning into the classroom.

Will the trend continue? It seems likely. The Common Core State Standards will soon be fully implemented in 45 states and the District of Columbia, and they are specifically designed to prepare students for the careers of the 21st century.

In addition, organizations such as the Partnership for 21st Century Skills are leading the push toward giving students the academic tools and knowledge they will need to be successful in the real world.

As educators shift the focus away from textbooks and towards real-world applications, students will gain the skills they need to be positive and productive contributors to the American workplace.