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Preparing Students for the Future with 21st Century Skills

The global economy is experiencing a great shift in which the structure of work is changing, creating new employment opportunities and new obstacles. In the midst of the changes, one particular demographic is extremely vulnerable to its effects: K-12 students. The Future of Jobs, a report produced by the World Economic Forum, explains that overall, “social skills – such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others – will be in high demand across industries than narrow technical skills, such as programming or equipment operation and control. In essence, technical skills will need to be supplemented with strong social and collaboration skills.” The technical job skills and 21st century skills will become integral competencies for students to build on. If students are to be competitive in an ever-evolving employment environment, they will need to add 21st century skills to their repertoire. Schools need to start preparing students now, and NYC Skills Lab has begun to support them in this effort.

NYC Skills Lab is an Office of Postsecondary Readiness initiative, funded by the GE foundation and the NYC Department of Education. This initiative aims to expand the quality and quantity of 21st century skill building experiences that prepare students for success in college and career. The skill-building platforms students engage in allow them to develop 21st century skills that are highly important for employability. According to The Future of Jobs, “several industries may find themselves in a scenario of positive employment demand for hard-to-recruit specialist occupations with simultaneous skills instability across many existing roles.” However, the students who are well-prepared to evolve with their jobs and learn in-demand skills will thrive in this economy. Presently, not enough students have the skillset to satiate this need of an evolving workforce, as seen through employer demand for a workforce pool that posses 21st century skills.

Six skill building blocks from the MHA Labs framework inform the work NYC Skills Lab does on a daily basis. 21st century skills such as strengthening personal mindset, planning for success, social awareness, verbal communication, collaboration and problem-solving are transformative skills that will equip students for postsecondary success. The need for 21st century skills has become urgent. Jobs increasingly require students to communicate effectively, problem-solve individually and collaborate in teams while completing projects that require collaboration and time management skills. These skill sets were always coveted in the workplace, but now they have become a growing necessity in an evolving workforce economy.

The State of American Jobs, a Pew Research Center report, states “employment in jobs requiring average or above-average levels of social skills, such as interpersonal, communications or management skills, increased 83% from 1980 to 2015.” The economy will not only require workers be well-versed in technology, they will also need adaptable skills as their job descriptions evolve. Andrea Gibbs, work-based learning coach at NYC Skills Lab explains, “The 21st century skills are in essence life skills. Failure to develop these will hinder their ability to compete in the marketplace and to lead productive, successful adult lives.”

NYC Skills Lab achieves its work through the Skills Fellowship, the WorkForce Alliance, and the Integrated School Partnerships. With three programs, NYC Skills Lab is able to provide targeted professional development to educators and partners to prepare students for college and career success. NYC Skills Lab currently collaborates with over 15 high schools to provide enriching, skills-based experiences for students. These skills will ensure students are adaptable and ready to succeed in the ever changing labor force.