Student Focus Groups: We Need 21st Century Skills to Succeed in the Workplace

The consensus is clear– students in NYC Skills Lab programs are aware of how important 21st century skills are to succeed in the workplace. One student said “I don’t want to be known for lateness, I want to be known for my character.” Another knows things do not always go as scheduled. “I’m good at finding an alternate plan,” he/she said.

NYC Skills Lab conducted focus groups to understand student’s perspectives on the value of 21st century skills. The report allowed NYC Skills Lab staff to hear perceived  strengths and weaknesses of the support received through their school’s internship program and to garner feedback on how to improve it. The focus group targeted students of schools who were a part of the WorkForce Alliance program, one of three programs under the NYC Skills Lab initiative, that supports school educators in cultivating student development of 21st century employ-ability skills in preparation for internships. Students are given meaningful work and feedback on the skills it takes to succeed in an evolving workforce.

The WorkForce Alliance uses a framework called the 10 Core Employ-ability Skills, created by MHA Labs by conducting research focused on highlighting the skills that are most critical in allowing individuals to gain employment. Those core employ-ability skills include: needing minimal supervision to complete tasks, managing time to complete tasks on schedule, balancing one’s own needs with the needs of others, and identifying alternative ideas and processes that may be more effective for the work. In the focus group, students identified the importance of 21st century skills by noting they are important factors “jobs look at…and things you need in a professional setting.”

Students agreed that they were practicing the skills inside and outside of the classroom. Through sports, leadership activities, creating art and learning in a classroom setting, they encountered situations that required problem-solving, verbal communication and collaboration with others. Students were proud to have the ability to engage in and practice the employ-ability skills. Focus group participants also gave positive examples of how having access to the vocabulary and a process for building those skills are important to their development and growth.

Of the 10 Core Employ-ability Skills, planning for success and goal-setting were deemed most helpful. This high ranking speaks to the need students have to control their academic and personal affairs. In addition to citing the helpfulness of specific skills, students highlighted various activities that prepared them for success in the workforce–mock  interviews, resume help and workforce role plays to name a few. Students also noted the importance of setting goals.

“When we wrote down our goals and how to achieve them, it helped me see my growth,” one student said. “It helps me know I just have to put my mind to it.”

Throughout the course of the focus groups, NYC Skills Lab learned that giving students opportunities to develop 21st century skills empowers them to take a more active role in their education and preparation for life post high school. Definitions of work readiness changed for students as they went through their school internship program and participated in internships. One student said, “Before, when I thought about work, it was just professionalism. There was no problem solving or planning for success. I just talked about how you dress to go to work. But now I think you need all of them. You need collaboration to work with teammates. And if you need help you need to try on your own first.”

The focus and integration of employ-ability skills into their school internship program is highly recommended by students because they felt it prepared them for the workforce in ways they would not have been able to learn otherwise. One student commented, “Honestly, I felt over-prepared for this internship because of [this program]. We studied the skills and I started my job and thought ‘Oh, this is pretty easy.’ I was expecting it to be harder.”

The significance of these findings cannot be overlooked. Employees, innovators and leaders of the future believe 21st century skills are crucial in preparing students for the workforce, and educators are beginning to take notice. The workforce is changing – it is a dynamic environment, and those who are able to continue developing their skill sets will be the most prepared to succeed in our economy’s workforce.

Click here to see the results of the Pilot Year Student Focus Groups


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.