An unknown future? Prepare students with these timeless skills


Teaching | Monday, May 16, 2016

An unknown future? Prepare students with these timeless skills

The future is uncertain for our students. But some skills have served people through the ages. If we can help students develop them, they'll be more prepared. (Sketch by Matt Miller)

The future is uncertain for our students. But some skills have served people through the ages. If we can help students develop them, they’ll be more prepared. (Sketch by Matt Miller)

The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that 65 percent of today’s schoolchildren will be employed in jobs that don’t exist today.

Think of how you would have felt 10 years ago if someone said these would be full-time, paying jobs:

  • Search Engine Optimization Specialist
  • User Experience Manager
  • Social Media Manager
  • Telecommuting Coordinator
  • Online Advertising Manager
  • Medical Coder
  • Sustainability Manager

Here’s the problem: If we prepare students for those jobs — the ones that took US by surprise — they’ll be 10 or 15 years behind when they hit the workforce.

Preparing students for the real future they’ll face is like shooting at a moving bulls eye in the dark.

So much has already changed so quickly. So much will continue to change. The only thing that we can count on is change.

As educators, how do we square with that? How do we help students prepare for a world and a workforce that we can’t begin to predict?

For one, we can look at the past to predict the future. There are certain skills, certain traits that have served people throughout time. These skills and traits have helped people earn success and become valuable parts of the workforce and of society.

Here are five things students can do (and teachers can instill) that will make students more “future ready” no matter what the future throws at them. (Note: These are my suggestions, but I’d love to see yours. As you read, be thinking of your “future ready” skills and leave them in a comment below … please!)

1. Focus on process over tool. Not too many years ago, computer classes and business classes focused heavily on Microsoft Office. Let’s teach them Word and PowerPoint and Excel and Access, we thought. Those are the enduring programs that will serve them no matter what.

Now, Google Apps has come into the fray (as well as Microsoft’s Office 365), making new productivity opportunities possible. More and more people are publishing through WordPress and free website creators.

Instead of teaching tools, the enduring skill is to teach students how to learn the tools that will matter most to them. Let’s teach process instead of product. If students can answer these questions, they’ll be more prepared for whatever platform they’ll use in the future:

  • How do I find out what’s available?
  • How do I choose among those options?
  • What does one product do that the others don’t? What sets it apart?
  • What are my first steps to get started?
  • To whom can I turn for help?
  • What are the best practices for utilizing this product?
  • What advanced features or uses can take me to the next level when I’m ready?

No matter what technology or the work world brings us, proficiency in dealing with these questions and skills should empower students — and teachers — to face that uncertain future.

2. Connect. We have unparalleled tools for communication. We can talk face-to-face with practically anyone around the world with Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime and other video call programs. That opens up unlimited potential for hearing from — and learning from — the best experts, the ones with the most powerful stories, and the ones that are most likely to answer our questions. You never know who you can connect to until you ask, and the worst thing that can happen is receiving a “no” answer.

3. Collaborate. This is what we do when we leverage our connection powers. We are better together. We see it in countless arenas outside of education, but collaboration is often stigmatized in the classroom. Or it’s called “group work” but looks more like “you answer the odds and I’ll answer the evens.” Sir Ken Robinson touched on this in his Ted Talk, “Changing Paradigms” —

They spend 10 years in school being told there is one answer. It’s at the back, and don’t look. And don’t copy because that’s cheating. Outside school that’s called collaboration.

Answering simple questions with one answer isn’t preparing students for the realities of life. Instead, let’s empower them to solve a single complex question with a spectrum of answers and discuss which one is superior to the others. Companies can outsource the simple questions to technology; they can’t outsource quality critical thinking. And the best critical thinking isn’t done in one brain in isolation.

4. Add value. This, I believe, is the key to becoming a really useful in business and a vital member of one’s community. Adding value, I believe, is analyzing the current situation and figuring out what you can do or change to improve it. Anyone who is able to add value to his/her company or community will create a high value in himself/herself and will, in turn, become invaluable.

5. Glamorize hard work. Most anything that’s worth doing isn’t done easily. Behind most success stories are countless hours and late nights of hard work and the proverbial blood, sweat and tears. It was that way in Thomas Edison’s day:

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

It’s that way today. Gary Vaynerchuk, an entrepreneur and author, encourages others to pursue success as he did. You work 10 hours a day and aren’t happy with your results? Work 12. Do you play Xbox or watch Netflix for an hour or two every night? Cut back and pour those hours into improving yourself.

Sometimes, it’s evident that students have done this in a phenomenal project, speech, or other creative work in class. By praising and encouraging that hard work for exceptional results, we’ll be reinforcing a skill that can serve them into the future.

This list is far from exhaustive, and there are plenty of other skills and traits that fit well. I’d love to see what you think of these and what you would add to the list.

[reminder]What do you think will serve students as they go forward into an uncertain future? What are your thoughts of the skills mentioned in this post?[/reminder]

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  • Glenn Rice says:

    #5. Glamorize Hard Work – Mitch Daniels, President of Purdue University, emphasized this in his address to the graduating class of 2016! The best advice anyone who wants to improve their situation needs to hear! Mitch Daniels also quoted Thomas Edison in his remarks as well. Truly Timeless Advice.

  • Mike Petty says:

    This is a great list and a very important post! I’d add learning itself to the list.

    My overall goal is to help every teacher and student that I work with to become a confident, competent learner. That brings in a lot of other skills – everything from self-assessment to research to organization.

  • […] An unknown future? Prepare students with these timeless skills #21stcentury @jmattmiller… […]

  • Thanks to technology, the world is now a very small place. Let’s add multiculturalism and multilingualism to the list. Most people speak English, but it’s good for our brains (and our wallets) to speak more than one language.

  • Yanglish says:

    “65 percent of today’s schoolchildren will be employed in jobs that don’t exist today.”
    Just fantastic numbers that are difficult to understand. Children should be prepared. But first and foremost it is necessary to prepare teachers.

  • Elizabeth says:

    I believe there is a lot of truth in the following quote: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” – Alvin Toffle

    Teaching students how to learn instead of what to learn will help them adapt to the ever-changing world we live in.

    Students (even us adults) have so many more options to choose from that I think knowing how to make good decisions is something else we try teach our kids.

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