Skills Needed for the 21st Century | Jobs In ME
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Skills Needed for the 21st Century

By Diane Dunton

Listening to a talk by Dr. Tony Wagner, author of The Global Achievement Gap, was a reminder of what is needed today as the American economy continues to shift. Dr. Wagner commented that 72 percent of our American economy is based on consumer spending, in which people go into debt.

He raises the question: "What will drive the economic engine in the future?"

Global Learning Gap

Dr. Wagner's talk was focused on the global learning gap. He had interviewed senior executives and reviewed workforce readiness reports. He was assessing the skills that will be needed in a global economy.

As I listened to his talk, I found that the skills are not any different for students than they are for people who are looking for new jobs in companies today. The jobs that existed yesterday and were eliminated, thus creating job loss, are not the jobs of tomorrow. New skills will be required.

According to Dr. Wagner, today's students need the following skills:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Collaboration and leading by influence
  • Agility and adaptability
  • Initiative and entrepreneurship
  • Effective oral and written communication
  • Accessing and organizing information
  • Curiosity and imagination

Developing Your Skills

This is a tall order for teaching in the schools, but is it any different than what job seekers need to consider as they look for new opportunities in the job market? I would encourage each job seeker to assess their own skills and determine their own strengths and areas of opportunity.

In working with many clients, I have found that the shift is a desire to be part of a new growing organization/company that is innovative or a desire to start their own business. In each of these scenarios, being able to present yourself with the skills listed above can make you a stronger candidate or a more successful entrepreneur.

How do you go about developing these skills? I will illustrate a couple of examples from the list of seven that you can do to increase your skill level.

Collaboration and Leading by Influence

Volunteer to be part of a community-serving board, of which you are passionate about the cause. Be part of an event working with others and bring your knowledge and expertise.

I worked with a successful, businessperson who never thought he had the skills to serve on a Board. When I first suggested exploring this option, he rejected it. Then, he sought out an opportunity. I have seen him grow as a leader, collaborator and influencer through his experience.

Curiosity and Imagination

Take a class on something new that you have always been curious about (history, archaeology or astronomy, for example) or sign-up for a photography or painting class.

I have had the wonderful opportunity to spend time with my four-year-old grandson. What an imagination! What curiosity! From the ages of four to eight, imagination and curiosity are abundant. With age, we can lose so much of this. Find time to play, be curious and have fun.

In the coming months, I will explore the other skills. Get started and begin to develop your skills for the 21st century.


Diane L. Dunton M.S., president of Potential Released Consulting Services since 1996, has over 25 years of business and HR experience. Diane has received specialized training with National Training Labs, the Gestalt Institute, Center for Creative Leadership, the University of Michigan's Organizational Career Development and the Center for Reengineering Leadership programs. She has developed programs for over 25,000 employees and leads more than 20 workshops annually offering executive coaching, professional individual coaching and programs on leadership and strategic planning. She has appeared before conferences of up to 9,000 participants and her work has appeared in both U.K. and U.S. management publications, including the Society for Training and Development's Team and Organizational Development Sourcebooks (2003-2006).Learn more about Diane at PotentialReleased.com.