What are 21st Century Skills?

A colleague and I were engaged in a debate recently, in a team meeting, when we were discussing plans for BETT 2008. For the show we've added three themes to Microsoft's "Realising Potential" message. Those three themes are:

  • Raising Standards

  • Personalising Learning

  • 21st Century Skills

The first two didn't lead us into debate, but the third did. We got locked into a deep discussion about 21st Century skills - is it about the IT skills you need in the workplace or other skills, such as collaborative working, communication, leadership, project management etc?

My viewpoint is that it is both, not one or the other. And that as an employer, these are the skills I'm looking for in new employees, with far less importance on "traditional knowledge" (the ability to deliver facts & specific domain knowledge). What I think of as "traditional knowledge" is what gets you invited into the interview room, but it's these other skills that differentiate you from other candidates.

I was reminded about the debate when I read stories from the BBC website today.

The first was an interview with Bill Gates called "The skills you need to succeed", where he said:

"The skills you need to succeed

A solid working knowledge of productivity software and other IT tools has become a basic foundation for success in virtually any career.

Beyond that, however, I don't think you can overemphasise the importance of having a good background in maths and science.

If you look at the most interesting things that have emerged in the last decade - whether it is cool things like portable music devices and video games or more practical things like smart phones and medical technology - they all come from the realm of science and engineering."

That certainly puts the "new" and "traditional" skills onto the same platform. And then I read another story "Computer knowledge undervalued", prompted by research of 500 business leaders completed by Microsoft, that puts IT skills as the seventh most important workplace skill.

"Computer knowledge 'undervalued'

Computer skills are still undervalued in the UK board room, according to software giant Microsoft. It surveyed 500 UK business leaders and found that a knowledge of information technology (IT) was seen as the seventh most important workplace skill.

Instead, team working and interpersonal skills were seen as the core factors, followed by initiative.  Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said IT skills were needed from the shop floor to the chief executive."

So what does this mean? That the move to diplomas and the reform of the curriculum is well overdue? That we need to be sure that these moves don't get undermined by media attitudes towards "traditional learning"? (I always ask "What will the Daily Mail say about this?"). And, critically, for learners today, that we're going through a period of rapid change. We'd better be ready for a turbulent journey!

Want to talk more about this? Come along and talk about it at the BETT show in January...

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