21st Century Workplace Skills

Reprinted from the National Career Development Association Journal, May 2016

In an article by Anya Kamenetz called “Nonacademic Skills Are Key to Success. But What Should We Call Them?”, Kamenetz looks for a good term to describe 21st Century skills but instead she describes the qualities that make up the 21st century skill set. This list of scissors-1008908_640skills seems a little old fashioned, or more common sense based, not exactly what we would think of as 21st century skills in the age of technology (Kamenetz, 2015). Perhaps in keeping with trendy language a better term might be to label these, “Retro Skills ”. This skill set identified includes:
• Character
• Grit
• Growth mindset
• Non-cognitive Traits and Habits (i.e self-discipline, accountability, punctuality, dependability, self-motivation, time management)
• Social and Emotional Skills (i.e. empathy for co-workers or customers, following proper social etiquette such as sending thank you notes, sympathy cards, flowers, personal phone calls of appreciation)
• Soft Skills (i.e. how to answer the telephone or take a phone message properly, presentation skills, leadership skills, communication skills).

Noah Webster stated it best in 1788, “The virtues of men are of more consequence to society than their abilities; and for this reason, the heart should be cultivated with more assiduity than the head”(Kamenetz, 2015). One would ask then, what do the virtues of man and cultivating the heart, have to do with 21st Century skills? If one doesn’t have a heart for their job and a heart for helping people they will be lacking in those skill sets. This is a customer service department’s worst nightmare. If an employee has no virtue, then can they be trusted to be a loyal dedicated employee that looks out for the best interest of other employees, and the company? Probably not.

Technology was designed to make our jobs easier, hence more efficient so that employees, employers, and companies as a whole could focus their attention on making the customers experience a pleasant one. Unfortunately, what has become a side effect of the technological advances is the loss of those soft skills. With the use of technology to communicate, employees forget that there is a real person, with real needs that require attention, help and time. Whether that real person is the customer, the employer, or the employee, the old fashion skills that were so important in the days of Noah Webster are still relevant and important today. Employers don’t have time to babysit their employees. Employers want to know that the employee brings with them the necessary skill set needed to do the job well (Hansen & Hansen, n.d.). On the other hand, customers want businesses that care about them and show it in quality of the product or service they provide as well as the quality of employees they hire. The skill set that employers are searching for in job-seekers is universal and revolve around personal work habits and ethics (Hansen & Hansen, n.d.).

Cultivating Retro Skills
How do career service professional help the job seeker to learn these skills? The following is an easy 3 step process career professionals can use to guide job seekers in cultivating their skills which will ultimately result in a successful harvest of career opportunities.
1. Identify skills you are weak in: Recognize the skills that you struggle with or are more difficult for you.
2. Do not try to eat a cow in one bite: this Old Chinese proverb explains how not to handle those identified as weak skills. Focus on them one at a time (Han, n.d.).
3.Practice, Practice, Practice: The only way to improve at anything is through practice:
• Get involved in clubs or professional organizations where you can utilize those skills.
• Networking is a great way to get in practice on those communication skills
• Obtain a mentor or career coach to practice your skills on and provide you with guidance in bringing your skill set together ensure your employability.

Today’s Employability Skills
binary-1071776_640How does this apply to today’s employability skills? Let’s first ask “What is the one set of skills that every employer wants an employee to possess”? If you said “21st Century skills”, you are right. 21st Century skills, is how we bring the technological skills together with the old fashioned work habits and ethics of yesteryear. A person who can show up on time, take the initiative to get the job done, accept accountability, communicate clearly, and show genuine interest and pride in the job they do, along with the technological skills needed, will have a long and happy future in any career they choose to enter.
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To learn more about what employers need and how to prepare for the workplace contact Stephanie@ stephanie@accessguidance or 610-212-6679.

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