21st-Century Jobs: What Skills Matter?

21st-century jobs demand different skills and attitudes than many of the jobs of the past. 

New technologies and global trends are reducing the need for jobs that once employed thousands. It’s not yet clear what will take their place.

The Covid19 pandemic has accelerated the transition to virtual work/businesses. (It’s also highlighted the importance of flexibility!)

Essential 21st Century Skills

2 illustrations of workplaces: designers or planners working on computers in an office, & a surgical team preparing for surgery. A nurse's thought bubble: Which skills will matter most?

These personal abilities & skills will always be important:

  • clear communication 
  • creativity
  • empathy
  • cross-cultural understanding
  • inter-personal skills for working with & caring for others
  • perseverance & grit
  • a strong work ethic
  • attention: the ability to focus on a problem

Technical Skills are also needed more than ever:

  • computer & coding skills & an understanding of AI
  • STEM research & technical skills
  • English writing and persuasion

A Closer Look: Research on Key Job Skills & How to Develop Them

There are many fascinating articles on which skills will be most important for 21st-century jobs. I've chosen five that are well-researched or present different viewpoints. You may not want to read them all. Skim the descriptions below to find what's most useful to you, whether you are preparing for a job yourself or trying to help your children (or students.)

An article in Fast Company points out the value of “soft skills." (They include empathy, creativity, communication, and collaboration.) The author tells how people who excel in those skills often end up in better-paying jobs than people who study STEM subjects but ignore “soft skills.” 

That's because new inventions and discoveries are only useful when shared. Scientists & tech geniuses need to communicate their ideas. Even geniuses must work with others to develop them. 

The author finishes by describing ways to develop and use those soft skills to increase your employability.

Two articles on LinkedIn emphasize the need to change education to better prepare students for future jobs we can’t yet imagine. Their author did extensive research on the skills current students will need for future success. 

He argues that most students are still spending too much time learning facts instead of practicing those skills. (He specifies "self-directed workers who can adapt and learn quickly, think critically, communicate and innovate.” His first article lists 10 such skills. (Most are like the skills recommended in the article above). 

His follow-up article is for teachers. He suggests ways they can help their students develop these skills while still following state guidelines. For example, teachers can assign projects like short documentaries, a TED-style talk, or a podcast. Such projects encourage creativity and higher-level thinking. They provide practice with technologies students will be likely to need for jobs later. They also offer real-world audiences (not just the teacher). That's motivating to many students.

Teach students inquiry skills (the importance of asking good questions) and how to assess performance. Then have them give feedback to each other. Have students lead workshops on skills they have learned. (There are more ideas—and of course more detail-- in the article itself.)

Here are two more articles worth considering. Each focuses on one essential trait for 21st-century jobs. A Stanford professor discusses the importance of being able to focus. He talks about the increasing distractions of the 21st-century workplace. He also suggests ways to control them and keep some time free to concentrate.

A businessman emphasizes the critical importance of a good work ethic. Almost all employers are looking for employees with self-discipline, who care about their work, and finish what they start. Hw worries because many young job-seekers don't seem to realize its value. So many future job requirements are unknown, but work ethic is “never going out of style.”

21st-Century Jobs: Vocabulary Practice

Try a crossword puzzle to practice this vocabulary. From automation to empathy, distractions, multi-tasking, and traits, which words do you know?  (The answers are here.)

Home > TOEFL & IELTS Vocabulary Practice > Skills for 21st-Century Jobs

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