21st Century Skills That Young People Need

While much of the world has changed immeasurably in recent decades, certain aspects seem to remain fixed in their old mold. One of those things is traditional education, which still measures success on a very limited set of metrics that haven’t budged in at least half a century.

If these metrics get us into our kids into their chosen colleges in the future, who are we to complain, right? While it’s true that the traditional education model continues to work (just about) for getting students enrolled into institutions of higher education, employers have a rather different perspective. In today’s article, we’re exploring the distinctly 21st-century skills that are prized in the “real world,” but arguably overlooked in our schools.

Go Beyond Technical

Our institutions of learning have value in our life, there’s no question about that. They may be intransigent and resistant to reform, but they also teach kids a wealth of information and detail that they ultimately need to enter their ultimate chosen profession. Many of the world’s biggest and most influential employers, however, are reminding us that there are other skills that exist, more fundamental and more relevant to making a successful member of a functioning team.

21st-Century Leadership Skills

Problem Solving

Below we will explore several of the key fundamental skills that young people need to start developing from a young age. As we said, these go beyond technology, coding, and technical computer skills. Almost everything that employers want the most from a new team member these days revolves around problem-solving. Gaining ability in this regard requires a number of key skills:

Critical Thinking

Can you see information, a statement, a set of statistics or a dilemma and come up with questions about it? Can you imagine what might be wrong with the information? Can you contemplate an ulterior motive behind a statement? Can you do the math in your head and still have the statistics make sense? Can you extrapolate the various possible outcomes of various choices in a dilemma? If not, then you are lacking in critical capacity.

Why do children need this capacity? In the information age, surely, they can find answers with the simple push of a button. The truth is, however, that it’s the advent of the information age, with so many competing sources and constantly updating streams of information, that makes critical thinking more important than ever.


One of the natural by-products of strong critical thought is creativity and imagination. When you can think critically, you can think clearly, and the natural result of clear thought is great innovations and creative solutions that solve the problem at hand. Exercising your ability to innovate and improve upon existing models and systems in the world is something you can do from almost any age. Kids can learn it in engaging activities and courses that demand new solutions to ongoing issues.


It’s just a coincidence that the top-3 problem-solving skills all begin with a ‘C.’ Collaboration — working as part of a team — is another critical skill for the 21st-century young learner. The most successful companies in the world have all identified that while a grand and overarching vision can be created by one man (perhaps the founder), it takes an entire team working ceaselessly together to make it a reality.

Teamwork isn’t just a skill for work, but also for life. The ability to collaborate is the ability to recognize that other people have things to say, things to contribute. That’s fundamental to a more successful life socially, as well. It develops empathy, listening skills, and the chance to practice expressing your ideas out loud.


We’re breaking the ‘C’ pattern with this one. A final key skill to problem solving is the ability to show flexibility; to show that you can adapt to new information and situations created by those changes. The information age is one in which the narrative spins on a dime. Industry knowledge is no different. You can be at the cutting-edge one day and yesterday’s news the next. If you can’t adapt to the change, you’ll never function.

21st-Century Skills that Young People Need: Strong Foundation

Problem-solving skills are undoubtedly instrumental to success in the 21st century, but kids need a bit more than that, too. Here are some other things that young people should make part of their life learning experience:

Literacy: Traditional and Technological

As a mechanical tool, these two things are perhaps the most traditional element that endures even in the most modern context. Kids need strong oral and written communication skills to convey their ideas clearly, present their thoughts confidently and in a way to which an audience would be receptive.

Technological skills like computer use, multimedia platform use, coding and more are the new equivalent to those “trade” skills that older generations valued so much. These are the skills that will keep young people valuable in a workplace regardless of where they ultimately end up.

Taking the Initiative

Some people call this “being a self-starter,” which is a bit of a cliché, but its importance in the modern age is undeniable. The individual is capable of a lot more than they were years ago, which is another reason teamwork is still important because all that individual ability compounds in a more incredible way than ever. Kids need to learn to harness the resources around them by themselves; to take the initiative and get started on things without having to be told every time.


Not every young person will grow up to be a leader, but that doesn’t mean they can’t gain value from exhibiting leadership qualities. Things like responsibility, clear communication, confidence, respect, intelligence and empathy are all what you’d call strong leadership qualities, and young people need the skills whether they become leaders in their chosen field or not.

Citizenship and Ethics

Finally, one more area that young learners need to spend time on is developing a sense of civic duty; what you might call a social conscience. This doesn’t necessarily mean they learn to become a crusader, expressing righteous indignation at everything they see. What it’s about is teaching responsibility not only to those immediately around you like family, friends and colleagues, but to the wider community and society as a whole.

Learning 21st Century Skills

It’s all very well and good making lists of various lofty skills and abilities that we want young learners to master. The question remains on how we actually get them to do it. As we touched on above, with schools being laser-focused on test scores and other “tangible” results, it’s down to all of us to find opportunities for kids to learn about these things outside of the classroom:

1. Experiential Learning Programs

Good habits like reading, study review, watching documentaries and whatnot can all contribute to cerebral development, but nothing teaches quite like doing. If you want your kids to learn about lifelong skills that foster those abilities and qualities that present and future employers will value greatly, then experiential learning is the way to go. There’s a time to have one’s nose in a book, but there’s also time to have one’s hands on an outdoor project, or team-based competitive activity that focuses on action, not words.


You don’t have to want to be an engineer or physicist in the future to be able to appreciate and learn from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). STEM is fun, engaging and appealing across all demographics. Young people are naturally curious and STEM is a great avenue to nurture that curiosity, build confidence, work in a team, get creative and find solutions to various problems.

3. Sports and Recreation

Have you ever thought of sports as a bit of a waste of time? It’s not surprising, but wrong-headed to think this way. Sports programs bring young people together, build team spirit, encourage competition and creativity as you work to outdo and outwit your opponents in your chosen activity. It also promotes better physical health, which is always conducive to being productive and confident.

4. After-School Programs

Finally, to supplement your academic progress, after-school classes that enrich your child’s experience are a great choice. Such programs often are more engaging than their school counterparts, and find more innovative and creative ways to help your son or daughter connect meaningfully with the content.

Learners Today, Leaders Tomorrow

We hope that today’s blog has helped enlighten you as to the reality of which skills are truly impacting and important in the long term. There’s nothing any of us can do to get around the necessity of test scores and hard academic data to get into college. What we can do, however, is find fun opportunities for kids to broaden their horizons, spread their wings and learn all they can during their youth.

Want to know more about our programs or how to support Learners Today, Leaders Tomorrow, It’s all just an email away.

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