21st Century Skills Have Always Been “Needed” Skills, But Now We Need Them More Than Ever

Communication is changing fast – Sharing thoughts, questions, Ideas and Solutions.


Collaboration has evolved to a point of instantaneous feedback loops – Working together to reach a goal. Putting talent, expertise and smartness to work. Networked people are far better than the best brains.

Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking has become a necessity in order to not only solve big problems, but every day issues. Looking at problems in a new way and linking learning across subjects and disciplines.


Creativity is a part of our everyday lives. No longer reserved for the few, we must all be creative and innovative in order to do our daily work. Trying new approaches to get things done equals innovation and invention.

Yes, those bolded terms are what we commonly refer to as “21st Century Skills”, yet I’m fairly certain that these were always NEEDED skills.

The 21st century skills are the skills our students are evaluated on. These types of skills are imperative to success in the workplace, in relationships, and in life – they are now seen as “need to have” instead of “nice to have” for our students.

The Five Categories of Skills


Self-Control — Once you’ve decided that something is important, are you able to persist in doing it, without letting distractions or bad habits get in the way? Doing things for the long run that you might not feel like doing in the short run.

  • Adaptability to changing requirements
  • Agility in the face of unexpected obstacles
  • Alacrity and the ability to start and stop quickly
  • Authenticity and consistent behaviour
  • Bouncing back from failure
  • Coach-ability and the desire to coach others
  • Collaborative mindset
  • Compassion for those in need
  • Competitiveness
  • Conscientiousness in keeping promises
  • Customer service passion
  • Eagerness to learn from criticism
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Endurance for the long haul
  • Enthusiasm for the work
  • Ethics even when not under scrutiny
  • Etiquette
  • Flexibility
  • Friendliness
  • Honesty
  • Living in balance
  • Managing difficult conversations
  • Motivated to take on new challenges
  • Passionate
  • Posture for forward motion
  • Purpose
  • Quick-wittedness
  • Resilience
  • Risk-taking
  • Self-awareness
  • Self confidence
  • Sense of humour
  • Strategic thinking taking priority over short-term gamesmanship
  • Stress management
  • Tolerance of change and uncertainty


Productivity — Are you skilled with your instrument? Are you able to use your insights and your commitment to actually move things forward? Getting non-vocational tasks done.

  • Lean techniques
  • Listening skills
  • Managing up
  • Meeting hygiene
  • Planning for projects
  • Problem solving
  • Research skills
  • Technology savvy
  • Time management
  • Troubleshooting
  • Attention to detail
  • Crisis management skills
  • Decision making with effectiveness
  • Delegation for productivity
  • Diligence and attention to detail
  • Entrepreneurial thinking and guts
  • Facilitation of discussion
  • Goal setting skills
  • Innovative problem-solving techniques
  • Lateral thinking


Wisdom — Have you learned things that are difficult to gather from a textbook or a manual? Experience is how we become adults.

  • Artistic sense and good taste
  • Conflict resolution instincts
  • Creativity in the face of challenges
  • Critical thinking instead of mere compliance
  • Dealing with difficult people
  • Diplomacy in difficult situations
  • Empathy for customers, co-workers and vendors
  • Intercultural competence
  • Mentoring
  • Social skills
  • Supervising with confidence


Perception — Do you have the experience and the practice to see the world clearly? Seeing things before others have to point them out.

  • Perception
  • Design thinking
  • Fashion instinct
  • Map making
  • Judging people and situations
  • Strategic thinking


Influence — Have you developed the skills needed to persuade others to take action? Charisma is just one form of this skill.

  • Ability to deliver clear and useful criticism
  • Assertiveness on behalf of ideas that matter
  • Body language (reading and delivering)
  • Charisma and the skill to influence others
  • Clarity in language and vision
  • Dispute resolution skills
  • Giving feedback without ego
  • Influence
  • Inspiring to others
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Leadership
  • Negotiation skills
  • Networking
  • Presentation skills
  • Persuasive
  • Public speaking
  • Reframing
  • Selling skills
  • Storytelling
  • Talent management
  • Team building
  • Writing for impact

The question then for us as educators (and as parents etc.) is not only how we can work on building these skills, but more importantly give students opportunities to learn, showcase, and use these skills while they are learning.

Bo Adams, the Chief Innovation Officer and Mount Vernon’s Institute for Innovation, famously said:

If schools are meant to prepare students for the real world. Then why doesn’t school look more like the real world?

These skills shared above are important. They’ve always been important. However, maybe now more than ever before. In a world that is quickly changing, we need to continue refocus our why on giving students the skills and knowledge to actively learn and pursue their interests, passions, and dreams.


  • Businesses are failing
  • Jobs are declining
  • Education is obsolete
  • Relations are spoiling
  • Kids are drowning


  • Economic Reasons
  • Civic Reasons
  • Global Reasons