Building 21st Century Skills: How Students & Grads Can Prepare for the Modern Workforce

For students in the midst of Fall Semester, as well as graduates targeting employment opportunities, it’s vital to consider the kinds of skills that will increase employability. Students must think intentionally about how academic work needs to be coupled with targeted skill-building outside the classroom to help them become job-search ready, and graduates must develop these skills quickly to set themselves up for job-search success.  Employers who seek future employees will view applicants not only in terms of their degrees, majors and minors but also, they will assess the specific skills needed in their respective professional setting.

Job-seekers in today’s landscape must cultivate the traditional workplace skill-sets of their parents and mentors, as well as develop critical  21st century skills that have emerged due to rapid advances in technology. As a result, today’s aspiring professionals must do exponentially more work, and undertake proactive planning, in order to master even basic skills that will make them attractive employment candidates.

What are 21st Century Skills?

Technology’s impact on the workplace cannot be understated. There is a technology upskilling occurring in almost every career path, and some skills that used to be job-specific are now pervasive across industries. For example, the use of programming languages is no longer the sole domain of computer science majors, and many early careerists find that companies throughout the workforce are seeking these technical skills, even in entry-level jobs. This is particularly true given how intertwined the different functions of a modern company can be. Learning data science skills – such as the languages of Python, R or SQL – might sound too technical for a person who does not aspire to become a data scientist; however, some roles will call for collaboration with the data science team, and it pays to be familiar with these areas of study in order to form effective partnerships.

Prospective job-seekers should also bolster their social media skills to be successful in the workplace. While the students and grads may have a basic grasp on platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, they are likely less familiar with tools such as Google Analytics and Hootsuite, which respectively measure and analyze activity levels of these platforms and allow users to manage multiple social media channels.

Additionally, customer relationship tools like Salesforce and Mailchimp, are used across marketing, sales and corporate communications roles. Collaboration tools such as Slack and GitHub are used by professionals who need to learn from each other within and outside of organizations.  Business Process Automation tools create robotics applications in corporate departments of all types including accounting and human resources.  Presentation and content management tools such as Prezi, WordPress, and Zoom are valuable in a variety of occupations.

It’s important to understand the kinds of skills that will be essential to your job-search process. Map out a creative approach to developing these new skills. If you’re a student, figure out how to foster these skills within, alongside, and outside of your college curriculum. And if you’ve already graduated, make 21st century skill development a daily priority.

What is needed?

An insightful and productive method of identifying necessary skills is to explore job descriptions for aspirational roles in your field. What skills do employers require and at what level of proficiency?  What skills does LinkedIn score for roles that you find interesting? Talk to people in the field now and understand the kinds of skills that their company prioritizes – one useful question is “What skill do you wish you had mastered before you started your job?”

Start early in this exploration. It is better to be armed with a plethora of useful skills than to rush to acquire them (or need to mask skill deficiencies) while you are in your active job search.

Identify Complementary Skills

In order to be a well-rounded candidate, it’s important to augment your academic background with additional, complementary skills. If you study or studied a technical field, such as engineering or computer science, consider business skills that you might not cover in your curriculum. If you are a business or marketing major, jobs you seek in the bio tech or pharmaceuticals sectors may expect some scientific or clinical training. If you are considering working in a start-up environment, you may be expected to have knowledge of a variety of social media tools, both on the front-end and the back-end, as well as additional technical knowledge. Students across academic disciplines can benefit from developing an advanced understanding of Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint, or project management software.

How and When to Learn

Armed with new skill specific goals, figure out what resources are available through your school.  Start small – consider obtaining a book or locating online tutorials on the subject you want to learn. Once you’re comfortable with the basic material, research your range of options to learn; consider group classes, private lessons, or identify a guide who can get you started on the basics. If you have secured an internship, find out what training resources will be available while you are working – large firms often have extensive resources for employees to master software packages and learn about the complex features of application service providers like Salesforce or Workday. Some companies like Salesforce and Tableau will also allow students to learn the basics of their tools for free, to help them develop skills they’ll need for entry-level positions.

New Skills in Action

Transform your new learning into mastery by finding an opportunity to apply these newly developed skills. Offer to volunteer or assist in projects on campus, at local companies, at or not-for profits to put your skills into practice.  Alternatively, find problems and use your new skills to solve them, creating interesting personal projects to spotlight on your resume.

Once you have firmly developed a skill, you will be able to note the skill on your resume; stating what you learned, how you applied it, and any outcomes you achieved – this is valuable information for an employer seeking a skilled resource.

At Early Stage Careers, we help Freshman students, college graduates, and everyone in between to start building technical skill ideas and options; while also ensuring that clients continue to cultivate traditional soft skill building in the areas of teamwork, creativity, analytical skills, and adaptability.If you start early, you can add on to them as new technologies are created, allowing you to transfer your skills to new opportunities. No matter when you start building your roadmap, you will be demonstrating to potential employers that you are committed to continuous self-improvement, and contributing more to meet company needs; which goes beyond obtaining a degree.