What are 21st Century Skills?

Many authors have worked to describe the skills needed to ensure that young people will have the skills to be ready and adaptive to the world of the future. The greatest challenge is that the future is already upon us – what was science fiction is now our daily reality, and continues to change at an ever faster pace.

There is no single definition of ‘21st Century’ or ‘Future Ready’ skills. To complicate it further, these definitions continue to evolve in response to the change around us and as we better understand these changes.

Last year the Organization for Economic Development (OED) published its top 10 Work Skills for 2020. These skills can be described in 5 major categories – high order thinking, creative and innovation skills, interpersonal skills, personal qualities and technology skills.

1. Complex Problem Solving

2. Critical Thinking

3. Creativity

4. People Management

5. Co-coordinating with Others

6. Emotional Intelligence

7. Judgment and Decision Making

8. Service Orientation

9. Negotiation

10.   Cognitive Flexibility

2020 is only 3 years away and its worth asking whether these skills are taught or reported on in student’s school progress reports. Interestingly ‘creativity’ moved up from 10th place in the OED’s previous report ‘Work Skills for 2015’, and Emotional intelligence at 6th place wasn’t included previously.


The ‘Institute for the Future’ publishes its own description of 2020 Work Skills –

• Computational Thinking

• New Media Literacy

• Virtual Collaboration

• Multi & Trans Disciplinary

• Design Mindset

• Creative and Adaptive Thinking

• Sense Making

• Thinking Load Management

• Social Thinking

• Cross Cultural Competency

This also recognizes the convergence of globalization and technology and the importance of cross-cultural literacies in a global age. The ‘P21 Project’ made popular the now well known 4C’s – ‘Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Communication’. It also highlights the importance of Global Awareness, Social & Cross Cultural Skills. It also provides detailed descriptions for critical technology skills –

• Digital Literacy

• IT Literacy

• Media Literacy

• Information Literacy

Yong Zhao in his book ‘Never Send a Human to do a Machine’s Job, reminds us that machines will always be able to do certain jobs faster, cheaper and better than people. He points out that it is now time for schools to focus on the skills that machines can’t do and that employers are increasingly seeking – the things that are uniquely human. These include resilience, flexibility and adaptability.

In his book ‘The Importance of Failing Well’, Lance King helps us to understand the that learning comes from taking risks and making mistakes and that new discoveries and creations come from a process of trial and perseverance.

Join us for Part 3 – ‘Creativity – Can it be Learned?’ 

Register now to join parent seminar or teacher workshop and get your copy of ‘The Importance of Failing Well’

Extract the QR code to register for the Teacher Worshop.

Extract the QR code to register for the parent seminar.

Coming April 10 Chinese translation of Lance King’s latest book ‘ the Importance of Failing Well’ , Long Press for pre-order