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Educating the 21st century work force.

Considering socio-economic trends, technology, and the evolving requirements for learning, there is a call for educational reform to include a set of educational experiences for students targeted to employment needs. Fueled by the economy and corporate downsizing, the called-for reforms would put a stronger focus on career preparation at all levels of education.

At a time when 85 percent of jobs require education beyond high school (up from 65 percent in 1991), according to a federal report, it is critical to consider stakeholders and evolve education while bridging the gap to employability skills through the cooperation and input of education, business, government and students.

In the information age the demand for manual skills is declining. The share of manufacturing jobs versus the total number of jobs was expected to decline to 11 percent in 2001, from 13 percent in 2000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This means educational institutions must fill the nation's labor force with educated workers that can meet the demands of our information economy. Just as schools adapted to meet the needs of an agricultural and Cold War society, once again schools must change to accommodate the explosion of information technology and its impact on the work force and our culture.

Business Skills

The ability of a worker to apply education in a real-world setting is not necessarily represented by diplomas and degrees. Many employers and career tracks now require competency-based certifications. The medical, automotive and technology fields are examples of industries that value these credentials in addition to an individual's formal education.

Certification programs show how businesses can work with educational institutions to identify and create curriculums that are meaningful to both the employer and employee and encourage the lifelong learning process. Certifications are increasingly valued by students, incumbent workers and employers as proof of competency and a supplement to formal education.

Life Skills

But education and technical skills aren't enough. The effectiveness of the most educated workers is diminished if they lack the "soft" skills to work effectively with others. Employers ranking employability skills for new hires rated interpersonal skills highest in level of importance, according to an Information Technology Association of America poll. Such attributes as values, the ability to work without supervision, and working well with others are examples of these skills. It is clear that education tied to employability goals must include building interpersonal skills as part of the core learning competencies.

Education and Industry

Educators, government and industry leaders are working together to help reform education to assure that a basic level of digital literacy is acquired by today's students. Microsoft is participating with the following organizations and efforts to assist schools in developing standards for 21st century skills.


At the secondary-post secondary level, the Career and College Transitions Initiative is working to increase rigor in the American education system through identifying model schools and core competencies for the 21st century learner, worker and citizen. Facilitated by the League for Innovation in the Community College, CCTI is a project of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Vocational and Adult Education.

Considering the building blocks that begin in the primary grades, this initiative has the focus of learning that bridges grade levels and further education to employment and life skills.

Noncredit Learning

The American Association of Community Colleges and its affiliated council--the National Council of Continuing Education and Training--are spearheading an effort to assess noncredit skills and include them on student transcripts. An invitational colloquium held in May 2003 will have a resulting white paper of recommendations to the AACC for this important recognition of nontraditional learning. Addressing the "soft skills" demanded by industry, an early exemplar is the Critical Life Skills Transcript implemented by Waukesha County Technical College--an assessment of communication skills, analytic skills, group effectiveness skills and personal management skills.

No Child Left Behind

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills is a consortium of businesses and non-profit organizations created to help schools address change in alignment with 21st century requirements in accordance with the No Child Left Behind Act and in alignment with 21st century requirements, recognizing that those skills are a continuum to prepare students for life and work. In addition to Microsoft, the Partnership includes AOL Time Warner, Apple Computer, Cable in the Classroom, Cisco Systems, Dell Computer Corporation, the National Education Association and SAP. Along with Education partners--the U.S. Department of Education and the Appalachian Technology in Education Consortium--the Partnership is defining new skill sets and education models to produce more highly-skilled workers and better prepare citizens across all ethnic, geographic, and economic strata.

In its report released in June 2003, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills identified the following as central to 21st-century learning, considering life skills, employability skills and core competencies:

1. Emphasize core subjects;

2. Emphasize learning skills;

3. Use 21st century tools to develop learning skills;

4. Teach in a 21st century context;

5. Create 21st century content; and

6. Use 21st century assessments to measure 21st century skills.

Emphasize Core Topics

Core subjects ate the foundation on which new skills can be learned.

The NCLB Act provides standards and requires assessments to ensure that students are meeting minimum competency requirements, in English, reading or language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics, government, economics, arts, history and geography.

Emphasize Skills

Additional to the core subjects, students need to know how to apply these skills by thinking critically, applying knowledge to new situations, analyzing information, comprehending new ideas, communicating, collaborating, solving problems and making decisions.

Use 21st Century Tools

Students will need to understand how to use the tools available to them in the 21st century, and how to apply them to their home and work life.

* 21st century tools: computers, software, networking, media tools and other technologies;

* Learning skills: process-oriented and cognitive skills including:

* Information/communication skills;

* Thinking/problem-solving skills; and

* Interpersonal/self-direction skills--including values Of increasing importance today.

Teach in Context

Lessons have more impact if students can relate them to real-world examples.

By providing relevant and current contexts for lessons, education moves from being purely academic, to where students can make a connection between the classroom and their own lives.

Create Relevant Content

In addition to providing relevant context for 21st century learners, current, relevant content must be added to lessons to give students a sense of the changing world around them.

The Partnership recommends the following 21st century content areas:

* Global awareness;

* Economic and business literacy; and

* Civic literacy.

Appropriate Assessments

Milestones must be put in place to ensure that students ate learning the skills necessary for life and work in the 21st century.

Standardized competency based tests are entrenched in our education system but they must be updated to assess more than basic core subjects.

As defined by these working groups and others, 21st century citizens will need a solid skill set of business skills and life skills.

The workplace has changed dramatically from a generation ago, and will be dramatically different a generation from now.

Educational systems must adapt what they teach and how they teach to equip students for success.

Teachers are central to learning and the recruitment and ongoing professional development, and support of teachers is critical for successful students and successful citizens.

Essential Skills

1. Emphasize core subjects

2. Emphasize learning skills

3. Use 21st century tools to develop learning skills

4. Teach in a 21st century context

5. Create 21st century content

6. Use 21st century assessments to measure skills

This is an excerpt from a white paper entitled "Educating the 21st Century Citizen" the first in a series by Microsoft to provoke new thinking on learning for the 21st century.

At no time more than in this information age, has education been more important or transformational--to the lives of individuals, families, communities, nations, and their global citizens. You may access the white paper in its entirety at:

COPYRIGHT 2004 Autumn Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Carew, Diana
Publication:Community College Week
Date:Mar 15, 2004
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