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What 21st-Century Life Skills Do Hiring Managers Wish they Had Before Graduation?

Business Leaders Suggest High-School Students Should Have These Life Skills Before Graduating
Eric Do Couto
May 27, 2021

What 21st-Century Life Skills Should Students Have Before Entering the Workforce?

During the first season of the Competentencies without a Classroom podcast, SpacesEDU interviewed 18 leading hiring managers, entrepreneurs and CEOs on what life skills they wished they had been taught before leaving high school in order to have the best chance of success in the workplace. The answers were varied; however, a few common trends stood out among all the answers!

When asked about what 21st-century life skills they would ensure students in high schools today would be taught before leaving school, here were some of the answers.

  • Curiosity & Engagement
  • Listening Skills
  • Financial Literacy
  • Sales skills (the ability to sell yourself and your abilities!)
  • Taking responsibility
  • Resiliency
  • Woodworking

Financial Literacy as a 21st-Century Life Skill for Students

A common theme among our business owners and decision-makers was the wish that they had been taught more about Financial Literacy during their time in high school. As business owners, the bottom line is critical to the success of their work. How does the economy work? How do I do my personal taxes? Or taxes for my business? What is a Sole Proprietorship? An LLC?

", how does the economy work?"

The respondents who replied with Financial Literacy as their answers suggested that today's curriculums in high schools across the country do not do a sufficient job in preparing young adults to enter into the workplace after school. For students looking to invest, get started with cryptocurrencies, start a side-hustle or run their own business - their financial literacy knowledge and skills will come through trial-and-error, workplace mentors, or internet sources.

Listening Skills as a 21st-Century Skill for Students

The ability to truly listen to others; whether it be small talk, a workplace request,  instructions on a task, or just banter between friends - is a skill that our business leaders highlighted as a critical one. For students to leave high school with the ability to listen to others, display genuine curiosity or care and then display an ability to engage in conversation with others is an important ability both in and out of the workplace.

"Patience, curiosity, the desire to  peel back the layers to find out why a person reacts or just acts in the way that they do is a skill that is just so incredibly valuable because I was at work all the time listening."

With strong listening and communications skills comes the ability to uncover the intentions and reasoning behind the actions and reactions of coworkers, partners and other adults.

Sales Skills as a 21st-Century Skill for Students

It isn't uncommon for young adults (and older adults) to suggest, "I'm no good at Sales."

What our respondents suggested, is that regardless of your job title or role on a specific team - the ability to 'sell' - is a critical one. Whether you're tasked with pitching an idea to your teammates, making a suggestion to your boss, or trying to get a 2nd grader to eat broccoli, you're 'selling'!

As young people graduate high school and enter college or the workforce, the ability to 'sell' becomes increasingly important in order to achieve personal or professional success. Consider the student trying to get their first job after graduation - they'll wear their nicest clothes, tailor their resume for the job and show up with a positive attitude - all because they're attempting to persuade or 'sell' a hiring manager!

" Learn to sell, learn the basics. Just if you're looking to get a job, you're gonna have to learn to sell yourself. That's the only sales skill that you ever learned. I feel like that's gonna be a valuable one."

Whether you're a welder, accountant, construction worker or software engineer, the reality is that 'sales' skills will be crucial in allowing you to achieve your goals, work well with your teammates and persuade decision-makers!


What 21st-century life skill do you think is most important to learn for high school students?

Do you agree with the answers of the teachers we interviewed? What 21st-century life skill do you think is most important for students to learn today as they leave high school? Why?

And how would you change the curriculum to teach these life skills?

Tweet at @Spaces_edu and share your thoughts!

Eric Do Couto

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