April 03, 2012
The 21st Century skill set
In my previous post on talent development, I shared a story about a young man in our Cerner Scholars program and how he was able to attain skills outside of the classroom that will directly impact his ability to
secure a job. I’d like to extend this
thought and dive deeper into the challenges we face if we don’t squarely tackle
the fact that our education system is at risk of becoming obsolete and
start, I’ll make a broad assumption that a strong, vibrant economy is our shared
goal. With that assumption, there is a
good case establishing education as the most important economic issue we face
- We cannot grow our economy if
we cannot do the work necessary to compete in global markets.
- We cannot do the work if we
don’t have an educated workforce.
- We won’t have an appropriately
educated workforce until we evolve our education system to meet the needs of
Many would acknowledge that our current workforce
needs are significant--yet simply being able to fill workforce needs only
allows us to keep the pace. Setting
the pace requires dynamic environments that cultivate, inspire and
encourage innovation and entrepreneurism. The most successful people today don’t simply do the work that needs to be done, they create it.
K-State Professor and cultural
anthropologist, Mike Wesch, spoke at the recent Cerner STEM Educators
forum. His presentation was intriguingly
titled, “Inspiring Wonder in the Age of Whatever." He highlighted that despite all his efforts
to inspire students and motivate them to wonder, question and learn a subject,
the questions most often asked in his class were, “How many points is this
worth?”; “Will this be on the test?”; “How long does this paper need to be?”
This is a big problem, and as Professor Wesch indicated, represents a failure of the system responsible for developing young
We now clearly (and sometimes painfully)
know that what is emphasized in schools today, doesn’t prepare students for a
productive career in a dynamic workforce. Employers across the country will tell you that given the large amount
of job-specific learning that takes place in the work environment, what they
look for in a job candidate is someone who is able to learn--to communicate
clearly, solve problems, collaborate with teams, create and innovate around a
new idea, process or concept. So where
is that learning in our schools?
shifting education means changing some long-standing and complex social and
civic structures. Yet at the classroom
level, there are concepts from the “real world” we can apply now to start
changing our approach to education.
- The real world doesn’t
function in academic silos.
- The ability to memorize and
repeat facts is not a skill most employers look for when hiring.
- A substantial amount of the
work done on the job is project based and takes place within a team context.
- In the real world, failure is
never the end. Failure is the source for
more questions, ideas and collaboration.
- Educators preparing the future
workforce should be encouraged to experience that workforce
A lot of work has been done to framework
what is needed to shift our approach to education. Across business communities these concepts
are often referred to as the 21st
Century skill set. In looking at these skills, it’s easy to wonder
how you teach them. Perhaps the answer
is you don’t teach them. You build them
into your culture and let them develop as they go.
Changing the culture of education requires
participation from the business world. 21st
Century skills are used every day in work environments, big and small. Translating these skills into our school
systems requires that the “outside” world engages with the “inside” world. Our schools can’t operate in a bubble. Not only does business need education for its
future success, education now needs business.
I challenge each of you to consider a way
you or your organization can engage with your local education system and bring
real-world experience and relevancy into the classroom. Whether you believe it or not, you have an
incredible opportunity to inspire wonder in our young people. And you should. After all, our future is depending on it.
View Mike's presentation during the Cerner STEM Educators forum below.
Robin McClean manages Community Relations and Talent Development partnerships for Cerner. Having worked a variety of roles during her seven years at Cerner, McClean now oversees Cerner’s investments in the community, with a particular emphasis on profession-based education programs related to science, technology, engineering and math in Kansas City schools. She is the liaison between Cerner and a number of community partners in the areas of health, education and economic development. Along with these responsibilities, McClean manages marketing for Cerner Careers, coordinating all print, online and social media strategies. She has also worked in US Consulting and Federal Government and Industry Relations during her time at Cerner.