Teacher sitting with students at a table talking

What do you want to be when you grow up?

It’s one of the most common questions that kids will be asked throughout their young lives, and it’s fascinating to hear their evolving answers. A recent poll revealed that the number one response in the United States and United Kingdom was to be a vlogger or an influencer. Those career paths were not even an option until the advent of social media.

I also appreciate that many kids simply do not know how to answer this question. Honestly, “I don’t know” is probably the most reasonable response when you consider that 65% of children in grade school today will end up working in jobs that do not exist yet.

Without a clear understanding of the professional roles students may have or even a general idea of the functions they might occupy, it can seem challenging to appropriately guide kids toward success. Here’s the good news – despite the unknowns educators have a great opportunity to prepare their students to navigate their future with confidence by supporting skill building in their classrooms.

What skills will be needed?

A great deal of research from organizations such as Microsoft Education, McKinsey and the World Economic Forum has been conducted to understand the shifts taking place in our world and what that means for youth. These studies have all called attention to the fact that technology will continue to automate many of the job roles people engage in today. And, it will keep expanding into new realms.

In the face of so much change, these reports reinforce the importance of digital fluency. They also point out that it is essential that youth have certain foundational competencies that will allow them to accept ambiguity and add value through expanded social and cognitive capabilities.

Priority Social Skills

Diving deeper into the specific talents that students will need, let’s first explore some of the social, or soft, skills that have been identified as vital to the future of work. As our world becomes more connected across the globe, people will need to be equipped to embrace multiple perspectives and work successfully with people who are different from them. Some of the core competencies to support this future include:

  • Self-awareness
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Perspective-taking
  • Social awareness
  • Conflict management

It is also vital that youth can cope with the ongoing change in their worlds as the pace is not likely to slow down any time soon. To improve these capabilities, students can develop proficiency in:

  • Self-regulation
  • Stress management
  • Curiosity
  • Persistence
  • Learning

Priority Cognitive Skills

While the exact technical competencies that individuals may need will vary depending on the roles they assume, there are many high-level cognitive capacities that will empower youth no matter what field they find themselves in. Those include:

  • Critical thinking
  • Understanding bias
  • Problem solving
  • Creativity
  • Mental agility

It’s important to note that these talents should not live in isolation. Many of them are interrelated. For example, problem solving is likely to be strengthened when kids can consider multiple viewpoints. Similarly, critical thinking will be improved with self-awareness because it is helpful for people to recognize their innate tendencies and biases when responding to a situation.

What can we do to support youth now?

While I’ve written about the implications for the future, I’d like to emphasize that action must start today. One Bloomberg study found that 65% of corporations and 56% of academic institutions view graduates as ill-prepared in some way, with the biggest gap being a lack of soft skills.

With even greater evolution on the horizon, these discrepancies are likely to increase if we do not make changes to ensure that students have the ability to be productive, global citizens by the time they graduate.

To get started, I would encourage three steps that you can apply right now.

1) Examine your social emotional learning practices.

Many of the talents that youth will need to succeed are baked into social emotional learning (SEL) programming, which prioritizes self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making. Spend time evaluating how SEL activities, lessons and reflections are coming to life in your classroom or education institution. While you may certainly evaluate curriculum and lesson plans, be sure to also assess day-to-day actions and classroom practices that enhance social skills.

2) Consider a whole brain approach.

As you review your lessons and activities, assess them through the lens of the Emergenetics® Attributes. We know that kids have different preferences for how they prefer to think and behave, which impact their approach to social emotional learning. For example, some students may be more engaged if they understand the purpose behind it or how the skills will support them in the future, while others may connect more with the material if they have a clear plan or opportunity to collaborate with others to build the new competencies. By ensuring lessons speak to each preference, you will be more effective in enhancing learner engagement and skill building. To learn more about how you can honor each Attribute, I invite you to review this blog post by my colleague.

3) Talk to your students.

A Microsoft report revealed that while 50% of teachers said that they offer feedback on students’ social emotional development, only 30% of kids agreed. This finding illustrates the importance of student feedback. After identifying what you currently do and how it aligns with a whole brain approach, connect with youth to understand what is working and what is not. Ask them for inputs on what you could do differently to help them expand these important capabilities. Then, identify ONE change to make today. Keep in mind, while you may pick a bigger goal to make progress on, finding simple ways to integrate SEL into your classroom can make a difference.

Prioritizing social and cognitive skills will have a positive impact on your students. While they may not be any more prepared to answer the question of what they will be when they grow up, they will certainly be more capable of embracing whatever opportunities come their way.

Strengthen social emotional learning in your school today. Explore our Celebrate You(th) curriculum or fill out the form below to speak with one of our staff members.

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