Reconciling 21st Century skills with Career Competencies

In their recent blog, Why We Desperately Need to Rethink College and Career Readiness, Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers wrote about integrating 21st century skills into career readiness courses.  They write focused a bit on history and the paradigm shift from vocational skills to college readiness with a follow up statement imploring educators to bring back vocational classes updated with those 21st century skills.  However, what would that look like?

When I take a close look at the 21st Century Skill list that pertains to learning, we see the 4C’s: Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, and Critical Thinking.  These are the same four soft skills that get integrated into every core subject that we teach in school.  The focus, unfortunately, does seem to stay on just these 4C’s.  However, if we start looking at the whole, broad picture of the p21 framework, we see a separate category dedicated to Life and Career Skills.  The idea being that these soft skills are what companies are looking for after high school graduation.  However, in an interview with the Huffington Post, Google list five distinct key dynamics that potential employees need to be part of a successful team

21st Century Life & Career Skills

Google 5 Key Dynamics to a Successful Team

Flexibility and Adaptability Psychological Safety
Initiative and Self-Direction Dependability
Social and Cross-Cultural Skills Structure & Clarity
Productivity and Accountability Meaning
Leadership and Responsibility Impact

These two lists are not mutually exclusive.  For example, if we look at Leadership and Responsibility, we are defining how an employee takes ownership for a project and leads other to success.  Similarly, Google’s “Meaning” is referring to how work is personally important to team members.

Overall though, what does this look like in a set curriculum?  If we were to condense the two lists down into similar terms (or just choose one over the other), we could create student learning objectives (SLO) for these categories (or dynamics).  The SLO would then be put into place with some sort of measuring instrument so that each lesson or project performed in the classroom could be associated with it.  So, if I had students creating a portable, model airplane for an Aeronautics course, I could measure the level of competency or master the students had over their Productivity and Accountability based on their ability to:

  • Work positively and ethically
  • Manage time and projects effectively
  • Multi-task
  • Participate actively, as well as be reliable and punctual
  • Present oneself professionally and with proper etiquette
  • Collaborate and cooperate effectively with teams
  • Respect and appreciate team diversity
  • Be accountable for results  

All of which I could measure with a predetermined simple rubric similar to the one below:


Low Performing


On-Level Performing


Above Level Performing

Student can only work on one action at a time resulting in frustration, poor time management, and disagreeable attitude towards team members. Student works well and respectfully with team members.  They multitask when necessary to meet time constraints. Student takes ownership of project and leads in a professional and ethical manner.  They help and inspire the quality of the product focus so that all members feel successful.

The idea being that we don’t just measure the mastery level of a student at any moment in time, but rather the growth of the student over time.  A student might start out at a level 1 in the first project, but over the course of one semester and say, 10 projects, they have an average of 1.5.  This is possible because it shows the inconsistency that accompanies growth of learning over a period of time.  The student has still grown, and the evidence shows a growth at a rate that may be more or less than other students in the class.  It is important to note here though, never compare the growth of one student to another.  It can easily demoralize the slower growing student and hinder future relationships, both peer-peer as well as student-teacher.


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