Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Competitive Skills of the 21st Century

Skills are the life blood of any economy. It is hard to do much without the skills to think it, make it and sell it. Businesses seek college graduates with general skills that raise their competitiveness. A study by Holtzman & Kraft (2011) compared and contrasted a study by the Richard Stockton College and one by the Association of American Colleges and Universities to come to conclusions about the skills needed in the 21st Century.

The essential skills of the 21st Century employers identified as very important or important were: Interpersonal skills(100%); Time management (100%); Speaking/oral communications (98%); Ethical Understanding (98%); and, Adapting to change/being flexible (96%). Employer’s ratings were solicited through a survey response.

There was an essential difference between the two studies.  When the participant’s businesses worked and sold within the local market they were less interested in graduates with a global perspective while those who sold on international markets were more interested in hiring those with a global perspective. The company’s market focus impacted the type of perspective needed.

Interpersonal skills, time management, oral communications, ethical understanding and flexibility fit within an employer’s needs. Employees who can work well with others, use their time well, communication with others, have an internal value system and were open to change were simply worth more than those who do not hold these skills.  Employers desired colleges to foster these concepts for greater relevance to their needs.

The authors do not move into this concept but part of those needs is based within the constant modern transition of businesses. Change is a fact of life and employees that know how to obtain information, focus on their tasks, and change when the situation calls for it are better than those who cannot. An organization with a higher percentage of employees who cannot change are likely going to have difficulty during transition periods or when new processes are needed to meet market demand.

The global perspective helps employees understand how and where the company and its offerings fit within the global market. A better understanding of the market helped employees put within perspective their work function and the needs of their global demographics. This may have an impact on the micro choices employees make in any particular moment thereby creating greater alignment between thought, action, and outcome.

The study was a comparison but does highlight the difference and similarities between global and domestic producers. The basic skills may stay the same but the overall perspective is different. Higher education should consider such needs when preparing students to compete in the marketplace in order to find stronger employ-ability and greater economic competitiveness. Starting at a younger age and encouraging such skills throughout one’s educational career may be beneficial for full development. 

Holtzman, D. & Kraft, E. (2011). Skills needed in the 21st Century workplace: a comparison of feedback from undergraduate business alumni and employers with a national study. Business Education & Accreditation, 3 (1).

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