Manage yourself and get your job done

A Funzi guide to 21st century skills

Increasingly, work processes are becoming more and more digitized, work tasks more specialized and, as a result, jobs more complex. So it’s crucial that you upskill yourself in a manner that will help you be effective and keep up with the social and technical changes in your line of work. The kind of skills you will need to do your job well is covered in this guide to 21st century skills.

What are 21st century skills?

In essence, 21st century skills are a collection of all kinds of knowledge, skills and behaviors that enable you to adapt to and succeed in the ever-changing modern world, both personally as well as professionally. This is why many organizations and companies today look for candidates who have such skills. So, if you’re here seeking to understand how to develop new 21st century skills, improve on the ones you have right now or highlight a few of them when applying for jobs, it means that you’re already adapting and preparing yourself for success.

Some common examples of 21st century skills are: collaboration, leadership, technological knowhow, digital literacy, problem solving and creativity.

Typically, these skills are categorized into three distinct types: life, literacy and learning. ‘Life’ skills address a wide range of things, from communication to leadership to social awareness. Under the banner of ‘literacy’, there are things such as data, digital and media literacy. ‘Learning’ skills speak to your ability to innovate, solve problems and think critically in different sorts of situations.

Which of them are in high demand?

Time and again, the most in-demand 21st century skills are those that have proven to be necessary across a range of tasks and job sectors. However, the skills most in demand very much depend on the times. For example, basic technological knowhow has become quite crucial since the COVID-19 pandemic. This is because much of in-office work is now being done remotely. Knowledge of various virtual platforms is now essential to run meetings and collaborate with colleagues.

Since the skills that are in high demand are always changing based on the way the world develops, the best strategy is to update your understanding of them every six to twelve months! You can do this by reading recently published articles on 21st century skills or consulting with other professionals. For instance, according to the article linked here, some skills that are currently highly desirable to companies are: data literacy, critical thinking, emotional intelligence and time management.

Which skill should you learn first?

If you’re new to the concept of 21st century skills, find out which of them are most used in your line of work. For example, if you’re in the field of marketing, you may want to cultivate strong data literacy to understand how to boost the sales of your company’s products and services. Alternatively, if you’re thinking of starting a new business or managing more people than just yourself, then you may want to focus on building leadership, collaboration and communication skills.

You can also try reaching out to other people who are working in the same field and ask their opinion on which skill is most desirable at their company. This way you will not only receive firsthand information on which skills matter but may also get a few tips on how to develop and highlight them if you apply for jobs similar to theirs.

What skill level should you aim for?

First and foremost, for skills that are most important to your job and company, try to excel at them. In case of skills that are not utilized in daily tasks, but are still needed from time to time, a functional skill level should suffice. For example, if you only communicate with international partners on an occasional basis, then a basic level of global awareness – an increasingly important 21st century skill – would be enough. What’s most important is that you understand their background and communicate in a clear and respectful manner.

Sometimes it's fine not to shoot for a certain level. Sometimes continuous learning – another 21st century skill – and steady development are enough. How quickly and regularly you develop yourself depends on the type of skill. For hard, technical skills you will need to regularly learn new things in order to keep up with the rapid technological changes. For soft skills – particularly critical thinking, problem solving and communication – you will not need to upskill as quickly, but you will still need to continuously hone your skills through practice.

How can you boost your 21st century skills?

There are many ways to do so. To begin with, build your curiosity by exploring things that might be pertinent to your interests and line of work. Not only will you be continuously learning but also doing so in a self-directed fashion, both of which are essential 21st century skills. Some other ways you can boost such skills are through:

  • Training sessions at work – Always try to take part in any training organized at your workplace. These often provide a platform for you to upskill in a way that’s relevant to your company.
  • Leadership opportunities – Initiative is key when it comes to leadership roles. You can develop your leadership skills in the smallest of ways from showing a new employee how things are done to volunteering to deliver a presentation for your company.
  • Team projects or assignments – These are a great way to build life skills such as communication, collaboration and social awareness. A good starting point is to ask your team members how you can help them and let them know how they can help you.
  • Varied media subscriptions – When it comes to accessing the news or any kind of information, you should follow a range of media. This will help you to build up a balanced understanding as well as know which media sources are most reliable.

What other 21st century skills should you know about?

A few key 21st century skills from leadership to technological knowhow have already been mentioned, but there are a few more that you may find useful. Such as:

  • Emotional intelligence – This 21st century skill is all about perceiving the emotions of others and managing your own emotions to handle interpersonal relations with fairness and empathy. By doing so, you create a positive atmosphere in the workplace, encourage people to speak their mind and promote your own well-being and the well-being of those around you.
  • Civic literacy – You should be able to properly participate in bringing about the change you want to see, not just in your community but also the systems of government. For that, you should be well-informed about your rights and responsibilities as a member of society or a country.
  • Flexibility – This skill embodies the spirit of the 21st century skills that deal with change. The more flexible you are to grow and change with developments of your workplace – and the world in general – the more access you will have to new professional opportunities.

Now that you have a general idea of what 21st century skills are and how relevant they are in today's world, why not try out some of the following courses designed to enhance those very skills!


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