Teenagers are largely underestimated and under-challenged.

You don't have to look far to find a driven teen who's running their own profitable business, building a community with tens of thousands of followers, or contributing in meaningful roles at top-tier companies like Stripe, Apple, or Google.

However, despite spending over 7,500 hours in traditional classrooms, most young people graduate high school without a clear vision for what they want to do in life or the skills to find and pursue a career that gives them the life they want.

Today's students have a world of opportunity at their feet, and traditional schools are ill-equipped to give students the 21st-century skills that will adequately prepare them for today's world.

Young people need to be offered community, mentorship, structure, experiences, as well as modern and relevant skills development opportunities in order to discover and chase their path.

The driven teens just referenced are not edge-cases of talent, but rather proof that young people are exceptionally capable when given the right support.

We recently spoke to EdTech thought-leader, Caleb Hicks about his experiences working with driven teenagers in teen entrepreneurship programs, career clubs, alternative education programs, and the 21st-century skills that young people need for our 21st-century world.

Are Teens Being Equipped with Real-Life Skills?

Caleb has spent his entire career in the education space, starting off as a high school typing teacher.

Yeah, you read that correctly - a typing teacher.

After a year and a half of this, Caleb transformed his typing class into full-blown entrepreneurship and career discovery program - and that was just the beginning.

Caleb also co-founded and build the school behind Lambda School, a technical career accelerator that popularized the Income Share Agreement and has placed thousands of students into their first technical jobs.

He's built learning programs and curricula for hundreds of thousands of students – including statewide business clubs and teen entrepreneurship programs, and Apple's Everyone Can Code program, helping teachers around the world bring code into their classrooms.

Most recently, Caleb has founded his own company called Factor.

Factor is based on the idea that teenagers are factors in the world and should therefore be the driving factor in their own lives by choosing, designing, and shaping what they want to do after school. The aim is to help young people to develop 21st-century skills and to prepare them for a fulfilling 21st-century career.

Are Students Actually Learning Skills That They Need?

So what about college - surely higher education is the space that should be preparing students with life skills to take on the real world?

Caleb says:

“I think that what college offers, what people buy into, and what college is selling are three different things with a very small overlap in the middle. If what you want when you're 18, 19, or 20 fits within this small overlap, then that's great”.

“However, what usually happens is we end up going through college and less than half of us end up ever working a job that requires a degree in the first place and far fewer ever work with the degree that we actually pursued.”

In many ways, like traditional education systems, tertiary education systems aren't geared up to teach students the key skills needed in today's world in order to truly find what they're passionate about.  Caleb says:

“One of the challenges is that the actual academic part of college is not really set up to help you try a whole bunch of things in the world. At best, you get four shots to find your future career path before you pick a major. What that tells me is that there's a huge mismatch in what people are going to college for and what they actually get out of it.”

It's clear that some kind of education reform is needed. So how can we fix this? In theory, it’s simple.

Let young people actually explore their passions when they’re young, and give them the resources to do so. But what does this actually look like?

Building the Skills of 21st Century Learners: What Needs To Be Done?

Instead of channeling today's students into narrow paths, we need to help them develop 21st-century aligned ‘meta-skills’ that are more in line with what the world of work actually looks like today. Many of the careers that kids today will see in the future haven't even been invented yet.

We can't see 15 years into the future, so we don't know exactly what these careers will look like.

20 years ago, who could have predicted that online community management was going to be massively popular and in-demand? It's not a highly technical career, nor does it have a high barrier to entry.

The privatization of space exploration is another example. Who could have predicted that we'd have had a new space race in 2021 (but rather than being between two superpower countries, it's between two superpower billionaires)?

Maybe the next big career will be an intergalactic travel agent? Go figure.

However, regardless of what careers children today end up in and regardless of an individual's career aspirations, there will always be a set of certain core competencies that will broadly apply across industries.

"In most careers, there's going to be a focus on bringing people together, working on projects, and delivering outcomes. That applies across industries. So if I'm working with a teenager today, I'm going to focus less on specific careers and I'm going to focus more on 21st-century meta-skills. If you are building an environment where you get to identify problems, design solutions, put them in place in a team, measure results, and then go and make it better - that skill set will serve you well for years to come in any industry."

Whether a student is interested in fashion, technology, eSports, or the creator economy to name a few, the same foundational skillsets will apply.

So by building a foundation of 21st-century skills, or groups of meta-skills, a student has the ability to explore various industries and career pathways that might be interesting. From there, if a student finds a specific path that they love, they can start building industry-specific skills that will serve them in that niche.

How Can Students Start Learning 21st Century Skills?

So what actually makes up 21st-century skills?

While there are plenty of niche technical career skills that relate to our modern world, the foundational 21st-century skills are actually mainly soft skills.

Research shows that in the 21st century, soft skills are becoming more valuable than ever. A few reasons for this are:

  • These skills are the nuances, specific to people, that no amount of technology can bring to a workplace.
  • As a result, they are vital for supplementing the roles and tasks that technology will fulfill.
  • These kinds of skills are transferable, meaning that skills you develop at school or in your social life can be relevant to your work life.
  • They are personal and professional qualities that can be used in all areas of life.

Some crucial 21st-century skills include:

1. Problem-solving

This is the ability to determine why an issue is happening and how to resolve that issue, especially in a difficult or unexpected situation. In the 21st-century, Good problem-solving skills are highly sought after by business leaders everywhere, regardless of industry.

2. Social skills

Proper social skills are crucial in any student's everyday life. These kinds of interpersonal skills refer to how you can interact with and relate to others. Knowing how to handle human interaction is relevant for any career that involves working in a team of people.

3. Communication skills

Similar to social skills, communication skills prepare students to articulate their own thoughts and feelings, as well as to accurately interpret the thoughts and feelings of others around them. These life skills are crucial for success in any field in the 21st-century.

4. Information literacy skills and media literacy skills

Digital literacy, information literacy, and media literacy skills teach students how to understand and break down the information that they receive from all sorts of sources. Considering how much information is available at the click of a button, it's vital for any student's future career to have the ability to properly understand the media and information around us.

6. Critical thinking

This foundational skill includes the ability to approach problems in a logical and systematic way, analyze facts thoroughly, and connect related ideas. Critical thinking is a skill that not only serves you in a 21st-century professional capacity but a personal capacity, too.

What do 21st-Century Skills Look Like in The Classroom?

In a traditional educational system, there is not much room for meaningful career readiness and professional development that focuses on a student's long-term success.

So ideally, how could students discover these essential skills in a classroom setting?

According to Caleb, the best way for students to develop this core knowledge and for effective learning to take place is to learn by doing. Student learning and a student's ability to retain skills are far higher when they are being engaged in a practical way.

Developing 21st-century skills through entrepreneurship is a perfect example. Caleb shares:

"I think entrepreneurship is the great environment in which to learn these 21st-century skills because the entrepreneurial mindset is appropriate and empowering to so many different areas of life. So again, whatever field you're working in, if you have the ability to turn ideas into reality, with groups of people, and measure those results and then to iterate - that skill set always is going to apply."

Young Students Doing Robotics Together

The great thing about using entrepreneurship as a backdrop for developing these 21st-century skills is that each student can make it their own and apply their own passions and interests to the situation. It also encourages students to practice self-discipline and self-management.

"You can put it back on the students and what they are passionate about because that motivates the learning. The best thing you can do is to build an environment or scenario where there are challenges and where students can identify opportunities and design solutions, together in a team. Doing that is better preparing students than reading from a textbook and writing down some answers or even going to a lecture. You need to make it real. Anything that's doing that is going to go a long way in building those meta-skills that are applicable across all industries and professions. "

Develop Critical Thinking and Life Skills With Galileo

Today's students possess so much potential that is just waiting to be unlocked.  If you’re looking for a way to nurture happy, curious, and passionate students who are capable of critical thinking and are equipped with 21st-century skills, then you’ve come to the right place.

We help future-looking families to empower their children beyond the classroom with a schooling experience that is completely self-directed and builds a love for lifelong learning. At Galileo, we allow learners to curate their own learning journeys while supporting them every step of the way.

Join us!

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