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  • Writer's pictureJeffrey Hinton

Career and Life Skills for 21st-Century Learners

Over 2,500 years ago, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus famously said, "change is the only constant in life." His words ring more true today than ever before in history due to the significant role tech has played in changing the world around us. According to Career Change statistics, the average person will change careers 5-7 times during their working life, and 30% of the workforce will change careers or jobs every year. This is due in part to rapid growth in the various tech-related industries. A recent Gallop report on the Millennial Generation, those born between 1981-1996, found that 21% of them have changed jobs within the past year. This is over three times the number of non-millennials who were queried at the same time. Further, by the time today's students reach the age of 42, it is predicted that they will have had approximately ten different jobs. There are several reasons why young people change jobs so often. These workers do not feel the stigma of frequent job-hopping, as older generations do, and will leave their current employer for higher wages to develop their skills, put their career on the fast track, and find a better fit in terms of work culture and values. The old notion of an employee spending forty years with a company and then retiring with a pension and a gold watch is quickly becoming an anachronism in the modern world. This is why adaptability and flexibility are critically important for today's students to be successful.

Businesses and organizations have had to become flatter, nimbler and more flexible to stay competitive in the modern world. As a result, today's workforce needs to be adaptable and flexible too. Unlike past jobs, which were relatively immutable, workers must be able to rapidly adjust to meet today's exigencies on a real-time basis. Workers need to be open to new ideas and ways of doing things. They must be able to work independently or as members of teams as work requires. They must be able to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously and not get flustered when conditions quickly change. Phrases like "that's not my job," "that's not the way we used to do it," "no one ever told/showed me how," have no place in the modern workspace. One's ability to adapt to new circumstances by taking the initiative to solve problems quickly and efficiently allows for greater flexibility, resulting in more significant career opportunities.

Employers are looking for individuals who will take responsibility for their work and will assume leadership roles in the workplace. Leadership may be formal, such as holding a particular job title that wields authority and power over others. Or it may be informal, such as when employees choose to follow an individual because they respect and trust them. Either way, influential leaders take the initiative to get a project done rather than waiting around to be told what to do. Additionally, leaders build confidence in their teams and help to create and maintain positive work environments. As Mark Twain once wrote, "Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the great make you feel that you, too, can become great." In other words, leadership is about taking the necessary actions to bring out the best in the people around you. It is about putting others before yourself. Influential leaders maintain a high degree of positivity and try to see the good in the bad. As the famous saying goes, "You may not be able to control every situation and its outcome, but you can control your attitude and how you deal with it." Nothing is as certain as change, and effective leaders can adapt to it even when the change creates uncertainty.

The think tank, Institute for the Future, named cross-culture competency as one of the ten most essential skills for the modern workforce. This is because we live in a globally connected world, which puts a premium on diversity and adaptability. This is mainly because innovation stems from diverse people's collaborative efforts, bringing different perspectives, ideologies, and experiences to the table. Social scientist Adam Galinsky points out that people who develop strong relationships with someone from another country and culture become more creative and do better on creativity tests. And as has already been discussed, creativity and innovation are the keys to future success. As beneficial as cross-cultural collaboration can be, it also can have negative consequences if one is not prepared to engage with others from different backgrounds. Diversity promotes innovation and creativity, which are good things. However, it can also create misunderstanding through a lack of cultural awareness and ineffective communication. To bridge these barriers, students must be able to empathize with people who are different from themselves. They must effectively communicate their perspective to others who may not share their value system or world view. This is more often than not achieved through active and empathetic listening. They should be able to integrate diverse perspectives to create new solutions for problems. Finally, cross-cultural competency means being able to resolve conflict in productive ways that do not damage relationships. It is essential to recognize that solving problems is not a zero-sum game. It is not about winning or losing. Instead, it is about compromise and empowerment, finding solutions that appeal to all involved.

In addition to possessing cross-cultural competency, students need to develop social awareness. Social awareness is the ability to take the perspective of others from diverse backgrounds and cultures. One of the most effective ways to do this is by developing empathy for people who are different. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, empathy is defined as "the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner." In other words, empathetic people try to step into the shoes of others and to try to understand them on a deep and visceral level. There are several ways to develop an empathetic understanding. Perhaps the most powerful, however, is through active listening. Active listening means focusing on the speaker and understanding what the other person is trying to say without making assumptions based on personal experience. By slowing down and concentrating on what is being said to include the emotions surrounding the message, one can provide support, not just sympathy. However, it is impossible to fully understand someone else's lived experience because we are all spectacularly unique. But an honest and sincere attempt should be made to appreciate their perspective. Curiosity and a genuine desire to learn more about diverse cultures is the key to becoming socially aware. To learn more about others, have open and honest conversations with diverse friends and colleagues. Read assorted authors concerning subjects of race, ethnicity, culture, gender, and history. Other ways include visiting cultural institutions in the community, such as museums and various minority-owned businesses. Watch movies and television shows that reflect diverse perspectives and characters, and listen to podcasts and vlogs that present alternative views. Social awareness takes effort, but all students must develop this vital skill as social awareness helps build positive relationships, productivity, and an overall positive environment built upon trust and mutual respect.

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