5 ways to give students the 21st‑century skills they need to succeed

It takes a lot more than good grades to succeed in today’s fast-paced, hyper-digital world. Employers are increasingly valuing skills like critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration—often just as much as (or more than) academic knowledge and specialised training.

In a report by the CBI, Getting young people ‘work ready’, 44% of employers surveyed felt young people leaving school, college or university were not work ready. And these findings are mirrored by young people themselves with almost 1 in 4 feeling inadequately prepared by their education for the world of work.

A well-rounded, 360-degree education that balances academics with real-world skills will empower students to build the confidence and capabilities they need to be productive members of the workforce—and society at large.

But what can you do? How can you ensure students are building the skills they’ll need for lifelong success, in a way that doesn’t overburden your already busy schedule?

Here are five things to consider to get started.

1. Use modern technology

The smart way to combat the 21st-century challenge is to use a 21st-century solution. Since technology is practically woven into the DNA of today’s young people, an online future-readiness and careers education program is almost a no-brainer.

The right online careers education software responds to a student’s desire to click, swipe, tap, and post. It will offer interactive lessons, features, and quizzes that inspire students to reflect on their interests and skills, set goals and make a plan for the future.

Beware – not all careers education programs are created equal. Look for solutions that offer personalised experiences so students can get custom choices based on the skills and interests they input.

2. Build a solid foundation by starting early

Building skills is a process that takes time and practice. Much like forming good habits, the earlier you start in life, the more likely it will stick. With that in mind, the earlier educators introduce 21st-century concepts, the better.

An online future-readiness and careers education program with age-appropriate lessons helps take the guesswork out of instilling these skills in students. When framed according to year group, students can:

– Begin understanding their skills and interests
– Learn to collaborate and communicate with their peers
– Build critical thinking and productivity skills
– Make the connection between interests and career pathways

These experiences can all go a long way to encourage curiosity and build a generally positive attitude towards learning.

3. Weave real-world skills into every subject

A career lesson or one-to-one meeting with a careers adviser shouldn’t be the only time students think about the soft-skills they’ll need for their future. There are opportunities for 21st-century skills to be incorporated into many subjects. At first glance, this may seem like more work for educators, but if it’s done right (and often), it can blend in naturally, enhance learning, and boost engagement and achievement.

When you look at the skills that are so critical to building real-life ability, most can be woven into other subjects. Ideas include:

Science: Biology class is ripe for weaving in critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration (with a lab partner).

English: Students can begin the writing process by explaining their ideas to a classmate, responding to questions, and challenging each other to explore their thoughts before putting pen to paper.

Physical Education: Offer leadership, problem-solving, and teamwork opportunities through sport and physical games and activities.

Approaching 21st-century skills in an integrated way instead of something ‘extra’ that must be added to a select number of subjects is key to success. By taking a whole-school approach to skill-building it becomes a shared responsibility and students benefit from consistency and continuity.

4. Encourage a collaborative learning environment

Today’s workplaces are hives of collaboration and communication. Set students’ expectations for the real world by encouraging them to apply what they’ve learned in other situations and through group-based learning.

Collaborative learning helps reinforce and solidify many core 21st-century skills employers look for, including creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, and interpersonal relationship building. Students can test some of the key capabilities they may have learned through independent work in real life role-play scenarios or project-based learning to see how the concepts come to life. They can also test-drive new concepts in this way.

Classroom simulations, explorations, and curriculum that present ‘real world’ concerns, such as career backup plans, job interviews, career demand, lifestyle costs, and work/ life balance will help students understand some of the factors underlying every career choice.

5. Make learning real-world relevant

Many students fail to give much thought to their futures until they reach their final years of school. Then there’s often confusion and panic as they rush to explore the options available to them.

Educators can help students avoid the mad scramble by giving them concrete examples of how certain skills and concepts will be applied in the real world. We’ve often heard students complain that they’ll never use maths or chemistry in real life, so what’s the point? It is becoming increasingly incumbent on teachers to share with them ‘the point’.

Particularly with respect to soft skills, which are often less identifiable, it’s important to reference career profiles that point out when and how communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical-thinking skills are important to excel in careers and in life as an adult.

Consider bringing in employers in different fields or arranging work experience for students so they can better understand what skills are used day-to-day in a variety of careers. Reviewing job descriptions, volunteer postings, and highlighting the types of skills employers are looking for is a useful exercise to make the school–career connection.


As society has evolved, so must curricula. Teaching 21st-century skills is imperative to helping students understand themselves and each other. With these skills, they will learn how to think creatively and critically no matter what field of study or work they plan to pursue. With the right tools, such as high-quality online careers education programs, educators will feel equipped to start integrating real-world skills into the curriculum early and make school-to-life connections.

The result? Students will feel empowered to enter further or higher education or to pursue an apprenticeship. They will enter the world of work prepared and confident that they’re ready for anything.