What Are the 5 Most Important Skills for Young People Today?

Believe it or not, the youngest millennials today are twenty years old, and I think the question was more about younger people, what we sometimes call Generation Z or iGen. So, I’m going to reply with that group in mind. They don’t remember September 11. They never knew life without social media. They are on track to be the most educated generation in history. Yet, like all generations, they have plenty to learn and their distinctive traits.

In reference to the Tweet / question, yes, there is definitely quite a bit of theory out there, in fact that is the world in which I live much of the time. I agree with Kurt Lewin when he wrote that, “There is nothing more practical than a good theory.” Theories help us explain what we see and experience. They also help us make predictions. So, a good theory can be an incredibly practical tool in the world. Without theories we may we find ourselves depending upon the people who study and create theories to guide us in much of our lives. Behind any great initiative in education, healthcare, or elsewhere is usually a theory that informed the work.

I started my response this way because I am going to give an answer to the question of 5 skills, but I am compelled to note that my answer is informed by plenty of theories. So, let’s get started with the concrete reply.

What are the top skills that kids need today and what are some good books and resources for each?

There are some great answers to this question out there. I appreciate the time and thought that Tony Wagner put into his book that highlights seven survival skills. He went on to write a great resource about creating innovators, arguing that this is a key mindset and skill set for today. Similarly, Sir Ken Robinson talks about the importance of nurturing creativity in his work. Then there are plenty of people who highlight the importance of social intelligence, emotional intelligence, a growth mindset, mindfulness, media literacy, information literacy, digital literacy and digital citizenship, grit, collaboration, leadership, and much more. All of these are important for each of us and this generation of young people.

Then there are others driving us to far more specific and concrete tasks and skills that remain important. These are skills like doing the laundry, waking themselves up on time, making a meal for themselves (and others), talking to strangers, and the like. The tasks are imporatant but it is really the important habits and character traits that are learned along the way that matter most. There are plenty of tangible tasks like this that give students what is often a much-needed confidence and independence boost.

So, what are the top 5 skills? I’m not sure that I have it narrowed down to just the top five, but here are six that I argue are of special import, even thought I could easily argue for adding plenty of others (and I have in my previous writing).

How do you get interested and ask great questions?

One of the best resources that I’ve found on this is Make Just One Change: Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions.

How do you collaborate and have positive relationships with people who have very different beliefs, values, and views of life?

I’d love to see more resources on this. Perhaps I will write something about it in the future. However, I appreciate this text that does a superb job sharing brain research insights on building  trust and resolving conflicts. Also, in terms of collaborating, the online Peeragogy Handbook is a treasure trove of ideas and resources.

How do you get good at something?

Peak is a great starting point book. It is a good introduction to the idea of deliberate practice and how people progress toward becoming world-class. It would love to at least see more conversation with students about these concepts along with opportunities for the students to try out these concepts.

Yet, as an extension of this, learning to connect and network as part of learning is especially imprtant today. Howard Rheingold’s Netsmart books is a few years old, but it is a great resources.

How do you build personal character?

More than ever, we see that who you are matters as much as what you do, and that who you are in terms of character has a big impact on a person’s well-being and impact.

I devote a whole chapter to this idea in my book What Really Matters. Yet, Dweck’s Mindset book is a great place to start, followed by Angela Duckworth’s writing on Grit. These are just two of many ares that fit under what some refer to as character strengths, others call virtues, and still others call non-cognitive skill.s

How do you make a difference and get things done?

Opinions and ideas are helpful, but we ultimately need people who can make things happen and produce results.

I’d love to see students introduced to the classic text, How to Change the World, and then be let loose to act. Ideas are good and important, but we want to ultimately equip people to get things done. There are many great resources on this, but Covey’s work on 7 Habits and The Power of Full Engagement are two of my favorites.

How do you discern truth and align your decisions with it?

I have a few that I like but The Art of Argument is a good one, and seems to resonate with many middle school students. I also put the idea of discerning with is true and real in media as part of this category, and I still love the now outdated Postman book, How to Watch the TV News. Yet, some of the good information literacy resources out there like the Big 6 are helpful as well. In addition to the book that I listed, there are some great online resources available.

The general idea here is just that we can get lost in a sea of opinions today and getting grounded in a pursuit of truth can be incredibly healthy, centering, and important.

As I wrote before, there are far more things to learn than these six, but this is at least a starting point. I have little doubt that these are each especially valuable for this generation of young people, although many of these have been important for a long time.