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What Do Our Kids Need to Succeed?

Whatever the future holds, today, it seems more important than ever that we try to help our children, as best we can, to navigate the changes and challenges they'll ultimately have to face in this new world, and help them have a brighter and smarter future -- prepared.
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It's a different world from when we grew up. Remember when education was about the three R's: reading, writing and arithmetic? Not so much the case these days, is it?

With technology moving so fast, and an increasingly competitive job market, I wonder whether our school-age kids will be ready to enter the workplace of the future. And, is the educational system properly preparing them? But what skills do they really need to succeed? We've all been hearing for years about the need for increased STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs to improve students' skills. Clearly those skills are important and should take precedence over such things as how to read faster. But, is it still true that STEM skills are, or should be, the most important?

Millennials in the workplace today

I recently caught up with a CBS News segment titled, Millennials: New kids on the block asking, "What's the matter with kids today?" If you haven't seen it yet, it's really eye-opening.

Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, and author of Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled--and More Miserable Than Ever Before, says that millennials in the workplace are defined by "the combination of not wanting to work hard but still wanting more money and status."

"This generation's facing a challenging, competitive job market," Twenge says. "And the problem is, as I see it, they haven't been prepared for things to be so challenging, perhaps because they got so much praise growing up, and they got a trophy just for showing up when they did sports leagues.

"Unfortunately, the workplace doesn't work that way. You have to do a lot more than show up."

When asked whether millennials are adapting to the workforce, or the workforce is adapting to them, she answered, "That's exactly the question that's going to shape the next ten years."

Working till 100 years old?

But what about looking past those ten years? A leading British futurist says, that today's kids will have to "work until 100 at 40 different jobs," reported the Washington Post. Mind-blowing, isn't it? But then again, no one now seems to stay at one company for very long and a freelancer economy seems to be on the rise. So how do we adapt kids for the future workplace, especially one like that?

Rohit Talwar suggests that "schools should teach students more relevant skills, including how to relax, boost their memories and get more sleep, in order to cope." He adds that, "An 11-year-old child today might live to 120 and work until 100, working at up to 40 jobs spanning ten or more careers."

He suggested that "new soft skills should be taught in schools then, including meditation to help relaxation and productivity, as well as guidance on managing stress through healthy sleep patterns."

STEM, and more

Still, the need to be STEM-savvy won't likely be going away 20 years from now, notes David Geary, a developmental psychologist at the University of Missouri, in a Scholastic article.

And other skills will also be essential: "Almost every employer, in every occupation, prefers workers who know how to problem-solve, be creative, work collaboratively, and communicate well," says Steven Paine, senior advisor of the educational advocacy group Partnership for 21st Century Learning.

Life and career skills

Today's life and work environments require far more than thinking skills and content knowledge, the advocacy group stresses. A globally competitive information age will require: flexibility and adaptability; initiative and self-direction; social and cross-cultural skills; productivity and accountability; and, leadership and responsibility. I believe this is likely to be true in the long-range future as well.

Future-ready kids

The world will no doubt be much changed in 20 or so years. And, perhaps, so will the workplace culture. Perhaps it will be one that we can't even imagine today. (Will there be robots working alongside us? Employees beamed in as holograms at meetings? Virtual reality offices? ) Whatever the future holds, today, it seems more important than ever that we try to help our children, as best we can, to navigate the changes and challenges they'll ultimately have to face in this new world, and help them have a brighter and smarter future -- prepared.