The skills needed for success have changed more dramatically than ever before in the last decade. While in Europe this subject is often reserved for specialists, elsewhere in the world thousands of schools have already adapted their models to teach these new skills. Without a thorough overhaul of the concept of key skills, French and European economies risk a crisis.
The hidden core of the system
Our societies have undergone profound changes due to the following: Instant and unlimited access to information, the rise of social networking, and the progressive elimination of repetitive daily tasks. Intrinsically linked, they have not only shaken up our lifestyles but also our ability to remain professionally competitive.
There is a staggering gap in uptake: Only 1 in 10,000 French people have heard of the idea of “21st century skills”, compared to 1 in 10 Americans.
For almost 15 years, the English-speaking scientific community has been interested in the transformation of work and organization methods; specifically, their impact on the skills ensuring optimal professional performance. The requisite skills for success are not the same as they once were.
In the professional world, there has been a shift away from the “routine” skills necessary in the 1970s and 80s, towards interpersonal and analytical skills. These are what we call 21st century skills.
Levy, F., & Murnane, R. J. (2004). The new division of labor: How computers are creating the next job market. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
The primary reason for this is our unlimited access to ever-increasing amounts of information. As noted by Berkeley researchers; the quantity of information produced between 1999-2002 alone was equal to all the information ever produced before in the history of the world. And this amount doubles every two years.
The quantity of information available on the
Internet doubles every two years.
This onslaught has radically changed the skills
we need for everyday life.
The key skills of the industrial era focused more on mastering a trade, following rules, respecting authority, and professionalism: efficiency, integrity, and a sense of balance. Whilst still important in the information age, these skills no longer form the basis of excellence.
Today, it’s necessary to be able to construct convincing arguments, question the available information, be a creative presenter and a team player, and communicate clearly, all at the same time. Information is changing faster than ever before. To keep up, we must be able to adapt, take the initiative, and produce unexpected results in both substance and form.
These skills are presented in a variety of different ways. In 2002, AOL, Cisco, Microsoft, and the US Education Ministry helped launch the first initiative on this subject; P21,the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.
Another large-scale initiative, called ATC21S, Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills, was started in 2009. In many developed countries, expert groups focus on these issues, including the Education Ministry in the Netherlands, UNESCO, the UN, and an association of 35 universities.
Many thousands of schools and organizations are working on 21st century skills.
Although all these skills are important in fostering the world’s future intellectuals, four of them are fundamental to individual success. These are the 4Cs, the cognitive skills which facilitate complex problem-solving: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, and Communication.
The 4Cs—the skills now driving performance: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, and Communication.
In 2015, the Ed Design Lab investigated recruiters’ perceptions surrounding performance skills. The 4Cs were the most sought-after, as well as resilience, empathy, the ability to mobilize others, and inter-cultural understanding.
By neglecting this subject, France is lagging behind in terms of the new, indispensable competitive advantage: human capital. The human capital of a country describes the sum total of the knowledge and skills possessed by its people. The quantity and quality of this capital determines the country’s economic performance.
Nowadays, when performance depends on the ability to access, organize, and apply information to solve new problems, developing the 4Cs is fundamental, as is finding the individuals who have mastered them.
The first step to a wider adoption of 21st century skills is learning how to discover, measure and assess these skills. After that, it’s over to educators to learn how to teach and develop them. Finally, recruiters have to embrace the skills and help employees and candidates to continue developing them.
We need to move away from old evaluation models and find innovative ways to assess today’s skills.
Thanks to the advancements made over the last 15 years regarding cognitive skills, creativity can now be assessed much more appropriately.. However, when it comes to interpersonal skills such as communication and collaboration, we are still holding on to pre-21st century conceptions, thus they are much more difficult to assess fairly and effectively.
In order to remain competitive, France must rethink its education system, and companies must re-evaluate their recruiting methods and criteria.
The whole French system needs an overhaul, particularly the national education system, psychometrics, and HR. There’s a long road ahead, with a fair bit of resistance, so let’s get going. After all, our American and Canadian cousins are only 15 years ahead.