Teach the Universal Skills that Prepare Kids for Any Future

The workforce of tomorrow will look very different from that of today. According to a 2018 jobs report by the World Economic Forum, it is estimated that 65% of kids entering elementary school today will end up working in jobs that don’t yet exist

In this changing landscape there is a set of skills employers seek, year in and year out. The universal skills kids learn today will transfer to their work lives as adults and when paired with the 16 Habits of Success, they prepare our kids to tackle academic and non-academic tasks. While the Habits of Success are all about the social and emotional mindsets and behaviors that set a kid up for success in school and life, learning the Universal Skills prepared them for college and career.

The skills our kids’ grandparents needed as they started their careers are significantly different from the skills our kids should be developing today. As Diane Tavenner says in the book, Prepared, 
I began to visualize the universal skills, habits of success and knowledge as Legos that could be assembled in all different ways to ultimately give a person the high-level attributes needed for life.

Bottom line, magic happens when Habits meet Skills—that’s why all of our resources prioritize them. When a kid develops Habits and Skills alongside specific content knowledge, it all adds up to someone who can develop into a leader, communicator, and problem-solver.

Focus on these Universal Skills

Some K-12 schools across America have shifted the learning experience from teaching just content knowledge (like areas of math, science, and English) to teaching and measuring student progress on  universal, transferable skills, such as a student’s ability to ask questions, interpret data, and identifying patterns.

At Summit Public Schools in California and Washington, for example, and in its 400+ Summit Learning partner schools across the nation, students learn 36 Cognitive Skills that are essential for success in college and career. Summit Public Schools collaborated with Stanford’s Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE) to develop a single, research-backed Cognitive Skills Rubric to assess student development. Summit’s personalized and project-based learning approach prioritizes Cognitive Skills in grading above all else. Students engage in hands-on projects and develop deep content knowledge alongside the Cognitive Skills and the Habits of Success

It was this model of pairing projects with the development of habits and skills that inspired the creation of Prepared Parents, which is incubated within Summit Public Schools.

While it makes sense for teachers to focus on all 36 cognitive skills in the classroom, that may feel overwhelming for parents. So, at Prepared Parents, we took the Cognitive Skills and narrowed in on a handful of Universal Skills that employers and colleges have also consistently rated as the most significant for future job candidates year after year, by reports published by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the World Economic Forum, and LinkedIn, among others.

These Universal Skills include adaptability, collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Here’s how you can look for opportunities to develop these at home.

  1. Adaptability: Embracing change, and thriving in uncertainty. Includes updating and refreshing skills, spotting trends, and acquiring new tech and digital skills.
    Help your kid develop resilience and a growth mindset, both of which will enable them to embrace change. Adaptability often begins with understanding the ultimate goal, so that when plans fall through, you and your kid can realign on the bigger picture and adjust to meet their goal another way.
  2. Collaboration: Working together across differences to accomplish a common goal. Includes the ability to bring out the best in people, inspire them, coordinate with them, and persuade them to buy into an idea.
    You’re likely already teaching collaboration at home through family projects or even during play and social time, where ‘sharing is caring’ reigns. To further emphasize teamwork at home, consider making your kid’s voice heard through consensus. Show them that the best decisions are made through inclusive, engaging conversation, rather than because Mom or Dad said so.
  3. Communication: Conveying information to drive action. Includes active listening, emotionally connecting with an audience, communicating well to drive action through the written word and/or verbally.
    Written and verbal communication are paramount to success in the world. To help your kid develop the ability to effectively listen to and communicate with others, create routines which encourage them to express their feelings and ideas while also empathizing with others. Daily check-in and check-out is one way to give your family a consistent means for staying emotionally in-touch with each other. To further individual connection with each of your kids, implement weekly 1:1 time, which gives them each personal time to talk through the challenges and joys they’re experiencing individually.
  4. Creativity: Generating original ideas and solutions. Includes finding new ways of doing things.
    The ability to imagine drives all creativity, enables clear thinking, and inspires a sense of humanity. To kickstart your kid’s creativity, start with imagination. If your kid is younger, this one might be a piece of cake—imaginary people, places, and scenarios are the things that play time is made for. Rev up an older kid’s imagination with inquiry-based learning. Instead of answering their questions, have them search themselves. If the problem they’re working on seems unsolvable like quick answers to global warming or financing a new gaming system, that’s where imagination and creativity will come in. With a little ingenuity, anything is possible.
  5. Critical thinking: Evaluating information objectively to make decisions. Includes asking tough questions, having the willingness to listen to different ideas, objectively evaluating information from diverse sources to make a decision, and respectfully critiquing and weighing arguments.
    As with creativity, critical thinking is all about asking—and answering—tough questions. That is, after all, what life is all about… finding your way through each season of life, answering age-old questions about what it all means. The best way to keep your kid on fire with inquiry? Encourage their questions. It can be annoying when our kids ask ‘why, why, why,’ but those are the questions that keep them thinking critically. In their journey to finding answers, they’ll build the skill of finding and evaluating data and opinions.
  6. Problem-solving: Using critical and creative thinking to find a solution to an issue. Includes the ability to embrace complexity, and using creative thinking to find a solution.
    Problem-solving tops the list of skills employers seek on job candidate’s resumes. To help your kid develop strong problem-solving skills, challenge them to get to the bottom of the problems they see around them, with the Five Whys exercise. Sometimes the issue we see is not the core problem, but instead merely a symptom of a deeper problem. It’s not enough to see problems, our kids have to be able to solve them, and that begins with the ability to uncover the root cause of a particular issue first.

We’ll continue diving deeper into each skill in our Tips, Tools and Activities, so you can try different exercises and tactics with your family.

Are you already teaching these Universal Skills at home? Send your story to—we would love to highlight your insights in our upcoming stories!