In the U.S., 21st Century Skills Linked to Work Success
Well-Being

In the U.S., 21st Century Skills Linked to Work Success

by Jenna Levy and Preety Sidhu

Real-world problem-solving most strongly tied to work quality

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Young U.S. adults who say they "often" developed 21st century skills -- such as real-world problem-solving and global awareness -- in their last year of school are more likely to self-report higher work quality.

Linkage Between 21st Century Skill Development and Quality in the Workplace

Gallup, in collaboration with Microsoft Partners in Learning and the Pearson Foundation, developed a 21st century skills index measuring seven specific areas: collaboration, knowledge construction, skilled communication, global awareness, self-regulation, real-world problem-solving, and technology used in learning. According to the study, 21st century skills prepare and equip youth for the challenges and demands of work in today's knowledge-based, technology-driven, globalized environment.

An in-depth analysis reveals that of these seven areas, real-world problem-solving is most strongly linked to higher self-reported work quality. Gallup measured high work quality based on respondents' answers to four items: success relative to most people in America who are about the same age, success in their current job, having a voice in decision-making in the workplace, and being a valued member of their workplace. Gallup categorized respondents who agreed that they were more successful relative to most people in America who are about their same age and strongly agreed with the remaining questions as having achieved high work quality.

These findings are from a Gallup/Microsoft Partners in Learning/Pearson Foundation study, conducted April 26-30, 2013, with a random sample of 1,014 U.S. young adults aged 18 to 35 who are either employed or current students.

Although closely related to work success, many young adults report not developing real-world problem-solving skills in school. About half (52%) say they "often" worked on a long-term project that took several classes to complete, and even fewer say they used what they were learning to develop solutions to a real-world problem (29%) during their last year of school.

Percentage of Adults Doing Real-World Activities "Often" During Their Last Year of Schoolbirhmkaw.gif

Half of College Students Developing Real-World Problem-Solving Skills

The percentage of those who report developing real-world problem-solving skills "often" differs significantly by education level. Twenty-eight percent of those with a high school degree or less say they "often" worked on a long-term project that took several classes to complete, compared with 50% of college students or graduates and 65% of those with postgraduate work or a degree who say the same.

When it comes to applying classroom lessons to develop solutions to real problems in the community or the world, those with postgraduate work or a degree (37%) are more likely to report doing so than college students or graduates (27%) and those with a high school degree or less (22%).

Younger adults aged 18 to 22 (37%) are more likely than those aged 23 to 35 (28%) to say they applied what they learned to solve real-world problems during their last year of school. This higher level of real-world problem-solving experience among younger U.S. adults may reflect the recent push in education to incorporate project-based learning into school curriculums.

Percentage of Adults Doing Real-World Activites "Often" During Their Last Year of School

Technology Used in the Workplace Not Taught in the Classroom

With many of today's youth not fully developing real-world problem-solving skills in school, it is not surprising that these same young adults say they did not learn the collaborative technology skills in school that many of today's jobs require. While 86% say they often used computers or technology to complete assignments or projects in their last year of school, 14% say they often worked with others using video conference or online collaboration tools. Nearly four in 10 (39%) young adults say they never worked with online collaboration tools in their last year of school.

I'd like you to think about your last year in school. Please tell me if you have done each of the following often, sometimes, rarely, or never...

Bottom Line

Developing 21st century skills in the last year of school positively correlates with future work success, but too few students have the opportunity to develop these important skills. The majority of respondents (59%) report that they "strongly agree" or "agree" that they developed most of the skills they use in their current job outside of school. Schools could have a significant effect on their students' long-term work success by incorporating 21st century skills, specifically real-world problem-solving and collaborative technology, into curriculums through project-based experiential learning.

Read the full report.

Read more about "What Works in Schools Is Real Work."

Survey Methods
The following report presents findings from a quantitative survey that Gallup conducted on behalf of Microsoft Partners in Learning and the Pearson Foundation. The questionnaire was developed in consultation with representatives from the Pearson Foundation, Microsoft Partners in Learning, and Gallup.

Gallup conducted 1,014 landline and cellphone interviews from April 26-30, 2013, with members of the Gallup Panel aged 18 to 35 who are either employed or students. Gallup only conducted interviewing in English only. The Gallup Panel is a nationally representative research panel. Gallup recruits all members of this proprietary in-house, probability-based panel via dual-frame landline and wireless telephone methodology or address-based sampling. Unlike most panels, Gallup Panel members must be randomly selected to participate and do not receive incentives for participation.

For results based on the total sample size of 1,014 adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3.1%. For results based on a subset of the sample that included 901 employed adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3.3%. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls. As a result of the specificity of the population and unavailability of such population targets, this article includes unweighted data. Reported frequencies may not add up to 100% because of rounding or the exclusion of "don't know" and "refused" results in some cases.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.

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