How To Thrive in the 21st Century Workforce

A few days ago, I went to a workshop facilitated by educational consultant Andrew Miller about PBL (Project Based Learning). If you've never heard of PBL before, it's a strategy where students learn skills and information by completing a complex project, usually finding solutions to a complex real life problem. The skills that they learn are relevant to the real world and will help them in their future careers. Students also learn content and skills from multiple subjects at the same time.  For example, students can learn about Social Studies, English Language Arts, World Languages, and Art by preparing a talk show exhibition about the experience of slavery and civil war through various viewpoints. Through the project, students also learn skills that are necessary to survive in the 21st century.  

Critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity/innovation are the 21st century skills necessary for anyone to be successful, not just in the workforce, but especially in life. We have all of them to a certain extent, and there is always room to improve. During the workshop, I couldn't help but think about how these skills are necessary for everyone, not just students.  21st century skills are needed by every person in every career.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is defined as "disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence." It involves being able to think about anything from multiple perspectives. It helps people find multiple possible solutions to a single problem. People need critical thinking in order to break down a lofty goal into smaller not-so-overwhelming goals. It also helps people synthesize relevant information needed for whatever task is right in front of them. 

People need critical thinking skills to interpret data, create effective strategies, develop new products, or lead an organization.  Thinking critically is thinking one step deeper than surface-level thinking.


Everyone is going to have to interact and work well with other people in any career. It's almost impossible to have a career without the involvement of other people. There are supervisors, managers, colleagues, clients, and customers that we have to deal with in one form or another. In order to thrive, we need to be able to have positive interactions with other people.

If you are a manager, supervisor, or team leader, you need to be able to guide your group towards their goal. If you are a part of a team, you need to be able to work well with your colleagues and supervisors. If you work with the general public, you need to communicate with clients and have excellent customer service skills. Collaboration is the key to work smarter.


In order to collaborate, communication is a necessary skill. It makes expectations clear and keeps everyone on the same page.

Currently, communication exists in multiple forms (phone calls, emails, text messages, tweets, and face to face in-person dialogue) that change with time. Communication methods change over time. Also, everybody prefers to communicate and be communicated to in their own unique ways. Some people may prefer text messages over face to face conversation or vice versa. Being able to communicate with different types of people about various topics is a key life skill that will propel anyone's career.


Creativity is defined as "the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to createmeaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc."  It is being able to adapt old ideas to solve new problems or solve old problems in newer (usually more effective and/or efficient) ways. Innovation is defined as "something new or different introduced." It is being able to bring new and previously unforeseen ideas to the forefront.

Without creativity or innovation, we wouldn't have automobiles, airplanes, the iPhone, cloud computing, or any of the modern day luxuries that were unimaginable to people of the past. Creativity is how Michael McDaniel created the most innovative shelters I've ever seen. He was inspired by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and drinking a cup of coffee.


With all this in mind, I've been inspired to challenge myself to grow in these areas every single day. I know I can be more creative with my work. When I'm unsatisfied with my work, it's not because I'm unhappy with it, I just know that I have the potential to have done better.  I definitely know I can be a better communicator (my apologies to those I haven't spoken to in a while).  As good of a collaborator I am, there are personality types I know I can have a better working relationship with.  And even though I like to think that I am really good at thinking critically, I definitely know that I'm not perfect; I can get better at it.  (I haven't solved all my problems yet.) It's probably a good thing I was in Andrew Miller's workshop; I'm reentering the workforce like a 21st Century Jedi.



"creativity.", n.d. Web. 23 May 2014. <>.

"critical thinking.", n.d. Web. 23 May 2014. <>.

"innovation.", n.d. Web. 24 May 2014. <>.

Koh, Paul, and Kristin Russo. "Project Exchange." Envision Schools. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 May 2014.

Lamour, Joseph. "A Disposable Coffee Cup Has Inspired An Indispensable Idea." Upworthy. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 May 2014. <>.

Larmer, John, and John R. Mergendoller, Ph.D. "8 Essentials for Project-Based Learning." Buck Institute for Education. (2012). Print.

Miller, Andrew K. "PBL and STEAM Education: A Natural Fit." Andrew K Miller RSS. 14 May 2014. Web. 21 May 2014.

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