Preparing your students for jobs that don’t exist
May 24, 2018
By Dr Nicolas Matthee

You might have heard of the term “the fourth industrial revolution” or the term “the age of automation”, you might even have heard of the “network society” or the “digital revolution”. These terms all refer to the current and future paradigms concerning the influence of technology in our societies. These theories differ from each other in their understanding of the challenges of the 21st-century but what they all have in common is the emphasis on a new set of skills for learners to flourish in the 21st-century societies they form part of.

Based on the work of the World Economic Forum and McKinsey, it is reported that 65% of the jobs that Generation Z will perform are not even in existence yet! While it is very possible that this number is inflated a bit, the reality still points toward a context where a new set of skills will be required of learners to perform in the workplace once they enter it. Extensive research has been done from an educational point of view to determine what these skills are, and over more than two decades of research, it has been distilled to what is known as the 4Cs of 21st-century learning.

These four skills are crucial for learners to enter universities and the workplace as information literate citizens. The 4Cs are:

Critical thinking

To most of us critical thinking is a known concept but when we try to define what exactly it means for our students as a 21st-century skill we tend to struggle. This is evident in the Partnership for 21st-Century Learning’s 4Cs research series as they list no less than twelve developments in the definition of the term. This may leave many of us frustrated in asking the question, what should I teach my students then? While the bigger picture is more complex, a simple answer would be to simply teach our students how to think and not what to think!


The question can be asked, why have collaboration as a specific skill for the 21st-century, students already engage with this skill in their daily school life? While students certainly develop some collaborative skills in their daily interactions at school, the context of the 21st-century demands a much more sophisticated skill set. Chris Dede, a scholar from Harvard explains it as follows: “the nature of collaboration is shifting to a more sophisticated skill set. In addition to collaborating face-to-face with colleagues across a conference table, 21st-century workers increasingly accomplish tasks through mediated interactions with peers halfway across the world whom they may never meet face-to-face. Thus, even though perennial in nature, collaboration is worthy of inclusion as a 21st-century skill because the importance of cooperative interpersonal capabilities is higher, and the skills involved are more sophisticated than in the prior industrial era.”


Creativity, much like critical thinking, is a very dense concept with thousands of potential interpretations again leaving educators confused. What exactly is required of my students to learn the skill of creativity? The Partnership for 21st-Century Learning believes the concept has actually been defined well and critical thinking skills require of students to add both novelty and usefulness in their solutions to specific problems.


Referring to the research done by the World Economic Forum and McKinsey, they list 10 in-demand skills for the 21st-century workplace. It comes as no surprise that 6 of these 10 skills are based on the worker’s communication skills, with negotiation skills almost doubling in demand from 2015 to 2020. Schools generally tend to teach some modes of communication but the context of the 21st-century demands a much larger repertoire of communication methods and skills.

If you would like to explore the 4Cs in greater detail, ITSI offers a short course on 21st-century learning where the 4Cs and other related topics are discussed.