The Skills of the Future

The World Economic Forum’s  Future of Jobs Report 2020 ranks resilience, stress tolerance, flexibility, and creativity among the top ten skills of 2025.  The question for universities and employers then becomes how to train the next generation in these skills to set them up for success in today’s job market. 

Faced with a Challenge

Perhaps an answer has already presented itself. This past year, the pandemic put a halt to everyday life for people all over the world, including college students. The public may have thought that college students were blatantly ignoring the pandemic, but in reality, students’ lives were anything but ordinary. 

Starting college is usually a strange and confusing time, but according to Tara, a freshman at Miami University, virtual learning at college was “difficult not only academically but also socially. Since there were no in-person classes, I didn’t have any ‘school friends’ to help me when I was struggling.” 

Creating a Pathway to Connect

Students had to develop their own creative ways to stay social and involved in their schools. MIT student Megan and DePaul student Cate heard that their colleges were going remote just weeks before school started. 

“The first thing was finding out that dorms were completely closed… and then classes followed right after that,” says Cate. “I thought it would be short-term, and then they would figure something out, but I didn’t know how much longer it would go… It was hard because I was thinking, how am I going to meet people? Because people meet through dorms. But then you realize that everyone’s in this together.”

Megan had a similar “experience of disbelief”: “I was in my room at home, and my mom came in and said, looks like you’re going to be living at home for the next semester. And I just started bawling. I did not want to offend my mother at all, but I was just so upset at that moment! At the same time, I thought that I didn’t have the right to overreact, that things were still up in the air.”

“I made the decision to move to Boston that same night I found out that dorms were closed, and classes were going to be online,” said Megan. “It was definitely a rollercoaster of like, what am I going to do?”

Cate also decided she would still move to Chicago. “I had my quad figured out of people that I was going to live within the dorms, and so right away we started looking for an apartment, and we ended up getting a really nice Airbnb, probably too nice for a college student! That’s how we arranged things. When I was initially looking at schools, I thought I wanted to go to Chicago…and I wasn’t for sure the moment I got into DePaul, but then after seeing what I wanted and wanting to be in the city, I kind of was set on it.”

Reframing Adversity

Creative individuals are able to reframe adversity, turning problems into opportunities. For example, Megan found that she got to know Boston better than she might have during a typical semester. 

“I was fortunate enough not to have real grades my first semester. So you could either pass or fail a class, and if you failed a class, it was not on your record. So that really opened up your schedule… We spent a lot of time biking around the city. I think it was very important to understand what was outside of our college campus because many people say that you get stuck inside of that bubble of I have to study, I have to study get my homework done. So I think getting to know the area, which we spent a lot of time doing, is going to be helpful in the future.” 

Megan had also planned to play soccer at MIT, and this arrangement allowed her and her teammates to start forming a bond, practicing, and keeping in shape. “Part of the reason I moved to Boston was that there were going to be people on the soccer team in all grades that were living in the area. So, our plan was to play some pickup soccer on the weekends, and we did that. That was very, very important, I think, just to get a sense of, Okay, I joined this team, how are they? Who are they? What level is it? And I’ll still have to transition again when we’re in person because joining any new team and a new club, you have to get to know everyone and I think a large part of that transition is getting to know the people in addition to getting to know your sport, or whatever—your coach. But I think it was very valuable to get to meet people… Also, I was living with soccer teammates, so we all tried to hold each other accountable for working out.” 

Megan and Cate exemplify how the pandemic fostered meaningful outcomes, building resiliency, adaptability, and creativity—skills that are likely to serve them well beyond college, as employers seek out people who exhibit these abilities.

What next?

These skills are already coming into play. Megan and Cate finished out their years successfully and have internships. Megan is working for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the Executive Office for Administration and Finance. Megan is also part of MIT’s Sandbox Summer Healthcare Cohort, which addresses COVID 19 and Lyme Disease related issues. Cate is a public relations coordinator for a startup called In Their 20’s and is also a screenwriting TA for DePaul. Megan found that virtual college helped prepare her for “working independently and communicating effectively via email and Zoom.”

Key Takeaways:

  1. Many college students responded to the pandemic with a level of resourcefulness, imagination, and emotional maturity that deserves recognition.   
  2. The pandemic gave students a crash course in building skills such as resiliency, stress tolerance, adaptability, creativity, and the technical skills that are all essential in today’s workforce. 
  3. When approached with a creative problem-solving mindset, problems can lead to opportunities; adversity can accelerate change and fuel unexpected and creative solutions.  

This article was based on interviews from the podcast What’s with this Corona Thing? hosted by Bridget Dougherty.

Dr. Molly Holinger is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the John W. Altman Institute for Entrepreneurship in the Farmer School of Business at Miami University. She holds a PhD in Educational Psychology: Giftedness, Creativity, and Talent Development from the University of Connecticut and an M.S. in Creative Studies from the International Center for Studies in Creativity, SUNY Buffalo State. Her current research focuses on the positive outcomes of creativity such as positive emotions, engagement, and meaning.

Check out other blog posts from Dr. Molly Holinger: Creativity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship: The Difference and Why it Matters in Education

Bridget Dougherty, originally from Columbus Ohio, is a Sophomore at Miami University majoring in Supply Chain and Sustainability. Bridget gained a depth of love for innovation from a creative thinking class which inspired her to create the Podcast What’s With this Corona Thing. In addition to the podcast, Bridget enjoys running, being outside, and baking.

One Comment

  • Clayton Rhodes says:

    This is a fantastic blog about the transferable skills that college and university students can take out of the pandemic and into their chosen career path (especially the ability to collaborate with others without actually physically meeting up). The next step is helping students communicate the development of these transferable skills when interviewing for a position in their field. Many students deserve a great deal of credit for achieving success in an online learning environment over the past year.

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