21st century skills are 18 century skills + a computer
By Michael Hennigan, Finfacts founder and editor
Mar 10, 2015 - 8:09 AM

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US Department of Labor

21st century skills are 18 century skills plus a computer — which may be your smartphone or smartwatch — according to a researcher at America's leading entrepreneurship think-tank.

In recent times the poor grammar/writing skills of university graduates has been getting a lot of attention and in 2012 Kyle Weins, a tech entrepreneur, wrote in a post on the Harvard Business Review blog: "If you think an apostrophe was one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, you will never work for me. If you think a semicolon is a regular colon with an identity crisis, I will not hire you. If you scatter commas into a sentence with all the discrimination of a shotgun, you might make it to the foyer before we politely escort you from the building."

President George W. Bush opted to give e-mail a miss, citing security worries. "I do not want my private conversations looked at by those out to embarrass." Hillary Clinton may have had the same thoughts but she was unlikely to have been worried about syntax.

More than a decade ago the following was the winner of the US/Canadian category in a world 'best joke' competition:

Texan: "Where are you from?"

Harvard graduate: "I come from a place where we don't end our sentences with prepositions."

Texan: "Okay —  so where are you from, jackass?"

Enough of grammar! — The New Yorker's review of “The Sense of Style,” by Steven Pinker, the Harvard brain scientist.

Christopher Laubenthal, a senior data analyst at the Kauffman Foundation, in a series of blog posts focuses on commercial human capital, meaning the commercially valuable skills of people within the US.

He says that the level of sync between skill and economy seems to be a collective theme in a current spate of books on human capital:

In a nutshell, technology will hollow out middle income jobs leaving the US with high skilled high-paying jobs and low-skilled  low paying jobs. The answer is higher graduation levels at third level and more training.

We gave an example here last week where Austria has a low ratio of the population with a third level degree and a consistent low level of unemployment since the 1960s.

Germany at full-employment: Lessons for low-pay US manufacturing

Christopher Laubenthal writes that none of the solutions in the books are new or ground breaking. "For example, the 21st century skills human capitalists call for are really just 18th century skills with the addition of a computer. Did Henry Ford not want critical thinking skills or reasoning in his teams? Were teachers in 1851 not interested in the ability to make an argument? Did the pilgrims not desire problem solvers?

The answer, of course, to all three questions is, 'yes.' I believe the same can be said of increasing teacher rigor and supporting local educational institutions like community colleges. Educational resources like rigorous content, sharp teachers, and strong educational institutions are important, but that does not mean that these ideas or goals are new."

Dane Stangler, vice president research & policy at the think-tank, commented on human capital, commercial and non-commercial: " I'm thinking of some of the work of Rogers Hollingsworth — in his studies of 'high cognitive complexity,' he found that all the scientists making breakthrough discoveries had a 'side skill,' whether art or a musical instrument or something else. Their observable commercial value — a PhD from an Ivy school, say, or a high-ranking faculty position — was the same as their colleagues, but their realized commercial value was much greater because they played they piano or painted on the side. Also, while the college premium is still remarkably high today, it seems kind of glib to say that more university research and greater college attendance will fix everything."

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