As she assembles a summer course for Hofstra’s Precollegiate Career Discovery Institute — “21st Century Skills for Teens: Thriving in a Rapidly Changing, Hyper-Connected Global Economy” — Continuing Education chief Debbi Honorof lets Innovate LI in on a little secret: Even experienced professionals must sharpen the skills required by the innovation economy. In her own words:
CONNECTIVITY: The whole premise is that the workplace is very different than it used to be. People used to stay with one company for a really long time and stay in their little silos and work just with the people in their department. Now everything is interconnected. The silos are down. You have to be able to speak everyone’s language. Engineers need to collaborate with the marketing people and the salespeople have to be able to speak to designers. It’s no longer OK to be just left brain or right brain. You don’t need to be an expert at everything, but you do have to understand the different parts and everyone has to be able to collaborate.
GO TEAM: That’s what we’re teaching in the [21st Century Skills] course. And it’s why so much high school instruction today is project-based. It’s been shown that students get much more out of collaborative project-based learning than they do out of rote learning.
INNOVATION NATION: The 19th century was an agricultural economy. The 20th century was an industrial economy. The 21st century is the knowledge economy. That means people need higher cognitive skills – the skills that can’t be outsourced or performed by your computer. The skills that give you the whole picture, and let you put together bigger ideas and connect with others.
COURSE PLOTTED: The course runs for five days on the Hofstra campus and will be taught by several different instructors. Half a day will be devoted to improv, half a day to creative problem-solving, half a day to design thinking, etc. It’s going to be very interesting, mostly project-based, mostly collaboration with other students in the class. We believe when students come out of it, they’ll think differently about the future.
SKILL SET: The course will give pre-collegiate students a competitive edge for the college admissions process and career readiness. They’ll learn from a range of instructors how to build today’s most sought-after skills, including collaboration, problem-solving, media literacy, flexibility, creativity, being tech savvy, even having a sense of humor. These are the skills that employers are looking for now.
THE INTERVIEW: A lot of CEOs will ask you in a job interview to tell them about something you tried that failed, because they want to see if you’re willing to take a risk and learn from the failure. In order to grow, you have to be willing to take risks. And a lot of interviewers want to see if you have a sense of humor. You have to be able to improvise, to think outside the box, to pivot if something isn’t working. You have to be flexible enough to stop whatever you’re doing and go completely in a different direction.
PROFESSIONAL GRADE: I look at these skills and I think, “OK, we’re teaching them to high school students, the future workforce, but we’re already in the 21st century.” These are skills that are needed now, even for adults, even for people with experience. A lot of job listings are listing skills like collaboration, storytelling, innovation, cultural awareness, media literacy. So I’ve been branding our continuing education efforts with this question: Are you prepared to succeed in the 21st century workplace?
MEDIA FOCUS: There’s so much information out there on the Internet. It’s hard to determine what’s factual and what’s not, what you can rely on and what you can’t. It’s a really important skill. How do you know what’s real? How do you rate the source? How well do you fact-check? Even a reliable source like The New York Times or Newsday will come out with corrections later on, because their goal is to get stuff out as quickly as possible. That leads to stories not being vetted and facts not being correct. So we’ll teach [students] how to research third-party organizations not related to either side of an issue, how to determine which information they can rely on, how to check their facts.
GET A MOVE ON: In this economy, professionals can’t sit stagnant. You have to keep learning and keep looking ahead. And you have to be able to turn on a dime. That’s the world we live in.
Interview by GREGORY ZELLER