What are Emerging Skills and Why are they Important for High School Students?

The term emerging skills has come into prominence in recent years as a result of the explosion of digital technology and its increasing utilization in nearly all areas of life. As a result, high school graduates’ ability to achieve meaningful occupational and academic opportunities in which they are able to thrive post-high school is dependent upon their acquisition of such skills.

The emerging skill set remains in a continuously fluid state based upon the latest technological advances and the level at which they are embraced by the business world and society in general; therefore, a definitive list of emerging skills is challenging to assemble as these skills are continuously evolving. With this perspective in mind, a list of the most critical and applicable emerging skills includes:

  • Coding
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Data processing
  • Systems analysis

In addition to “hard skills” that rely upon technical knowledge, students also must be equipped with a strong repertoire of “soft skills” that allow them to interact effectively within an increasingly digital world that relies upon interacting with others remotely or collectively on a digital platform or space. Several of the critical soft skills that students should possess upon graduation from high school include:

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Adaptability
  • Creativity
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Problem solving

Students must understand that soft skills work hand in hand with emerging skills because although technology in and of itself is emotion free, people still need to feel a “human” connection and be able to interact in a manner that is both efficient yet personal.

At first glance, the emerging skill set may appear to be best-suited for individuals seeking careers within historically computer-driven fields; however, nearly every competitive field, from technology and art to business and education, has come to rely upon increasing usage of digital media and electronic platforms to deliver its services to consumers. One need look no further than the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to recognize the role that technology has played in keeping society functioning in spite of extended quarantining and limitations on person-to-person interaction.

Ultimately, businesses and institutions must be able to adapt to these new ways of delivering their products and services, and therefore, they need employees that possess a solid understanding of and proficiency with emerging skills.

Ways to Incorporate Emerging Skills into the Curriculum

As high schools are responsible for preparing students for successful futures, they must provide academic programming that fosters the development of emerging skills among their students. One of the most effective ways of accomplishing this daunting task is to open a productive dialogue with local professionals and businesses in order to determine the critical skills within their professions or business models. These discussions should be shared with school leaders and teachers, and the curriculum of each course should be modified to include exposure to emerging skills.

As an example, most high schools require students to take a computer technology course. Often these courses focus on basics such as word processing and general computer usage. Within a curriculum geared toward emerging skills, students should learn the basics throughout their elementary and middle school years, and high school-level courses should focus upon learning the coding process through project-based learning (PBL) activities to develop programs and websites that will perform specific functions. The key to success in the information age is not only using existing programs but also being able to modify and adapt them to further streamline and customize their capabilities within a culture that increasingly expects made-to-order goods and services.

Understanding artificial intelligence (AI) is another emerging skill with which students should develop proficiency. AI has played an increasing role in society since the mid-1970s and now affects everything from robotic and automotive technology to online marketing and services.

One needs to look no further than Google and Facebook to observe the power of AI in daily life. Both of these platforms uses AI in order to shape and individualize the experience of the user. Exposure to AI can be included not only within technology and engineering courses, but an analysis of their algorithms can be adapted into the mathematics curriculum, particularly within higher math courses such as calculus and statistics which rely heavily upon prediction models developed from given data. This allows students to develop an understanding of how systems function and then apply that knowledge within their own creative processes.

This task, however, requires more than simple calculations, and must include hands-on usage of platforms in order to gain real world experiences. Additionally, AI is an excellent example as to why high schools should increase their focus on interdisciplinary studies as opposed to traditionally isolated core subject learning. In recent years, content areas have increasingly begun to overlap; therefore, educating students about specific topics in isolation is no longer an effective method for developing emerging skills.

The power of modern technology lies in its wide-ranging scope, and this factor can create a challenge for educators with regard to how best to organize curriculum content. As a result, school systems should continue to consider strategies that promote cross-curricular overlaps in an effort to allow students not only to hear about their connections but also to interact with them in a personal manner.

Beyond basic conceptual understanding, however, students must develop the critical soft skills of collaboration and emotional intelligence, as living and working in the digital age has not minimized, but rather, increased the necessity of working and interacting with others in a productive manner. Throughout the past, students were taught the importance of a handshake, eye contact, and listening skills. They must now be taught to build a similar rapport with others through their electronic interactions.