14 Career Skills School Students must have before 16

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What do students need now in their learning that goes beyond gaining factual knowledge to have a professional advantage later in life?

Note: I’ve excluded basic communication skills, empathy, personal organization, etc., from this list as they are more life-centric than career-centric.

Traditionally, life & career skills were taught under extra-curricular activities via sports or via extra credit (and micro subjects) like civics, moral science, and physical education. Some were taught by guest tutors who partner with schools for bonus fun lectures. This is typically how sex-ed., self-defense, Vedic math, learning-how-to-learn, etc., were taught.

But, with the internet, AI, hyper-connected sharing of ideas, and quick execution, students must learn other things that help them win in the future. I’ve highlighted 14 of them that surfaced to the top in my EdTech collaborations and psychological counseling sessions. These will give a professional glow up before they become professionals (after school ends at 16) and help with adulting by increasing their potential of earning, social & cognitive skills, health, and future-relevance.

1. Impulse control for quitting

Impulse control is resisting our immediate wants and stopping an action – impulse control would be stopping the instinct to buy products, consume a sugary food, say what’s on your mind without reflecting, interrupting someone, etc. Our civilization has evolved to prioritize getting rewarded for doing any task. The world is gamified. Use an app, you get bonus rewards. Spend money, you get discounts for the next purchase. Talk to people, you get things from them. This mechanism has calibrated human motivation to constantly rise only with rewards and move away from tasks that don’t give rewards. The impulse to quit or delay a task becomes strong if the reward isn’t valuable. Quitting a boring task and starting something more rewarding is a failure of impulse control. Since real life doesn’t promise rewards for every action, students need to learn impulse control so they don’t blindly quit in the absence of rewards. This begins with tolerating things they don’t like. Impulse control is a specific skill made out of 2 concepts.

  1. Delayed gratification: Given a choice between immediate rewards or more rewards, but later, people tend to choose the immediate reward. But waiting for the larger pay-off builds resources. Reward-centric fast urban life is worsening the tendency. So, students have to show impulse control early on to make it a habit and resist this “hedonistic” motivation. Money builds this way. So does one’s career, relationships, and skills.
  2. Discomfort tolerance: Finishing a project may get us rewards, but doing the tasks that take us from 0 to 100 may not give rewards. So, we have to tolerate the discomfort of not getting any benefits while finishing a larger project. Managing the difficulty of the process is an emotional regulation skill – handling psychological discomfort and not seeking a way out of it.

2. Innovate in grabbing attention

Learn to grab attention and convince others. A couple of psychological processes take place when people exchange ideas. They exchanges ideas they can recall, they remember ideas that cut through other people’s ideas, they pay attention to ideas that tap into their psyche. Students have to learn how to connect with others and persuade them. Otherwise, they may lose out on opportunities because no one hears them out. Those who succeed at this can become marketing experts. Look at these creative notifications from Zomato – look at how they grab attention.

3. Use different tools to solo a project

Leverage multiple tools to get work done instead of finding specialists. AI tools and open-source tools that help with design, writing, video creation, code, art, music, etc., should be explored. Online tutorials teach enough about these tools for students to become independent creators. We no longer need specialized people with unique skills to get an idea/project running (but they are highly valuable when the idea/project has to improve).

4. Become content creators (or creators in any domain)

Learn blogging, design, and short video content as hobbies. Skills that make students creators instead of plain consumers should be encouraged. The current trend is quick creation, online and offline. Blogging, video content, UIUX, or content in general open the door to things that matter to students the most – a little bit of fun, a little bit of excitement, a little bit of challenge, a little bit of career prep – all in 1 go. These hobbies set a foundation for creative skills early enough to be highly skilled as adults looking for work.

Future-proof career skills for students in school depicted in a modern collaborative workspace that appears like science fiction but is close to current reality.

5. Interdisciplinary networking

Talk to people from multiple domains at different points in their careers. On one end of the spectrum, we have the individual. In the middle, we have inclusivity. And at the tail end of the spectrum, we have networking with a variety of people. There is a lot to learn from people you don’t directly relate to – people from differnt job profiles, people from different countries, people from different approaches to life, people of different ages, etc. Collaborate with them, discuss ideas with them, hear their stories, and get their feedback. The general principle isFeedback on idea A will be very different by a person expert at A compared to a person who has no idea about A.

6. Read analytics data and make decisions

Interpret analytics and data for meaningful insights. Almost everything we use has analytics. Phone use data. Social media data. Website analytics. Health analytics. Students have access to these. A big life skill is to read the analytics data and make decisions that improve the numbers according to specific goals. If you start creating content (which many students do now), there will be creator analytics within the app.

7. Learn your tech

Learn how to configure and optimize settings on apps, devices, and machines. Basic tech savvy-ness begins with knowing how to customize and manipulate basic digital/electronic tools to gain the most out of them. It’s casually said, 90% of phone users don’t know even 50% of the features their phones have.

8. Finish projects to 100% completion

Follow up with people and collaborate till the finish line. Students face a problem in the job market within 2 years of gaining basic experience. A lot of companies don’t have faith in them because they join and leave without finishing the job they were hired to do. Sticking to the finish line is not just about finding what interests you. It is about finishing a project they like in spite of doing things that are necessary which they may not like. Essentially, that’s tolerating and executing tasks you don’t like.

9. Learn DIY domestic skills

Learn DIY repair and domestic problem-solving. It’s expensive. The future will always create more problems to fix because there are more things in the world. And more things = more points of failure. Students benefit in 2 ways when they try to fix those problems: Hands-on learning, and a thrifty approach that saves money. This raises student’s overall value in just about any industry or context, in unpredictable ways.

10. Find problems in tech

Find problems in current technology and devices. Every iteration of new technology – AI, cars, mobile phones, musical instruments, etc., has its set of problems. Students are potentially those who solve them and improve them, for themselves.

11. Follow curiosity

Explore anything that creates curiosity in any domain at any stage in life. When the total options have increased dramatically, with more specializations, more new career options, new scientific discoveries, innovation in art, etc., students can’t figure out what they want. They need to explore just long enough to tap into their innate curiosity and take action. With that, students can begin working on something that interests them instead of feeling stuck trying to explore at random for eternity.

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12. Master 1 language, explore a few more

Gain mastery over language, multiple languages. Enough tools exist that do the writing for you. Speech-to-text, live translation, generative AI, etc., and all of these are used for high-level persuasion on the internet. But humans still meet humans, so knowing how to articulate thoughts in person is a skill they need to acquire. Knowing an extra language also has it’s traditional cognitive benefits, but it helps in making students more global and local (Glocalization). The ideal way to acquire this is not through tests, because we do that, and it isn’t a bright picture. Monkey see, Monkey do. Students need to use the oldest learning technique in the world – learn by copying. Students need to acquire language skills via role models.

13. Learn how money works & flows

Develop healthy financial habits and learn how the flow of money works. The flow of money is complex, to say the least. Shows like Shark Tank, e-commerce platforms, and open conversations about salaries have created a general sense of what money gets you or what others get for money. But there are layers to this like budgeting, planning, credit, loans, funding, estimating worth, etc. These are hard experiential skills that need to be demo-ed, case-studied, and then implemented.

Here’s a financial concept I love. The rule of 72: Double your money. Your money is invested at R% interest rate in compound interest for N years duration. If R*N = 72, money doubles.

14. Health-related decision-making

Develop decision-making that promotes personal and public health – brain health, physical health, mental health, and social health. Do-your-own-research (DYOR) is a double-edged sword. When it comes to health or medicine, most people are not equipped to even comprehend the minute details and separate out the irrelevant details, so DYOR doesn’t help much. But because the influencer world has packaged health as a commodity and chooses to bring others under their version of what is good health, students will have to critically analyze what they learn and in what context it applies/doesn’t apply. This begins with facts – arm them with facts first, then they are less likely to go get persuaded by misinformation and agendas.

Quick actions

Parents and Teachers: Follow the checklist below to benchmark where your children/students are. Give 1 point per checkmark. As a rule of thumb 6/10 is on the right track by age 15.

  1. Created a blog (or physical contraption)
  2. Sold something
  3. Convinced someone to check out their idea
  4. Used AI tools
  5. Know the settings on a phone
  6. Can work with basic repair tools
  7. Have met people from 4 different careers and learned about their career
  8. Understand what a budget is
  9. Has fact-check information with the internet/books
  10. Collaborated on 3 projects

Students: Set up a blog. Write about what you like. Publish it. Share it with others. If you have a blog. Try making an app. If not an app, try making a physical model. If not, find someone who has a blog and help them improve it.

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