New Study Finds Interesting Relationship Between 21st-century Skills and Student Success

New Study Finds Interesting Relationship Between 21st-century Skills and Student Success

According to a recently published study, gaining 21st-century skills in the classroom contributes to later workplace success. reported that the Pearson Foundation and Microsoft Partners in Learning combined forces to provide the evidence to the Gallup study entitled “21st-Century Skills and the Workplace: A 2013 Microsoft Partners in Learning and Pearson Foundation Study.”

After polling 18- to 35-year-old workers, the study concluded: “Developing 21st-century skills in school is positively correlated with higher work quality later in life. In fact, those who have high 21st-century skill development are twice as likely to have higher work quality compared to those who had low 21st-century skill development.”

The Study’s Goals

The Gallup Study was conducted to see if there was a connection between 21st-century skills learned during formal education and success in future occupations. When adults were polled they were asked whether their education contributed to the skills they needed to be successful in employment, if they believed that students were getting the skills that they needed to be successful in modern industries, what skills were needed the most for career success and how important student motivation or “aspiration” was in gaining the skills that they need to be successful. For the study, 1,014 adults were polled via telephone using a scripted questionnaire.


According to the results of the study, 59 percent of the adults polled said that most of the skills they use in their employment were not gained in school. However, a strong connection was found between gaining 21st-century skills in school and “higher work quality.”

The most important 21st-century skill identified is “real world problem solving” and 63 percent of adults polled believed that they increased this skill during their final year of school, with the skill directly contributing to higher quality work. Student “aspiration” was also found to directly connect with quality work and students who gained 21st-century skills during their final year of school had increased “aspiration and engagement.”

Other factors that contributed to success were positive relationships with teachers and access to technology in schools.

21st-century Skills for Success

By analyzing poll responses and today’s technology-centered workplaces, the study identified the following 21st-century skills as contributive to workplace success:

  • Computer literacy and access to technology to complete work.
  • Problem-solving skills that include deep analysis of topics and project-based learning.
  • Ability to use technology for collaboration, including via discussion boards, teleconferences, and Skype.
  • Problem solving through the use of “real world problems.”

Implications for Schools

Access to technology is important in developing skills for students’ future employment success. Students need regular access to computers to be able to publish their work and collaborate with peers via technology.

While “real world problem solving” was considered an indicative factor of future success, just 63 percent of adults polled stated that they actually worked on this skill during their last year of school, leaving a 37 percent gap of students that were seriously lacking in this skill.

Students need to be given assignments with substance and meaning (i.e., project-based learning), which will both motivate them and inspire them to further their education and become successful adults.

Currently, 47 percent of adults polled felt they were “successful” at work and only 31 percent felt they had an influence on decisions made at work. Only 49 percent actually felt valued.

The more prepared students are for the 21st century, the more motivated they will be to pursue higher education and the better their chances are of being successful in their future careers.

Sign up for’s monthly newsletter to receive the latest in education news and information about becoming a teacher, including certification, teaching programs and more!