Start Your Career: 21st-Century Skills That Are Relevant In Today’s Workplace


As you move through post-secondary education, exploring areas of personal interest and developing versatile skills that prepare you for a wide variety of careers is an essential part of the process.

Whether completing a degree or a diploma, you are looking forward to bringing your original ideas and insights to the workplace after graduation.

Building relationships, networking and learning from skilled coaches and mentors are top priorities for today’s aspiring professionals, many of whom have explored these skill-building opportunities through work or extracurricular activities.

As part of a cohort with a high level of global awareness and interconnectivity, today’s youth also display a unique commitment to social responsibility and demonstrate a vested interest in community improvement. Employers view this enthusiasm and commitment to society as highly compatible with ongoing Corporate Social Responsibility efforts.

It is difficult to reconcile this enthusiasm and potential with the reality of the employment landscape for students and recent grads – the unemployment rate for youth with college diplomas or university degrees in Canada is 13.9 per cent, nearly double the national average.

An engaged perspective

As Director of the RBC Career Launch Program at RBC, Rehana Ciriani is well aware of the challenges facing recent college and university graduates.

“Employers look for previous work experience, even when hiring entry level employees, so quite often the first job can be the hardest to secure.” A recent study commissioned by RBC found that 73 per cent of students identify a lack of job experience as a barrier to finding employment.

“Across Canada we’ve heard from young graduates who hope to break the ‘no experience – no job’ cycle,” says Rehana.

She explains that limited experience is only one part of the problem. RBC’s study also found that today’s young job seekers are struggling with a lack of professional connections (77%) and difficulties with career management skills (58%).

Many youth face the hurdle of employers preferring to hire experienced workers instead of investing resources in training new hires. This reticence can make it harder for recent grads to compete and limits them from applying the skills they’ve learned in school to the realities and challenges of the workplace.

It’s a familiar story. Without a job, it’s difficult to find experience – and without experience, it’s difficult to find a job.

Good news for grads

The working world is constantly evolving, explains Rehana, so certain adaptable skills are a valuable asset.

These “21st-century skills” that employers are looking for include critical thinking and creativity and soft skills like collaboration and teamwork, and the ability to take an idea and communicate it effectively.

Rehana says that framing educational experience in terms of these “21st-century skills” is a key step to bridging the gap between school life and the start of a career.

Explaining how your education, extracurricular experience and volunteerism have helped you develop the skills employers want indicates that you can make a valuable contribution to the right team, she says.

She adds that it’s also important to recognize that networking and building professional contacts can begin before you start your career.

Classmates, instructors and employers are all valuable resources who can share their knowledge and experience. Maintaining these relationships will help keep your personal development moving in the right direction and keep your networking skills sharp and up to speed.

Networking can also help you plan for the future, Rehana adds. By reaching out to individuals in your chosen industry, you can learn more about future pathways to employment you might explore and also make connections that could help you get there.

Career management insights

While each grad possesses a unique skill set, Rehana says that a key capability for any professional is effective career management.

Career management is an active and ongoing process which consists of five major components. Apply these components to stay in touch with your strengths and priorities throughout your career.

Know yourself

Figuring out what you have to offer is crucial in any employment-related challenge. Assess your values, strengths, skills, interests and preferred working environment. Rank these categories from most important to less important.

Know how others see you

Self-reflection based on an informed second opinion can be beneficial. Ask for feedback from your manager or former employers to identify areas where you can improve and skills you may have overlooked. Be sure to clarify why you’re asking to avoid a miscommunication.

Know the world of work

How has your position changed in the last six months? In the last year? Even the most stable things aren’t immune to change. If you’re employed, understand your place in the big picture and reflect on how your role will be affected in the event of change.

Know your options

Change can also be self-driven. Don’t wait: keep your options open and actively explore career opportunities.

Know what you need to learn

Don’t just identify problems: solve them. Draw on the information you glean from these exercises and figure out how you can make a genuine commitment to improvement and growth. Next, develop a career plan, set goals, and follow through.

This regular exploration and self-assessment will help you figure out where you are, where you want to go and which skills you need to develop to get there.

Next week, RBC’s Rehana Ciriani will explore the importance of continuing your learning and development now that you’ve graduated and how mentorship can help launch your career. Check it out! Learn more about the RBC Career Launch Program here.

About the author

Elias Da Silva-Powell is a Content, Marketing and Community Specialist at TalentEgg, as well as a two-time graduate of Queen's University. An avid bow-titan, he has been trying to bring whimsical neck wear back into the mainstream since 2008. He's around on Twitter: @EDSPowell and you can check out his profile on LinkedIn, and even G+.