Thread A Skill Set Throughout Your Life

As I learn more about the transition from secondary to higher education, I think about possible utility in introducing a Skills-Based Approach in primary and secondary education.  Previously I took for granted that it should be introduced in high school and used throughout a career. However, I think there are benefits with thinking in skill sets before high school – essentially threading a skill set throughout one’s life.

Threading Skills
Threading Skills

The earlier you identify core-competencies, the better. If you identify a STEM prodigy at an early age, you can guide their building of technical skills based on their talents. Introduce them to engineering, computer science, or biology in middle school. Supplement their learning in the classroom (often constrained by the advancement of its students collectively), with online learning based on their own personal capabilities.

Parents play a role in planning their child’s skill set. Three of the four career planning strategies of a skills-based approach are applicable for youngsters. First, identify career capital – something they can invest in throughout their life. Second, identify passions – expose children to different subjects in and out of the classroom and take an inventory of what sticks. Third, identify personality traits, interests, and values – have them take simple tests (perhaps even in the form of a game); the results are good predictors of an individual’s personal and professional development.

Build a foundation, and then apply active learning. There is a transition between having students memorizing things – vocabulary, math fundamentals, and grammar – and promoting their ability to problem solve, conceptualize, and reason.  Educators argue the latter transferable skills are critical to being successful later in life and many of the new age teaching methods are rooted in challenging students to think. (There was a wonderful story in Wired about a teacher who adopted one of these new-age teaching methods and got his class from a downtrodden Mexican school to score among the top in the country’s standardized tests.[i])  Contrarily, a teacher wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about how memorization still has its place, and, barring the geniuses, this makes sense: most of us have to learn grammar and vocabulary before being effective readers and writers.[ii]

A skill set with an assessment of the level of expertise with skills facilitates the process of active and personalized learning. (Again, educators are trying to build personalized learning into their lesson plans.) Teachers and parents review the same skill sets and design effective learning plans, which include building transferable skills (and related soft skills) – making them more transparent in a student’s development. In addition, the skill set transcends across grade levels so there is a more fluent platform to assess a student’s progress.

The objective is to prepare an individual for higher education, rather than for employment.  Higher education is already playing a more active role by mining for talented students, designing high school curriculums, and inspiring future prospects.

All of the suggestions proposed in the building stage are applicable to a secondary education student. Probably the most important ones include: setting the stage with new teachers, finding a mentor, and using assessments to track progress.

Learn more about a Skills-Based Approach by visiting the website, following it on Twitter, and/or purchasing the book. The methodology is centered on the development of a skill set throughout a career (and, as this blog suggests, your life). There are four stages: planning, building, presenting, and validating. Each stage has proposed ways to achieve its objectives.


[i] Joshua Davis. “How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash a Generation of Geniuses,” Wired, October 15, 2013.

[ii] David G. Bonagura Jr. “What’s 12 x 11? Um, Let Me Google That,” WSJ, October 30, 2013.

In her book Reinventing You, Dorrie Clark refers to a skill set as a “precious commodity”. (I like the term). It has a similar connotation to Seth Godin’s linchpin: someone who is indispensable. As you move through a career, differentiate your skill set from others within a predefined ecosystem.

Original Image © Depositphoto/YokoDesign #27568263

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