Blueprint for the Future: A Workforce Wishlist

A MiddleWeb Blog

“The future belongs to those who adapt.” – Futurist Jim Carroll

Did you ever blink awake, look around, and wonder what happened to your familiar world? Well, don’t spend too much time trying to figure it out – the relentless pace of innovation today will make it unrecognizable again tomorrow.

Instead, consider what that rapid pace of change means for the mind-boggling array of situations and choices that kids entering elementary and middle schools today will face – 65% of them will work in a job that doesn’t exist yet. How will we get them ready for that?

Enter – Education 4.0. This current buzzword describes a blueprint for future learning that fundamentally reshapes the way we think about information, education, and preparing kids for future work. It calls for us to be deliberate and intentional in helping students acquire these skills.

No matter where you look (and I’ve looked), most employers seem to be seeking employees with the same basic competencies. At the end of this article I’ve linked the skills in the Wishlist below to sites that can give you tips for building these into your STEM classes.

Now, let’s look at what a typical 21st Century Workforce Wishlist might look like.

Our Workforce Wishlist

Note: To All Managers

Re: Potential Employees

We want job applicants to have the skills and qualities that can help them be successful in our company. As you interview potential employees please check the qualities that each applicant displays.

_____ An understanding of global community. Applicants should realize that the people or nations of the world are closely connected by telecommunications economically, socially, and politically. They also need to understand the critical importance of considering challenges and aspirations of wider groups and communities within their local regions when addressing problems.

_____ High emotional intelligence (EI). Applicants must manage their own emotions well and understand the emotions of those around them. They should understand how emotions affect the performance of their coworkers. One of the best indicators of EI is empathy, so pay careful attention to their ability to understand facts from a peer’s perspective. We especially want employees who are aware of their own biases and accept and respect one another, including those who are unlike them.

_____ Works well with others. Take note here! We like to have people working with us who can get along with their colleagues and who work with others successfully in different situations. They must be open to critique so that they can develop healthy working relationships. Teamwork and the basic life skills make them a better candidate for any position in our company, so if they have good people skills, put them at the top of our ‘desirable’ list.

_____ Strong work ethic. We want employees who will be at work on time, do what we hired them to do, meet targets and deadlines, and keep moving forward when they encounter obstacles. They should be able to manage time well. Also look for positive attitudes. Positive people create healthy work environments and are valuable members of teams. A positive attitude usually indicates resilience and persistence – also traits we need. We also value employees who are honest and make ethical decisions. They will make mistakes. When that happens, they should admit it and learn how to avoid making that mistake again. An employee who admits mistakes and learns from them is a definite asset to any company.

_____ Technical competency. Our employees need to be digitally literate. They should be comfortable and competent with computers, online research and apps, and our industry-specific software. They must handle technology responsibly and be eager to improve their technological skills along the way.

_____ Problem-solvers. (Hey – right now we’d settle for people who can even recognize a problem!) Look for several traits here. Applicants can see when something needs to be done and act accordingly. We want those who take on challenges with minimal direction. We rely on employees who can analyze problems and use sound engineering practices to tackle these challenges. We want employees who are innovative – who can objectively examine data and information and generate creative solutions for a problem. We also want flexible thinkers. Our employees need to react quickly to changing company conditions, shift gears, and adapt as required.

_____ Initiative: We are always on the lookout for hard-working employees who take initiative and are proactive about finding new ways to help the company do our work. Employees with initiative don’t wait around for their boss to assign them tasks. They’re self-motivated and driven to do whatever they can to improve the company in their current position.

_____ Communication skills. Can the applicants communicate clearly, accurately, and effectively in a variety of ways? These may include online platforms, presentations, social media, email, phone calls, and in-person meetings. Please pay careful attention to their body language, listening skills, ability to follow directions, and the ability to provide appropriate feedback – raising questions and concerns with the intent of making things better, not reveling in others’ missteps.

_____ Continual learner. Our employees need to actively seek out new information, expand their knowledge, and explore new ways of doing things. Employees with an interest in learning and a willingness to pass it on to others are invaluable. They access information as needed and apply it to solve local problems as well as larger challenges. Look for someone who is eager and willing to learn, and to keep learning every day.

How does your STEM program stack up?

How well would you say you’re preparing your kids for their future place in society? Check out the links below and begin building some of these skills into your curriculum now. Plan to incorporate more as the year goes on.

Coordinate with other grade levels to scaffold these skills so that kids become increasingly proficient in their journey toward future careers. Remember that using a project based learning approach can help you incorporate these portable skills smoothly into STEM challenges.

Now when you blink awake in the mornings you won’t be looking for a familiar world – you’ll be planning for a future world with amazing career opportunities for your well-prepared students.

Links for teaching strategies and ideas:

Global Community

Emotional Intelligence



Working with Others

Work Ethic

Positive Attitude




Ethical Decisions

Technical Competency

Responsible Technology


Engineering Process



Flexible Thinking



Online Platforms


Social Media

Body Language


Continual Learning

Anne Jolly’s bestselling book STEM By Design: Strategies & Activities for Grades 4-8 is a Routledge/ MiddleWeb publication. MiddleWeb readers receive a 20% discount from Routledge with the code MWEB1. Visit Anne’s book website for many more articles and free STEM resources and lesson ideas.

Anne Jolly

Anne Jolly began her career as a lab scientist, caught the science teaching bug and was recognized as an Alabama Teacher of the Year during her long career as a middle grades science teacher. From 2007-2014 Anne was part of an NSF-funded team that developed middle grades STEM curriculum modules and teacher PD. In 2020-2021 Anne teamed with Flight Works Alabama to develop a workforce-friendly middle school curriculum and is now working on an elementary version. Her book STEM By Design: Strategies & Activities for Grades 4-8 is published by Routledge/EOE in partnership with MiddleWeb.

1 Response

  1. Excellent ideas and strategies for implementing STEM in education systems! Thank you so much for addressing a STEM “wishlist” that educators can use as a basis for their future learning plans.

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