08/20/2012 05:29 pm ET Updated Oct 20, 2012

Making It Work: Today's Jobs Require Tomorrow's Skills

During a terrific summer filled with conversations with family and friends -- and attending education conferences around the country -- I discovered that all talks involving education are united around one common objective: empowering students with skills to compete in today's fast-paced and dynamic business environment.

During June, July, and August, I heard the same question asked in many different ways: How do we expect our students to compete in today's global economy when we are teaching them as if they're living in yesterday's business world? Today's jobs require tomorrow's skills. Ask any business leader and he/she will tell you -- for a student to succeed in today's marketplace, he/she needs to have highly developed critical thinking skills. It's not enough to memorize facts to do well on a test, obtain a college degree, and expect that to guarantee a career-entry ticket. To secure a good job, students must be able to think creatively, communicate well, and know how to collaborate.

According to the American Management Association (AMA), executives believe that to grow their businesses they need a workforce fully equipped with skills beyond the basics of reading, writing and math. Skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation will become even more important to organizations in the future.

The AMA also suggests that these skills and competencies are considered by business executives to be priorities for employee development, talent management, and succession planning. At New Tech Network (NTN), teachers assess students on content knowledge along with critical thinking, communication, work ethic, and other school-wide learning outcomes to be successful in college and career. We believe we are in sync with thought leaders in this area.

In the Aug. 7 New York Times article titled, "Average Is Over, Part II," Pulitzer Prize-winner Thomas Friedman writes, "There is no good job today that does not require more and better education to get it, hold it or advance in it."

We know that embracing the methodologies of "Deeper Learning" is a way to provide our students with an education appropriate to these times. Defined by the National Research Councilas education methods that encourage learning that is real, relevant, and engaging, "Deeper Learning" connects topics to students' personal lives and interests. In the process, it engages students in problem solving, placing an emphasis on the relevance of applied knowledge rather than grades or scores or "teaching to the test." In addition, Project Based Learning (PBL) emphasizes the skills critical for achieving success beyond high school. For example, at Anson New Tech in North Carolina, all students are working on a school-wide farming project to create a sustainable farm to feed the school and the larger community. This hands-on project provides learning opportunities in subject matter ranging from agriculture and the environment to math and local government relations.

Business, political, and educational leaders increasingly ask schools to integrate development of critical thinking, collaboration and communication skills into teaching and learning. We need innovative high schools focused on preparing students for the future.

Friedman challenges students, parents, and teachers to ask "Why Can't We?" when it comes to an education that gives students a chance to succeed in today's dynamic professional world. As witnessed at the inspiring conferences I attended this summer, innovative and forward-thinking educators are succeeding in spreading the word that it is possible for schools to develop exactly these kinds of students. Colleges and businesses can't afford to accept "average" students, and I don't see any reason why any school's sights should be set that low. Enabling student success today and tomorrow is everyone's job.