Skip to Content
3 skills critical for success in the 21st century – and how students can develop them

3 skills critical for success in the 21st century – and how students can develop them

Become a standout job candidate ready to meet the demands of today's workforce by earning free digital badges

August 23, 2021 at 11:02am

The 21st-century workforce is a highly competitive, tech-savvy and rapidly evolving environment.

Technological advances are revolutionizing industries and the types of jobs available. Meanwhile, there are increased demands for compassion, customization and personalization in a world that is becoming more digitized and automated than ever before.

To help students not only survive but thrive in a complex job market, FIU makes available a set of interrelated micro-credentials or "digital badges” specifically designed to equip students with the skills necessary to become well-rounded professionals ready to meet the demands of today's world.

FIU identified three critical skills students need to be successful: artificial intelligence; data literacy; and emotional intelligence. The university rolled out three micro-credentials, one focusing on each of these areas. All students can earn these digital badges for free at any point throughout their time at FIU. After successfully completing the coursework for each micro-credential, you earn a digital badge. 

Students log in or create an account to claim the earned digital badge. Once the digital badge is claimed, it can be shared on LinkedIn profiles and other professional social media platforms. You can also embed digital badges in resumes or e-mail signatures. 

“These micro-credentials help students succeed now and in their future jobs,” says Jennifer Doherty-Restrepo, assistant vice president for Academic Planning and Accountability. “We want our students to have foundational knowledge in artificial intelligence, data interpretation and emotional intelligence as they go out into the world.”

Artificial Intelligence, Data and Emotional Intelligence: Critical Skills for the 21st Century is FIU's 2021 Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), a university-wide, faculty-driven plan centered on ways to continue improving student learning and success. All institutions accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges must create a QEP for their institution every 10 years. 

FIU's aims to enhance students’ preparation for the 21st-century workforce and seeks to close the gap between students’ career readiness and employers’ expectations in these areas. FIU's QEP speaks directly to the university's strategic priority to amplify learner success, specifically the goal of aligning the curriculum with career needs to make sure students are ready for employment and post-graduation success. 

Standing out from the crowd during job applications and interviews is hard. That's where digital badges come in.  

"Employers report that recent college graduates entering the workforce lack these 21st-century skills, and they are looking for better ways to understand an applicant's knowledge, skills and abilities prior to extending a job offer," Doherty-Restrepo says. "Micro-credentials or digital badges are a mechanism for our students to articulate their competencies and document proficiency of both hard and soft skills as verified by our faculty. It's different to say, 'I have emotional intelligence,' versus saying, 'I earned a micro-credential in Understanding Emotional Intelligence and these are the specific skills and competencies I gained.'

The three skills, Doherty-Restrepo adds, are hot in the job market now. Employers need people who are ready to tackle the future. 

Artificial Intelligence: How it works and its impact

Artificial Intelligence (AI), for example, is increasingly becoming part of daily life. We encounter it in many forms, from smart devices like Siri and Alexa to self-driving cars or industry-specific technology that monitors anything from financial records to social media posts. 

"AI is making significant impacts across society, from how we work, to how we play, to how we learn," says Mark Finlayson, an eminent scholar chaired associate professor at the Knight Foundation School of Computing and Information Sciences and the faculty member overseeing the AI badge.

He added: "Familiarity with AI is absolutely critical for students to grow into responsible and aware citizens, and to make the most of their future careers in an AI-enabled world. The AI badge will enable students to take a first step into understanding AI and how it will impact them and their lives."

Students who earn this badge will learn the fundamental concepts of AI, its core techniques, example applications, and philosophical, ethical and social issues. 

Thinking and communicating with data

Data interpretation goes hand-in-hand with success in the 21st century. There is so much information available to us at a touch of a button (or the click of a mouse, for that matter). But how can we actually understand that data? How do we make sense of tables, data dashboards, trends and statistics? And, how can we use that information to help us in our own future careers? 

"We live in a data-rich world and are constantly bombarded with data and analytics," says Giri Narasimhan, professor in the Knight Foundation School of Computing & Information Sciences and the faculty member at the helm of the data badge. "In our personal lives, we get driving directions from software, health information from cell-phone Apps and recommendation Apps to tell us which books to read, movies to watch or cars to buy. Data-driven models inform us about weather, disease spread, state of the economy or today’s air quality."

Almost every decision made by businesses and organizations are driven by data, he adds. That's why you need to be prepared to work with and utilize data. 

"Becoming better consumers of data makes us more employable, trains us to think more quantitatively and [to] make better decisions," Narashiman says. "Data skills are fast becoming an essential skill for today's and tomorrow’s world."

Students who pursue this badge will learn to interpret data trends and communicate ideas and analyses supported by evidence. You will learn to summarize, visualize and interpret data analytics. You'll also learn how to prepare presentations and narratives with analytics, while being sensitive to major societal issues related to data privacy, security, and ethics.

Understanding Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is one of the most important skills necessary for success, no matter what you are studying or which field you want to break into. It's your ability to be aware of, control and express your emotions – and your capacity to manage interpersonal relationships successfully. 

Developing your emotional intelligence could be a gamechanger. People who have higher emotional intelligence are more likely to advance farther in their careers. Research has shown that the most effective leaders exhibit high levels of emotional intelligence. One study even discovered that leaders with higher emotional intelligence were more likely to succeed than those with higher IQ levels or relevant work experience

"Emotional intelligence is strongly correlated with academic and professional success," says Michael Creeden, a teaching professor and associate chair at the Department of English and the faculty member at the head of the emotional intelligence badge. "Students with higher emotional intelligence do better in school, have higher grades and achieve more in the workforce later."

How? Being able to manage your emotions allows you to effectively handle stress, problems, deadlines, collaborative projects, relationships and much more. Likewise, if you truly listen to what others are saying and demonstrate empathy as well as trustworthiness, people will feel more comfortable around you. People will want to collaborate with you. People will want to be part of your team – and have you join theirs. 

We don't always accomplish everything through pure technical skills, Creeden adds. Sometimes, it's through our human or "soft" skills that we succeed.  

"Technical and other hard skills are important, but the modern workforce needs people who are self-aware, can manage their emotions and can listen to and work with people from a variety of backgrounds," Creeden says.

Earning this badge will allow you to dive into emotional intelligence concepts related to personal and social awareness, self-management and relationship management. You will also learn strategies to recognize and manage emotions, identify negative beliefs and self-talk, listen empathetically and better manage relationships.

Preparing the way for future success

This QEP could very well pave the way for a new generation of student achievement and learning. FIU has had resounding success implementing QEPs in the past. For example, years ago FIU rolled out a plan to educate students for global citizenship—to empower every student to actively address issues and challenges in an interconnected world. 

Every undergraduate was required to take one lower-division and one upper-division course registered as Global Learning. Students began developing crucial global perspectives and fully embraced the program.

Today, the plan has become a pillar of FIU's international education efforts and has grown into a full-fledged Global Learning program. The program provides students with myriad opportunities for engagement and education through events, speakers and networking. It also offers a medallion students can earn through course work as well as study abroad opportunities and capstone projects.

Staff in the program actively work with students to help them apply for prestigious international fellowships and opportunities; they also work with faculty members to help them infuse global learning into their courses. Since its inception, more than 150,000 students have taken Global Learning courses and throughout the 2020-2021 academic year alone, more than 33,000 students have completed these courses. Students, faculty and staff alike often view Global Learning as an essential component of FIU's mission to be a truly international university.  

"The rollout of these three micro-credentials," Doherty-Restrepo says, "is just the beginning of a university-wide strategic initiative coordinated by the Office of Micro-Credentials. Just like Global Learning, verifying students' 21st-century skills through digital badging might become just as crucial to the fabric of FIU's education."

The long-term goal? If the program proves effective, the team hopes to provide students with a number of interrelated badge options that they can stack to create a critical skills "meta-badge." This will allow students incredible preparation and marketability in the workforce, says Doherty-Restrepo.

To learn more about these skills and badges, visit the Critical Skills for the 21st Century website

FIU’s Office of Micro-Credentials works hand-in-hand with the Critical Skills team. Prior to the launch of the QEP and the three new micro-credentials, the office rolled out a number of digital badges.Through the office, students, as well as community members and alumni, can earn digital badges in a variety of areas ranging from cyber operations to understanding advocacy, communications and careers in Washington, D.C. Visit the Office of Micro-Credentials' website to learn more. 

"Micro-credentials are a great opportunity to develop the skills you need for your career and to demonstrate competency in areas that may have been outside your original field of study. This is helping our students, alumni and community become more marketable in an increasingly competitive job market."

- Bridgette Cram, interim vice president for Innovative Education and Student Success