Anything But Soft: 5 Success Skills Every Student Needs for the Future of Work

With technology changing faster than we can type, tweet or text about it, the future of work is becoming more competitive than ever. The next generation workforce must be equipped with the skills and tenacity needed to thrive in a 21st Century economy that’s evolving instantaneously. Yet, in the face of automation and technology, there are many skills that simply cannot be mastered by a computer or robot. It’s skills such as creativity, problem-solving and interpersonal communication that are only becoming more important to employers as advances in global innovation continue to impress upon us.

While the world often refers to these non-technical competencies as “soft skills,” we prefer to call them success skills because they truly are a must for anyone who aspires to succeed throughout life, college and careers. And with 44 percent of executives saying a lack of these skills is the biggest gap in the U.S. workforce, it’s clear that this topic warrants our attention.  In fact, even Google—the very epicenter of our internet and tech-driven world—has declared that for today’s students, STEM skills are simply not enough.

The good news is that the development of success skills (or “soft skills,” if you must) is a teachable discipline—one which stands at the forefront of our Academy model at Bryan Station, Frederick Douglass and Tates Creek high schools. While our students are also busy developing the highly technical skills they need for the future, activities promoting critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creativity and other vital skills are a key component of our day-to-day curriculum.

These are just a few of the success skills our Academy students are challenged to sharpen every day:

1. Communication

Communication skills allow us to form strong relationships, confront difficult situations and express ourselves clearly. From gaining confidence in public speaking through presentations before their peers to conducting mock face-to-face interviews with each other, there is a deep emphasis on the importance of effective communication within all of our Academies.  In addition to mastering verbal and written communication techniques, students learn about non-verbal cues like body language and eye contact to get a more complete picture of the role that communication plays in all of our daily lives.

2. Creativity

A creative mindset is what sets us apart from others and makes us unique. In order to survive and grow in today’s fast-changing, competitive global landscape, our students must be able to think creatively to bring complex ideas to life.  Whether it’s through group brainstorming, expression through art or the encouragement of idea generation, we aim to model innovation and creativity through daily exercises and activities relating to real-world careers and real-life scenarios. And through Project-Based Learning (PBL), Academy students experience a more engaging, hands-on approach to education where not every assessment is in the form of a test.  

3. Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

When challenges arise, the ability to think critically, take action, troubleshoot and solve problems independently is key to resolution. Critical thinkers and problem solvers not only stand out in tough situations, they end up being top performers in their careers due to their ability to navigate unexpected challenges.  Whether it’s through using their imaginations, reasoning, research or other available resources, we aim for all of our Academy students to be able to tackle the difficult situations they will undoubtedly face after high school.

4.  Teamwork and Collaboration

To work well with others both today and in the future, our students must develop a cooperative spirit, understand the importance of mutual respect and learn to be team players.  Academies foster an environment of continuous teamwork and collaboration, which allows students to work closely with each other on a daily basis.  By working together, interacting and sharing ideas, students within all of our small learning communities learn from each other and build on one another’s strengths, while developing new perspectives and fresh ideas. We also encourage students to utilize available tools and resources that promote real-time digital collaboration and teamwork.

5. Leadership

Leaders inspire, empower and motivate others to reach their full potential. We know that leaders are a tremendous asset both at school and in the workforce. That’s why we aim to develop leadership qualities in all of our Academy students, encouraging them to take responsibility for making things happen. From the moment our freshmen make their Commitment to Graduate, we instill the value of the hard work, dedication and self-advocacy in shaping our future leaders.  Also emphasizing the importance of failing forward, we encourage every Academy student to not be afraid to take risks, to learn from their mistakes and to never be afraid to ask questions.


To learn more about how we’re doing education differently, please visit or feel free to reach out to:


Natalie Shepard
Partnership Manager, Business & Education Network

Bryan Station High School
Heather Zoll Eppley
859.381.3308, ext 2012

Frederick Douglass High School
Shawn Hinds

Tates Creek High School
Amanda Wickersham
859.381.3620, ext 1307