Back when I was a young man (ahem!), career success as a white-collar professional meant going to university, doing a professional degree, getting a good graduate job with a top firm, scoring a few promotions and becoming a boss. For example, when I graduated in law back in the 1990s, the ideal career path for many was getting a job at an international law firm, being promoted to associate, senior associate and eventually partner, then retiring rich and (hopefully) happy. A tough but fairly linear path to success.
For young professionals competing today in a globalised but fragmented, outsourcing-happy workplace, career paths may be less logical and pre-planned – but arguably more interesting. Sure, some of us will stick with the traditional path and do well. But many of us will have lots of different jobs for different employers. Some will work in more than one profession, in more than one country, and own multiple businesses.
To succeed, kids need to learn what some (rather tediously) call “21st century skills”.
So what skills will your kids and young adults need most; and how can speech pathologists help?
In 2002, a consortium of business leaders, educators and researchers formed what is now called “P21: The Partnership for 21st Century Learning” to answer this question. They identified a long shopping list of skills. Four stood out:
1. Critical thinking
This is the ability to scrutinise assumptions, detect hidden values, evaluate evidence, assess conclusions, identify fallacies, explore problems, ask questions, generate, weigh and choose between possible solutions, and justify actions (Petress, 2004). Speech pathologists can help children with communication impairments develop these skills, e.g. by:
- modelling our own critical thinking and verbal reasoning skills (e.g. how we explore and solve real world problems); and
- teaching children metacognitive strategies designed to help children to “think about thinking”.
2. Information literacy
This is the ability to find, sort and use evidence, including on the Internet (Latham & Gross, 2013). Speech pathology is an evidence-based profession and speech pathologists are trained to formulate testable research questions and to find, sort, cull, evaluate, criticise and apply evidence to solve real world (clinical) problems. These health literacy skills are transferable: we can help others to learn them, e.g. through modelling and explicit teaching.
3. Interpersonal communication
This is obviously the bread and butter for most speech pathologists in clinical practice. Interpersonal communication refers to our ability to share our ideas and feelings clearly with others. It includes several skills including competent listening, speaking, conversation, presentation, language and cultural sensitivity and conflict management skills (DeVito, 2009).
Developing good interpersonal communication skills can be hampered by language impairments, speech sound disorders, voice disorders, stuttering or fluency and life-long disabilities like Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorder. In an international, multicultural workplace, good communication skills include being intelligible to, and understanding, other people – face-to-face and screen-to screen. For people with communication impairments or difficulties, speech pathologists can help young people and adults with communication needs in several ways, e.g.:
- early language interventions with late-talking toddlers;
- pre-schooler language, speech and stuttering therapies;
- school readiness communication interventions;
- school-aged language, speech and fluency therapies;
- digital communication and literacy training for adolescents;
- phonics-based literacy programs and reading comprehension strategies for kids and adults with reading difficulties;
- cognitive communication rehabilitation for people who have an acquired brain injury;
- accent modification training for people who speak English as a second language and want to improve the intelligibility with native speakers;
- with distracting voice and speech issues like nasal speech, rate control problems, and vocal tremors;
- professional skills training and business communication skills for ambitious young professionals; and
- language, speech and stuttering and voice therapies for adults.
4. Adroit writing
Sometimes people forget that writing is a form of language and, thus, is within speech pathologists’ scope of practice. Adroit writing simply means communicating effectively in the written word. Speech pathologists can help children and adults who have problems expressing themselves appropriately in writing with therapy or training activities to improve:
- written content (words and meanings), e.g. with strategies to find words, learn new vocabulary or to build word associations through semantic feature analysis and mind-mapping, and jargon-busting;
- form (grammar/syntax), e.g. through activities designed to increase the variety and complexity of written sentence structures;
- structures and text types, e.g. understanding the elements of a story or a procedure;
- digital writing for teenagers;
- data organisation, planning and reporting skills, including writing skills for different audiences; and
- plain English skills and tips for people communicating with people, e.g. with language based impairments and people who do not speak English as a first language.
To compete globally, our kids need to develop world-class critical thinking, information literacy, communication and writing skills. Schools and universities are alive to these needs and are changing their teaching methods and curriculum content to meet employer expectations. Some children and young adults will need extra help to develop all or some of these skills, particularly if they have a communication impairment. Speech language pathologists can help support these young people to acquire these skills so they pursue their work and life goals and fulfil their potential. In this sense, speech pathologists are helping to create futures every working day.
Principal source: Campbell, Charles L, Jr; Kresyman, Shelley. (2015). Aligning Business and Education: 21st Century Skill Preparation. The E-Journal of Business Education & Scholarship of Teaching 9.2: 13-27.
Hi there, I’m David Kinnane.
Principal Speech Pathologist, Banter Speech & Language
Our talented team of certified practising speech pathologists provide unhurried, personalised and evidence-based speech pathology care to children and adults in the Inner West of Sydney and beyond, both in our clinic and via telehealth.