Empowering Adults to Thrive at Work: Personal Success Skills for 21st Century Jobs. A Report on Promising Research and Practice

This report is geared toward leaders in education, industry, workforce development, and human services interested empowering working age adults to build sustainable 21st century careers through strengthened personal success skills. From interviews with experts and a review of research literature, the report provides resources and recommendations to advance practice, research, and policy.

Nikki Shechtman
Louise Yarnall
Regie Stites
Britte Haugan Cheng
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
SRI Education
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

To build a sustainable career in the 21st century workforce, adults need not only academic, technical, and professional knowledge, but also a broad set of personal success skills. These are the capacities that enable adults to deal with the challenges, relationships, transitions, and social systems that make up working life. Important capacities are basic job readiness, self-directed learning, self-management, personal responsibility, effective communication, career management, and everyday problem solving. All adults need personal success skills to thrive in the workforce. This report focuses on the needs of working-age adults who struggle with chronic unemployment or underemployment and are striving to build a sustainable career.

As part of a many-pronged approach in education, workforce development, and social services, strengthening individuals’ personal success skills can provide them with powerful levers for succeeding in the working world. The overall purpose of this report is to support that endeavor. The goals are (1) to get the word out about the importance of personal success skills and the research that shows adults can develop them, (2) to provide guidance for navigating the complex landscape of research and practical knowledge about personal success skills, and (3) to present important and actionable steps for practice, research, and policy. With funding from the Joyce Foundation, a research team from SRI Education, a division of SRI International, investigated the current trends in research and practice through interviews with 33 experts and a review of published research in psychology, adult education, workforce development, learning sciences, neuroscience, and 21st century skills.

What the experts say

This report is comprehensive and relevant to LINCS’ target population. Studies are cited that support an optimistic developmental view that adults can continue to learn and grow. There is an easy-to-direct conceptual framework, pictured in a schematic, along with clear exhibits and cases. Useful summaries of evidence are provided on personal skill areas that directly affect adult learning, including basic job readiness, self-directed learning, self-management, personal responsibility, effective communication, career management, and everyday problem solving. The report would be a useful resource for adult education professional development and adult learning degree programs in higher education.

This would be an excellent resource on many levels from administration to curriculum developers and finally to the actual classroom teacher.  

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