Do 21st Century Skills make you employable?

Are youngsters being misled by being told that in order to get a job they will need "21st century skills"? Certainly, they need to be digitally literate, however one wishes to define that term, and they need to be flexible and agile in order to be able to retrain themselves when the job they are doing disappears in x years' time. But beyond those so-called "skills" -- which became apparent in the 20th century actually -- what?

I was speaking to an employer recently, and what he looks for are attributes like punctuality and reliability. He has people on a zero hour contract, which means that on a daily basis he works out what work will need to be done the next day. He then draws up a rota of people in descending order of desirability, and starts working the phone. The first person on the list is the one who is always punctual, always reliable, and works the hardest. If he or she has already accepted an offer of work from someone else, this employer phones the next person on the list.

If someone is continually late for work, when there is no obvious (eg transport-related) reason for it, two things happen. First, the employer puts him on the late-starting shift for the following week. That sounds nice, except that all the shifts finish at the same time, and everyone is paid by the hour. So starting an hour late means you miss out on 5 hours' worth of pay over the week.

The second thing that happens is that they are not one of the first people to be consideredwhen the rota is being drawn up.

Thus, being late has a double whammy result: a loss of income in the short term, and a potentially greater loss of income in the long term.

Is this employer unusual?

I would say not. I should think that one of the appeals of programmes like The Apprentice, X Factor and Dragons Den is that the person or people on the panel tell the candidates/applicants exactly what they think of their performance or idea. None of this touchy-feely nonsense!

When I was teaching, sometimes a student would ask me if they could get their homework to me at the end of the lesson after ours. My answer was always the same: "No". My attitude was that if they needed only an extra hour in which to complete the homework then they must have started it too late, or not at all. After all, each homework assignment was designed to take only an hour. No student ever missed the deadline more than once. It was a harsh lesson to learn, but the key thing is that they learnt it.

So, do make sure students know the importance of flexibility and being digitally literate as far as employability is concerned. But please do not sell them short by omitting to remind them that basic values like punctuality and having a good work ethic are necessary as well.