This article, originally written by Mr. Willis over 10 years ago, has been
reproduced widely in educational journals around North America.

When you're all done with high school, what do you take with you? What skills do you NEED to take with you, to survive in the real world out there?
Never mind the specific skills you learned in Math or Chem 30 that are necessary for university or college programs ... that's not what we mean. What skills will you have that you will NEED in your life, when you're on your own, just to hold a job or raise a family?

Here are some essential skills that you need to have mastered in high school, that are necessary for survival in the real world of and beyond. All of these things can be learned in high school ... they're there for the taking. If you leave high school without them, you've been wasting your time!


  1. PEOPLE SKILLS
    Can you get along with others easily? Can you work with people you perhaps dislike, and still get the job done? This is a necessary job skill if you work with others, and one rated very highly by potential employers. Teachers know this; they're often contacted by someone who is considering hiring a former student, and one of their first questions isn't about what your mark was in Math 20 ... it's 'Did he get along with others?'.

  2. RESPONSIBILITY
    The second question they ask is 'Was he a hard worker?' In other words, did he take responsibility for his own results. This quality is what separates adults from non-adults. Most students taking an academic program in grade 12 have it; if they didn't, they wouldn't have made it that far. On the other hand, some thirty-year olds don't have it. It means that if you have a job to do, you do it to the best of your ability, and nobody else has to look over your shoulder to keep you working. It's why some students always finish their homework. They care.

  3. COMPUTER SKILLS
    The world is changing too quickly to predict what things will be like even in a few years, but one thing you can be absolutely sure of ... everything you do in your life will be connected somehow to computers and the internet. You will need computer skills just to survive, never mind any job you may be doing. (And of course, if you plan on college, it's an essential skill!) Don't leave high school without being able to:
    • produce a neat, error-free report on a word processor
    • use a spreadsheet to solve problems
    • find information on any subject by doing internet research
    • maintain a workspace (folders, files, programs) on a computer

  4. SPEAKING SKILLS
    Can you make yourself understood to an adult or other person in a position of authority, by speaking in a clear, concise fashion, using proper English? Can you maintain a conversation without using the word 'like' at the beginning of every sentence? Can you recognize when it is not appropriate to use unacceptable language (ie: swearing)? Surprisingly, many students graduate from high school without this skill, and then wonder why nobody wants to hire them. How you speak is what gives others their very first impression of you, and first impressions stick! If you talk like someone with an IQ of 50, that's how people will see you!

  5. WRITING SKILLS
    Can you write a paragraph about something, anything at all, that is neat, concise, and free of spelling and grammar errors? This is of course an essential skill for college-bound students, and also surprisingly necessary even if you're applying for a job right after grade 12. Learn to spell ... anyone can, with some effort. Lack of these skills is the main reason most job application forms are thrown in the waste basket, and why many people, even if they land a job, never advance past the physical labour level. If you ever want to be your own boss and run your own business, you need this skill!

  6. THE WILLINGNESS TO TRY NEW THINGS
    This is a skill? Well, it is something you can learn to do by practising it. People who can't handle change are the ones who get nice, safe, comfortable jobs within 100 km of the place they grew up. There's nothing wrong with this, you understand, but if you've never tried anything else, how much of the world out there, and how many amazing opportunities, are you missing?
    For instance, a move to Vancouver, and a great job in a thriving business there, could be a lot more rewarding than working on the till at the local department store, ... but you'll never find out if you don't take a chance.

  7. BASIC ARITHMETIC SKILLS
    Notice we didn't use the word 'math'. Most of the mathematics covered in senior high school courses (at the -1 or -2 level) is designed to prepare you for college or university courses involving mathematics, and the great careers you can have in those areas after that.
    But if we're talking survival skills here, all the math you'll need is in Math 6/7/8! You need to be able to do percents, decimals, fractions, and ratios, and you need to be good at estimating and solving basic measurement and financial problems. These are the skills you'll need in your life, regardless of whether you attend college or not. If you didn't master them in junior high, they're retaught in Math 10-3 and 10-4 and 20-4. If you can't do  7  1/2 % of $28,000 on a calculator, get someone else to go with you when you buy a truck ... you're going to get ripped off!

  8. CAN YOU LOOK PRESENTABLE WHEN YOU HAVE TO?
    Nose rings, pink hair, and a dagger tattoo on your hand may be cool when you're in high school, but you won't get past the front door looking for a job in many places. This isn't likely to change soon; society's 'norms' are very slow to evolve. Believe it or not, it's only been in the last forty years that it became acceptable for women to wear pants on the job! The six gold rings in your pierced eyebrow just aren't going to cut it! Know when to take them out.

  9. LEARN TO SET GOALS, NOT MAKE EXCUSES
    You know what we mean. You know people like this; whenever there was something that they were supposed to do, it always seems to be someone else's fault when it doesn't get done. They make excuses. 'I was away that day'. 'The teacher didn't give me any help'. 'I'm no good at that'. 'We really don't need to know this anyway'. 'This is boring'. 'Why do we have to do this?'
    Some people live their whole life this way. 'It was someone else's fault'.
    Life is hard work. No-one can make you successful except you. Successful people decide what it is they need to do to achieve a goal, and they just do it, without all the whining, even if it's not much fun. The goal is the thing, and often the work you need to do to achieve it will be difficult. But it wouldn't be much of a goal if it was easy, would it?!

Mr. Willis