CHICAGO, IL - As President Obama calls for innovation in education to equip Americans to compete in the 21st century's labor force and Chicago initiates its own secondary education reform, the results of a new study by the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and University of Phoenix provide insight into the academic criteria for success in the workplace.

The Life in the 21st Century Workforce study found that local employers place a premium on employees with strong interpersonal communication and teamwork abilities, as well as candidates who have honed specific job-related skills.While employers and employees agree that critical thinking and problem-solving are a top priority, workers are significantly more likely than business executives to believe that a willingness to learn new skills is the most important trait to bring to the table.

Chicagoans and local business leaders agree that continuing education is vitally important for success in the workplace. As the skills needed in the world's marketplace increasingly require a better education and a more advanced skill set, University of Phoenix provides new and innovative approaches in order to meet the unique needs of students seeking to improve their career perspectives, while also balancing families and jobs.

"University of Phoenix has been driving innovation in higher education for more than 30 years," said Dr. Bill Pepicello, president of the University of Phoenix. "We believe everyone should have the opportunity to attain a college degree, and we continue to create new pathways that will help give everyone access to a quality education. By providing a relevant education, we are helping to ready and connect Chicagoans with jobs."

Among the key findings of the Life in the 21st Century Workforce study:

Heading Back to School

  • Practical skills trump theoretical studies -When it comes to choosing a post-secondary school, both Chicago employers (85 percent) and workers (67 percent) favored practical learning experiences that focus on solving real life problems.
  • A resounding 85 percent of employers said a curriculum that promoted specific skills was very important and 58 percent said the same of team-based teaching methods.
  • Only 23 percent of employers saw theory-based learning as very important and a mere six percent of the business leaders put much stock in lecture style teaching.

Seeing Eye to Eye

  • In Chicago, the survey shows that business leaders and workers agree on plenty. Both employers (52 percent) and employees (42 percent) regard past work experience as the most important hiring criteria.
  • Both employers (81 percent) and workers (84 percent) say critical thinking and problem-solving are very important skills to hone.
  • And employers (44 percent) as well as employees (48 percent) see continuing education as vitally important for success in their organizations.

Agreeing to Disagree

  • There's no "I" in TEAM - When asked to rate importance of various skills, Chicago business leaders and employers are much more likely than workers to put a priority on interpersonal communication (88percent) and teamwork skills (79%), while workers placed more importance on a willingness to learn new skills (83%).
  • Tweeting in the Workplace – Chicago workers and job seekers put a relatively higher premium on social media skills (32%) while employers rated social media much lower on the scale (15%).

Making it Work

  • When choosing a post-secondary degree program, Chicago workers need practicality and adaptability, with 69 percent rating attributes such as flexible schedules and classes in the evenings, weekends or online as very important.
  • Chicago workers also rated practical learning skills as key: Some 67 percent of respondents rated such skills as very important, right in line with Chicago business leaders (85 percent).

Sunny Outlook in the Windy City

  • Business leaders in Chicago appear to be in a strikingly upbeat mood, with 63 percent of employers saying Chicago is moving in the right direction, compared to 49 percent of Chicago workers and 27 percent of national workers.


The findings presented here are part of a multi-audience research project sponsored by the University of Phoenix. Telephone interviews were conducted among a random sampling of 100 Chicago area business executives with hiring and management responsibilities, 500 Chicago workforce members 18-54 years of age, and 500 national workforce members from April 5-21, 2011. The sampling error for the business executives sample is ± 9.8 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence interval and for the workforce samples is ± 4.4 percentage points. Survey interviewing and analysis were completed by APCO Insight, an international opinion research and consulting firm.


University of Phoenix is constantly innovating to help students balance education and life in a rapidly changing world. Through flexible schedules, challenging courses and interactive learning, students achieve personal and career aspirations without putting their lives on hold. As the flagship university of Apollo Education Group, Inc. (Nasdaq: APOL), University of Phoenix serves a diverse student population,offering associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree programs from campuses and learning centers across the U.S. as well as online throughout the world. For more information, visit

Media Contacts:

University of Phoenix Media Hotline