Six ways to build essential skills for employment

Sep 26, 2019 | Development

Tom Ravenscroft founded Skills Builder Partnership to bring together educators and employers to establish a common language and shared outcomes for essential skills. Here are his tips for developing young people so they thrive at work.

The future of work is here. The disruptions that we sometimes perceive to be on the horizon are already being felt in the workplace. Automation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution are no longer abstract curiosities for those in the frontline.

I am an optimist – I don’t see the future as one wave of mass unemployment. But I do see that in order to thrive, we are all going to need to draw more on an elusive set of highly transferable skills.

These essential skills sit between basic skills (literacy, numeracy and basic digital skills) and technical skills, which are specific to a sector, role or organisation. They are those skills, to use the definition coined by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, which almost everyone needs to do almost every job and which support the application of technical skills and knowledge.

Essential skills

We can debate the language indefinitely, but there are four categories of skills that come up time and again: interpersonal skills; communication skills; creative problem-solving skills; and self-management skills. Skills Builder Partnership recognises the duality in these broad areas to define eight skills: teamwork; leadership; listening; presenting; creativity; problem-solving; aiming high; and staying positive.
The challenge is not recognising that these skills are important, but knowing how to actually build them. We’ve been working on this problem for a decade – and these are our six key principles that hold true for any educator or employer trying to build these skills:

  1. Keep it simple: The language used in this area can be hazy, which is confusing. The Skills Builder Framework cuts through this by providing simple, consistent definitions, and then breaks each skill down into buildable, measurable chunks.
  2. Long-term commitment: It’s important to give people ample time to master these skills. This means building skills all the way through education and working life – we have seen that normally only the most experienced employees have reached the most stretching steps in the Framework.
  3. Measure it: To build our skills, we need to know what we are already good at and what our next step is. Reflective conversations with a line manager or mentor can be powerful.
  4. Focus tightly: To really develop skills effectively there needs to be time dedicated just to building the skills, so there’s space to explore different strategies and address specific steps.
  5. Keep practising: We all know the old adage about practice and perfection – and it’s no different for essential skills. People need lots of opportunities to apply the skills they’ve learned, as well as a chance to reflect on how things could be improved.
  6. Build transferability: Finally, we have to make sure that essential skills are understood in their proper context, rather than just being abstract concepts. People should be able to see a clear thread between the work they do to learn skill strategies and the application in different scenarios.

Across the 800 organisations who are part of the Skills Builder Partnership we are seeing the impact of these principles in practice.
What is particularly exciting is to see how these skills and principles transcend the traditional boundaries between education and employment. This includes employers reaching out to schools and colleges to support those students to make progress in their essential skills. For example, KPMG is working with schools to build essential skills through workshops, Allen & Overy is building them into its work experience offer and BP is making them a key part of its outreach work with schools.
What’s more, through the Essential Skills Taskforce employers are leading by example and using the same approach to develop the essential skills of their employees.
By working together and with a clear focus on the principles of what works, we can ensure that one day, everyone builds the essential skills to thrive – both today, and in the future.
Tom was a headline speaker at our annual student recruitment conference in July. View our events calendar to find out what’s coming up in the coming months.

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