With secondary schools required to address pupils’ employability as a priority, educators need to know what ‘employable’ looks like in today’s world of work – and what it might look like in tomorrow’s.
There is no static blueprint; today’s business takes place in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment, shaped and reshaped by evolving technology, and skills needs are evolving under the same conditions.
To provide a snapshot of current thinking, Barclays LifeSkills conducted a major study in 2018, asking more than 1,100 employers and educators about the state of employability skills in the UK. Research was conducted via two surveys, an online forum and interviews with five industry experts.
Their findings highlight which employability skills employers and educators consider most important now and in the future, skills gaps, and how they think skills should be developed. ‘Employability skills’ here relate to resilience, proactivity, problem solving, communication, creativity, leadership and adaptability.
Which skills are growing in importance?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the uncertainty in the UK labour market and changes in the way that people move within it, adaptability and communication are the two skills most employers believe have become more important over the past 10 years (highlighted by 61% and 54% of respondents respectively).
For today’s workplace, almost a fifth (19%) of employers rank problem solving as the most important of the seven skills, followed by creativity (17%) and leadership and adaptability (both 16%). Looking ahead, 35% predict that communication will prove “extremely important” over the next 10 years, followed by adaptability (30%).
While 73% of educators agree that communication will become “extremely important” in the next 10 years, followed by resilience (71%) and adaptability (66%), leadership was the skill the smallest number of educators felt would become “extremely important” (32%).
This reveals a disconnect between the perceptions of educators and employers and a potential misunderstanding about the skills required in the labour market – plus a corresponding need to raise the profile of leadership skills within schools.
Experts interviewed echoed this need and emphasised the importance of a resilient and adaptable workforce. As CEO of Founders4Schools Sherry Coutu explained: “Being able to deal with high levels of ambiguity is important, both for our mental health and for our productivity as a nation.”
Skills gaps in the workforce
When it comes to current skills gaps, employers indicate a clear deficit in work readiness among candidates applying for jobs in their organisations: 30% highlighted a lack of demonstrable leadership skills, followed by resilience (25%) and proactivity (24%).
“I don’t know any young person in education that is taught about the importance of leadership,” commented businesswoman Baroness Karen Brady, chair of the LifeSkills Advisory Council. Tellingly, leadership and proactivity were also the biggest concerns among educators.
Communication is the only area in which more than 50% of educators feel school leavers possess the skills needed for work. Just 18% feel their own institution is “very effective” at developing employability skills.
Learned skills or natural abilities?
Employers and educators concur that the seven employability skills can be developed through training and work experience, particularly communication and problem solving.
While creativity is more commonly perceived by educators as an innate ability (only 36% of employers think it can be enhanced through training, as reflected in their offerings), 91% of educators feel that it can be developed through education.
However, more than a third lack confidence in doing so. Qualitative research with educators suggests this is because they associate creativity with the arts and do not see it as a skill to be fostered across all subject areas.
Almost a third of educators also express a lack of confidence in their ability to develop proactivity (31%) and leadership (30%) in their students; employers feel similarly that proactivity and resilience are the most difficult to develop through training and experience, after creativity.
A strong call was made by educators to build the evidence base on whether and how key employability skills could be taught in the classroom, how these can be accredited and whether they are genuinely transferable.
These findings therefore raise important questions about how the gap in leadership, proactivity and other skills can be met and highlight the need for solutions to the question of how employability skills can be taught effectively in schools and workplaces.
About Barclays LifeSkills
LifeSkills, created with Barclays, helps young people get the skills and experiences they need to enter the world of work.