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Essential skills - the future of the recovery
23 November 2020
It is no great insight to reflect that the last eight months have seen incredible change. It is tempting to think of this change as a dislocation – perhaps even a temporary one. I think the reality though is that this is an unparalleled acceleration.
This hyper-acceleration has brought profound change to our lives – but in many ways existing trends provide the tracks along which it has run.
Others have reflected on the changes in working patterns, the collapse in importance of the physical office, and shifts in patterns of consumption. My focus here though is on essential skills, and how this increasingly volatile, changing world makes them more important than ever.
Essential skills are those highly transferable skills which we draw on to complete almost any task, and which support the application of technical skills and knowledge. We can think of them as being sandwiched between the foundational skills of numeracy, literacy, and basic digital skills, and more specific technical skills. These essential skills are teamwork, leadership, creativity, problem solving, listening, speaking, aiming high, and staying positive.
You might know these skills already as soft skills, employability skills or transferable skills. The labels change, but the profound importance of these skills does not.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the calls for these skills were growing, including in the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices in 2017 which highlighted these as pivotal for ensuring equitable access to the working world.
The pandemic has made each of these essential skills more important than ever. Communication skills of listening and speaking are stretched by having to be virtual, or behind a mask. Teamwork and leadership are strained by social distancing and the diverse pressures that individuals are feeling. And of course, the ability to keep aiming high by creating and adapting plans and goals, and then staying positive are more critical than ever.
It is not just that these skills are being used more though. They are also becoming more critical for individuals to navigate their wider lives, and changes in job roles. Individuals need to know their essential skills, articulate them, transfer them, and commit to their continued growth.
With prescient timing, the Skills Builder Universal Framework of Essential Skills was launched in May 2020. The culmination of 18 months of research, development and testing it built on the combined expertise of the Skills Builder Partnership, the CIPD, the CBI, the Gatsby Foundation, the Careers & Enterprise Company, and Business in the Community. It takes the Skills Builder Framework which has become the default approach to building essential skills in education, and extended and adapted it to become truly universal.
Ultimately, the goal is to have one language and model for essential skills that can be used across education, employment and wider life. The Framework does this by breaking each of the eight essential skills down into 16 steps, spanning from an absolute beginner through to mastery. In this way, it helps to measure where skills are, to help articulate those skills in a consistent way, and to provide the roadmap for building those skills further.
Recently, London First launched their ambitious report, Skilling London. Included in these recommendations were the need to scale up the building of essential skills across London schools, using the Skills Builder approach, as well as improving the way that employers assess and recruit for them.
The response has been exciting: a rapidly growing number of businesses, many of them London First partners, have been adopting the Skills Builder Universal Framework to support three areas of their business during this rapid time of change:
Before employment: Aligning how businesses work with education through providing insights, workshops, work experience and internships – including a lot of partners we’re working with around the Kickstart programme.
Into employment: Using the Skills Builder Universal Framework as a model for a more transparent recruitment process, to be clearer about exactly what skills, at what level, are needed for different roles and then levelling the playing field by using the Framework to be objective about the questions being asked.
Through employment: Actively measuring and supporting individuals to build their essential skills throughout their careers, whether through apprenticeships, or as the upskill or retrain.
For example, Allen & Overy use the Skills Builder approach to underpin their work experience offer. In doing so, they combine giving young people an experience of law and an insight into legal careers, whilst also building their essential skills in context.
Meanwhile Clarion have been bringing the Skills Builder approach into their workplace, using it to support the training and development of their apprentices. As Alex Dean, Apprenticeship Development Manager, reflected: ‘We develop hundreds of apprentices each year through our mentoring programme. We recognise that it is vital that our apprentices build essential skills in conjunction with technical ability. By partnering with Skills Builder we are confident that our apprentices can become the well-rounded team members that we need.’
As a final example, Tideway have thought about supporting and developing their existing staff. They’ve used their volunteering opportunities as a chance to build the essential skills of their staff, aligning those opportunities with the skills that individuals want to build.
The pandemic has accelerated change. The good news is that we have seen businesses can accelerate too. By building the essential skills of their teams, as well as those of individuals not yet employment, we can ensure that everyone is equipped to thrive.
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