The Value of Employability Skills to the UK Economy
The UK’s rapidly changing economy demands a workforce that is adaptable and dynamic. Although technical and job-specific skills remain vital, employees also need to develop a set of ‘soft skills’ that can be transferred between different job roles and different employment sectors.
These soft skills are also known as employability skills. They’re the skills and attitudes you need to find, keep and be successful in any job – and to build a career.
But they’re not just important to individuals. They’re also essential for businesses to succeed – and ultimately of huge value to the economy.
Hard skills versus soft skills
Most employers recognise the importance of having a workforce with not only the ‘hard skills’ needed to be technically competent, but also a set of soft skills that underpin company culture, enhance productivity and ultimately drive growth.
These include interpersonal and communication skills, which are essential for building relationships with colleagues and customers. Also presentation skills, numeracy skills, digital skills, teamworking and leadership, critical thinking skills, and a commitment to personal learning and development.
Last year’s skills survey from CBI/Pearson reported that businesses look first and foremost at a graduate’s attitudes and personal qualities when recruiting. For more than half (55%) it ranks as the single most important factor, above degree result and previous work experience.
Why employability skills matter
So important are these soft skills that they are reportedly worth over £88 billion in Gross Added Value to the UK economy each year – and this contribution is expected to grow in real terms to £109 billion per year by 2020.
A lack of employability skills doesn’t just affect individuals who might struggle to find and succeed in employment without them. A soft skills gap also impacts negatively on organisations struggling to recruit and retain the employees they need to drive their business forward.
For example, a lack of interpersonal and communication skills could lead to missed customer opportunities – or business going to a competitor. Issues with time management can result in delays and decreased productivity. And digitals skills are also essential for business efficiency in our hyper-connected world.
Personal development skills are likewise highly valued by employers. All organisations experience change, and employees who are continually learning and developing are more likely to cope with change. They’ll be able to adapt to new environments and people, seek solutions and find new and innovative ways of doing things. Ultimately this is what keeps the most successful businesses ahead of the competition.
Developing employability skills for the post-Brexit economy
To remain competitive post-Brexit the UK must ensure it has a workforce equipped with both the hard and soft skills it needs to thrive. Research from global recruitment giant Robert Half shows that a fifth of UK companies are looking for exceptional soft skills, with a view to developing technical skills on the job.
The most important employee characteristics according to the UK business leaders they surveyed included openness to new ideas, openness to change, communication skills and collaboration/team spirit.
But whose responsibility is it to ensure the workforce of the future has these all-important employability skills? Arguably we need a multi-layered approach, building training opportunities into different life and career stages – and ensuring access regardless of background, educational level or employment status.
Schools, college and universities
Educators certainly have a role to play in preparing students for the modern workplace. With employers regularly voicing concerns over a lack of work-readiness among school and college leavers and even graduates, it’s clear that academic and vocational qualifications alone won’t suffice.
Soft skills can be embedded into the curriculum from an early age and can even support more traditional learning. Many primary-age children are already being trained in resilience, problem-solving and how to develop a ‘growth mindset’ – transferable skills that they’ll need to compete in a fast-moving, complex and competitive world where the jobs they will one day be doing may not even have been invented yet.
Employability skills are as important for staff retention as they are for recruitment, and many businesses recognise they have a role to play in ensuring employees have a set of transferable skills to cope with organisational change and shifting priorities.
While technical competence remains vital, employees who are encouraged to develop their soft skills through continuous professional development are more likely to become effective leaders, problem solvers and drivers of change. There are many ways to do this, whether as part of an apprenticeship, through formal training and performance management or less formal one-to-one coaching and teamwork activities.
Equally important is the availability of support for the unemployed, those returning to work after a career break and those in low-skilled employment. Government-funded employability programmes not only provide jobseekers with opportunities to find and stay in employment, but to develop the skills they’ll need to become confident employees - and to continue to grow and learn throughout their working lives.
Much of the employment and skills support available to the UK’s most disadvantaged people and communities is currently funded through the European Social Fund (ESF). It’s essential that there’s no gap in provision when the UK leaves the European Union, and a report from the Department of Work and Pensions in April this year recommends that the government proceed urgently with a detailed design of its successor, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF).
A workforce fit for the future
Individuals and businesses will need a range of skills to thrive in the 21st century. The workforce of the future may not even be doing the same jobs as the workforce of today, and while many technical skills could become redundant, building a culture of employability will enable individuals and businesses to adapt as needed. Equipped with a set of transferable skills that span all roles and sectors our workforce will be well placed to navigate the changing economic landscape and uncertain times ahead.
Seetec has a strong and successful history of delivering employability services that enable individuals and businesses alike to achieve their potential. Find out more.