Essential skills are profoundly human and more important than ever before

The world of work has been evolving faster than ever before. Rapid developments in technology, as well as attitudes and expectations have been shifting the nature of jobs and how and where we work, and these trends will very likely accelerate as outcomes of the current crisis. As has been described, we’re at the beginning of the fourth industrial revolution and some predict significant changes in the future with growing skills shortages, job displacements, and perhaps now a bigger rebalancing of economies as the world adjusts to a new set of normals. 

For any jobs or roles, skills are the essential ingredients that allow people to be effective. Some skills may be manual, or craft based, whilst others might be very technical and analytical. But as technology, AI, and automation has been impacting jobs everywhere, many of these job-related skills change as well. Research is showing that current or expected skills gaps are top of the list of employer concerns for the future, and millions of jobs will be impacted in the coming decade. As a result, employers will have to be more agile in how they deliver and develop the training needed to upskill and reskill people, and governments will have to engage more actively in supporting people through their changing careers and jobs.  

Yet at the heart of almost every job are a foundation of core or essential skills.  Most of these essential skills are profoundly human. They are behavioural and attitudinal, and hard to replace with technology. They include communication skills, team workingempathy, problem solving, creativity and positivity. Or looked at another way, these are the essential skills required to ensure we get the most out of technology as we all need to adapt and innovate. With job specific skills changing more rapidly, employers have been focusing more and more on these essential skills and it’s now common to hear employers talk of recruiting for attitude and training for skills.  

These essential skills are not new, but we’ve not consistently talked about them, described them, or encouraged their development. With the changes in the world of work, as well as providing the best opportunities for people to get in to work and to thrive, we need to have a more common language. Young people need to know how they can develop these skills, within and beyond their regular education, so they are best equipped to engage with employers. Employers themselves can then be more open and inclusive in how they recruit and not just fall back on levels of technical qualifications as the default. They can also help their people to progress and develop through their working lives and have the confidence they can adapt to new roles.  

The Essential Skills Taskforce brought together a number of influential organisations to work on this challenge and to find, develop, and promote a more common framework and language for essential skills. There are many different forms of frameworks or definitions for what might be described as core skills, essential skills or even employability skills – this proliferation itself has created confusion. One of the best and most established frameworksis Skills Builder defining eight essential skill areas. It already has considerable tractioas many schools have themselves recognised the need to build these types of skills even if not formally recognised in the education or qualification curriculum, to help equip young people not only for the world of work, but for life more broadly.  

The Skills Builder framework has been extended across the eight skill areas to show higher levels of development or maturity in each area to extend from education in to work. The framework has been tried and tested across a range of employers to understand its applicability and has been received very positively. Even where employers may already have established a language or framework of their own to describe these skills, the Skills Builder framework provides a common reference point that helps in the communication and understanding of what employers are looking for. 

Now is the time to build this more common understanding. The crisis itself will put another strong focus on transferable skills as already we see shifts in jobs and people across sectors, for example from airlines into retail, or hospitality into health care. Knowing what our underlying essential and transferable skills are will help us all and ensure that the jobs we do are built from strong foundations of human skills that are good for us, for our wellbeing, and for our productivity and growth. 

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