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Soft skills at the top of employers' wish lists

It's not academic success but soft skills that give privates the edge, says Selden

Posted by Stephanie Broad | October 27, 2015 | Teaching

Earlier this month Anthony Seldon, former head of Wellington College, claimed it was ‘soft skills’ such as teamwork, empathy and resilience that gave independent students their edge. These skills, Seldon says, cannot be replicated by computers and will prepare them well for 21st century careers. We spoke to Michael Mercieca, CEO at Young Enterprise.

Michael says: “Addressing the soft skills shortage will be a major priority for education institutions, businesses and government in order to secure the future of the British workforce. We are encouraged to see Nicky Morgan’s appreciation for academic rigour and character education in schools, which will set up students for the job market more effectively. Businesses too are realising the importance of developing abilities like teamwork, leadership and resilience with “soft skills” at the top of employers’ wish lists, according to recent research from the British Chambers of Commerce.

“However, character education doesn’t come quickly. Developing confidence and other employable skills for young people requires investment and coaching from an early age. By offering students extra-curricular opportunities, introducing them to the world of business and encouraging them to learn new skills, we can prepare more young people for the world of work. We need to help each child realise their potential, no matter what their socio-economic background. 

“Although youth unemployment (16-24) has fallen significantly from its 22.5% high in 2011, to 15.6% in July 2015, at 723,000 young people, it is still roughly triple the headline (16-64) rate. It is also falling at a much slower pace. In the last year to July 2015, it only fell by 3% (23,000), whereas the headline rate fell by 10% (200,000). When quizzed, businesses consistently point to young people not being work-ready as the reason behind this stubbornly large pool of wasted talent and potential.

“Has Britain’s education system ever fully prepared young people for the world of work? Debatable - but what is clear is that the world and the world of work has changed hugely over the last 20 to 30 years, with more complex, demanding requirements around communication, networking and deadlines. What’s more, competition for jobs is global and intense, while in the UK, young people’s expectations for their first role remain high and based on academic results.

“Bridging the gap between what businesses expect from new recruits and the skills they have can only have a positive effect. Building future generations of work-ready young people will boost productivity, drive growth in the economy and alleviate the terrible stresses and strains caused by high unemployment.

“Social mobility will not just happen. Those that need it the most are the least equipped to make the journey. Investing in skills development in schools, colleges and universities will make academic learning a more rounded and relevant experience. But it will encourage and equip those who are not excelling academically, to strive and be successful in their chosen careers.'

Michael Mercieca is CEO of Young Enterprise

Read Michael’s full blog on University Business.

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