Authors: Andrea Laczik, Katherine Emms, Olly Newton, Elnaz Kashefpakdel, Janet Clark, Jordan Rehill A collaborative piece by Education & Employers, The Edge Foundation and National Education Union
Employers frequently talk about the ‘employability skills’ that school leavers need above and beyond qualifications. But what actually are these skills and what do they mean to employers? Furthermore, are teachers developing these skills that employers are looking for in school? This research seeks to answer these questions through a literature review to discover ‘what employers really want’ in terms of workforce skills, in order to refine the overlapping and broad definitions of these skills and that are presented in the numerous studies that have been done. The findings gathered from the literature formed the main discussion with more than 12 professionals with first-hand experience of recruitment in large and small enterprises across private, public and third sectors, to take a greater level of detail of what these skills mean in practice.
Secondly, the report sets out the findings from a survey of 626 secondary school teaching staff based in England, to understand specifically where young people are being supported to develop these skills.
- Across 21 studies identified through the review, seven employability skills and five ‘competencies’ were found to be most frequently cited by employers. These skills include: problem solving, communication, self-management, teamwork, creativity, numeracy and digital skills. The five competencies are confidence, drive, resilience, reflection and being informed (about the world of work).
- These skills and competencies are interdependent with certain skills and competencies growing and developing as others grow. They also acknowledged that the development of these skills should be supported by ‘meta-cognitive strategies’, in other words exercises to help students to re-contextualise them and apply them to new situations.
- The vast majority of teachers believe these skills and competencies are being developed in school and the development of these takes place in a variety of settings, from classroom wok to extra-curriculum activities.
- The top 5 skills and competencies teachers believed are being developed through classwork are communication, problem solving, team work, creativity and reflection. Teachers use lessons outside of the subject areas, such as tutor time, to help students with information about the world of work and to boost their communication skills.
- Teachers were asked how the changes in 2014 to the key stage 3, and to the GCSE and A level, curricula had affected opportunities to develop these skills and behaviours in school.
- 38% of teachers stated changes to the Key Stage 3 curriculum have been detrimental to developing the skills and attitudes needed for work. 56% of respondents said they are limiting students’ chances to acquire creative thinking skills and 45% believe that young people have limited opportunities to develop their career development skills.
- Since the changes at GCSE and A level, nearly half (47%) of teachers believe that there are fewer opportunities to develop employability skills. Of these respondents, a third stated that changes to the syllabus had necessitated a new focus on rote learning to the detriment of developing the skills and attitudes needed for work. 66% of teachers felt that there is less opportunity to develop creativity and 61% stating there is less opportunity to develop teamwork.