With more employers preferring essential skills to specialist skills when recruiting candidates, we’re helping education providers and employers develop an understanding of what these skills are, and how workers can build them in the workplace.

The situation

There is growing recognition that the development of essential or ‘employability’ skills, such as teamwork, presenting and problem-solving, are crucial in preparing young people to make the transition from the classroom to the workplace. These skills are also critical for enabling workers to progress and adapt, if necessary, as they re-skill or upskill in response to changes in technology, work or employment.

Essential skills are fundamental to people working effectively together in organisations (as well as with customers and other stakeholders). Having a shared language and framework for these skills and ways of assessing them is critical to making progress in this space.

CIPD viewpoint

Previous CIPD research found that, when recruiting, an increasing majority of employers prefer candidates with ‘employability’ skills and a broad understanding of their sector, rather than those with the specialist skills and knowledge required for specific vacancies. It is critical that young people can demonstrate these when entering the workplace and that individuals are supported to develop these skills throughout their working lives.

However, action has been hampered by the lack of a universal framework to enable both education providers and employers to have a common understanding/definition of these skills. Numerous reports and frameworks have been presented by a range of organisations to address this problem, resulting in multiple and sometimes conflicting definitions and solutions. This has created a confusing and fragmented landscape for employers, young people, employees and educators alike.

That is why the CIPD, along with a number of influential and respected organisations, came together in the UK as the Essential Skills Taskforce – to agree a universal framework of essential skills needed to succeed in education, work and life. The Skills Builder Universal Framework, developed by this Essential Skills Taskforce, is a clear, measurable and authoritative framework that sets out how essential skills can be identified in practice. It provides a common language that both education providers and employers can easily understand and adopt.

Recommendations for employers

Adopt and use the Skills Builder Universal Framework to describe, recognise and develop the essential skills of young people and existing employees, through:

  • designing interview questions that allow hiring managers to understand the extent to which applicants possess key essential skills
  • ensuring that competency and development frameworks include the core essential skills required for the modern workplace and that workplace training helps develop and embed these
  • ensuring that people managers encourage and enable employees to use these essential skills, such as problem solving, creativity and teamwork by providing appropriate support and autonomy.

Skills development

Explore our resources for further information on essential skills for employees and the UK skills policy

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CIPD Good Work Index: Northern Ireland

A Northern Ireland summary of the CIPD Good Work Index 2024 survey report

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