The term 'essential skills' is frequently used by those in employment and education sectors, but it isn't always clear what it means. Too often these so called 'soft skills' are neglected or are poorly articulated, which means that young people entering the world of work are poorly prepared.

So, what are essential skills? In essence, they can be described as the skills needed for work, learning and life. With the nature of work changing, the skills workers need to adapt and succeed are increasingly human and behavioural – they can’t be replicated by technology. Predicting exactly what technical abilities and skills will be needed in the years to come is challenging, but core skills such as problem solving, teamwork and communication will be vital in almost all jobs and roles.

Employers too are realising this and placing increasing value on skills that are frequently overlooked by the education system, but vital for getting on in work. While most agree that these essential skills are important in recruiting young people, and in the development of the adult workforce, the absence of a common framework is a major barrier. Without a measurable and authoritative framework to define the assessment and development of essential skills, individuals and employers won't be equipped with the tools they need to progress.

This is why the CIPD and other leading organisations from across the education and employment sectors have come together to form the Essential Skills Taskforce. The group, which brings together experts from the Careers and Enterprise Company, the CIPD, Business in the Community, the Gatsby Foundation and the EY Foundation aims to create a universal framework of essential skills for employment, to:

  • Facilitate upskilling and reskilling in the workplace by increasing the clarity of what progression looks like in these essential skills.
  • Support the process of recruitment through increased transparency of skills. This will help employers to assess more accurately the competences of new recruits, providing clarity on what is being assessed.
  • Ensure alignment and common vocabulary between education and employers in terms of the employability skills that employers need, and that schools and colleges understand and are equipped to build.

This idea is not a new one. Indeed, in Matthew Taylor's 2017 Review of Modern Working Practices, he also highlighted the need for a universal skills framework, and the Taskforce will be taking on this work with his support. What sets this framework apart is the focus on making it universal with educators right through to employers. We need to make the debate bigger than just getting young people in to work – we need a system that ensures individuals are given the opportunity to continue to learn and develop their skills sets. Only by working on a common framework can we ensure that young people are being taught the right skills they need to succeed in work, and employers are measuring skills that are recognised by employees and helping them progress.

The Taskforce will initially test and refine an existing essential skills framework called Skills Builder, which is already in use across 500 schools in England. Crucially, Skills Builder has built in measures and steps for development, which allows employers to track progression, and individuals to understand how they reach the next level in the different essential skills.

Developing the framework is only the first step; for businesses to get the most out of it, we need employers to embed it in their recruitment practices so that there is a shared language and understanding. We are looking to work with employers of different sizes and sectors to robustly test the framework and understand what they need to implement the framework. By engaging and listening to what employers and education providers want and need, we hope that the final version to be produced in Spring 2020 will be truly reflective of the skills people need to get ahead in work.

By Amie Evans, Senior Public Affairs Officer

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