Sustainable futures starting with employability skills

This is the first in a series of articles published on LinkedIn which have been designed to explore the employability skills needs of those affected by Covid-19 and how myself, Skills Forward, and colleagues and stakeholders, including NCFE and employment specialists, are working together to try and support them with our ‘Go the Distance’ initiative.

Follow Dan on LinkedIn to read the rest of the series first.

Sustainable futures: starting with employability skills

Over the years, employability skills have had several different monikers: soft skills, transferable skills, business skills and meta skills are just a few of them. No matter the guise that is currently en vogue, these skills continue to transcend sectors and permeate across job roles. These skills are hugely important – possibly now more than ever.

“Generation Covid”

We are at the beginning of an economic shift of seismic proportion. Our recovery looks to be long and protracted and not necessarily linear, with the potential for peaks and troughs throughout. As we advance in the fight against the virus with added restrictions and ‘lockdown part 2’ designed to shield the most vulnerable and protect education establishments from further disruption, this has, on the other hand, proven to result in an economic retreat.

Sectors like travel, hospitality and retail have been well and truly caught in the crossfire. Many businesses are holding on with the support of Government interventions such as the job retention scheme, small business grants and mortgage holidays, however, some have already been decimated. At ground level, those aged 16-25 and minority groups are currently bearing the brunt of the economic fallout. With no clear route back to the safe zone, once our most promising generation on the cusp of the next technological revolution and advancing global industries, are now our walking wounded.

Although the furlough scheme has been extended until March 2021, this hasn’t stopped Covid’s grip on the economy tightening. The threat that ‘generation Covid’ will begin to bleed into other demographics is very real. The composition of the unemployed, and the intervention, training needs and support that individuals require will be varied. Those at risk and in need of support include those recently made redundant who now must reskill or upskill to take advantage of new and different opportunities, and the long-term unemployed who are already at a disadvantage.

The face of industry has changed in this short time. Whether they are bracing for impact by cutting back on innovation or deftly diversifying to find new sources of revenue; they are now even tougher to infiltrate. Already vulnerable, many are choosing not to invest in additional bodies to add to their workforce.

For those who are hiring, considering fresh talent, or considering appointing staff based on their potential when they don’t wholly meet the desired criteria, it is now an even greater risk. In a pre-pandemic world, profitable businesses were willing to take such ‘risks’ due to the potential for innovation, fresh ideas, and to nurture eager potential. The feeling, understandably, for many organisations is that every penny is precious; prompting the need for each hire to pay off from day one. Due to the swathes of redundancies, the pool of talent available is large and possibly nationwide due to remote working, therefore, the need or desire to compromise is limited. On shaky ground, is it any wonder that businesses are choosing to err on the side of caution rather than tread into no man’s land?

On top of this fall back, after enduring months of isolation and now further solitary confinement as a result of lockdown part 2, confidence will be at an all-time low for generation Covid. The young will have had little opportunity for summer work experience or found themselves unemployed having only been in the early stage of their promising career. Workers over the age of 25 who have started in their career have been taken down in their stride, either at the collapse of their sector or because their services are surplus to requirements. This results in feeling a sense of loss and understandable anxiety, only exacerbated by the length of time that their unwelcome career break continues.

Investing in failsafe skills

The greatest of business minds can posture what sectors will be the ones that manage to extort themselves from the wreckage and thrive in a post-pandemic world. However, after a year of improbable scenarios and forecasting failures, who would be willing to place their bets on anything other than what is certain?

With that, not knowing what lies ahead, I’m making the case for employability skills. I’m imploring educators, employment professionals and employers to give them their due, invest in their development and appreciate their value. Through no fault of their own, “generation Covid” are facing a challenge for which they were never prepared. The least we can do, in a world where jobs may be few and highly sought, is to ensure learners are prepared with the transferable skills which can take them across multiple sectors and job types.

What are employability skills?

Starting at the very beginning, good CV writing skills and job seeking capabilities will be essential. A well formatted CV will highlight any relevant experience, indicate word processing skills, and illustrate literacy skills. Those seeking employment need to know that they have the ability to find and apply for roles that are suitable for their skills, saving them unnecessary time and effort, which can contribute to disappointment and discouragement.

From the point of interviewing, job seekers’ communication skills need to be honed to ensure that they can conduct themselves professionally, articulate themselves well and describe their skills and what they believe they can contribute to the role. There will be many for whom this experience is new, and others who are out of practice entirely. On top of this, the need for video interviews and online assessments add a further degree of complexity when developing these skills.

Similarly, once they land a job, their good communication skills will go hand in hand with the ability to collaborate successfully with others, get on with people in the workplace, work well in a team and fulfil their objectives.

Many workplaces are still operating remotely to some degree. Meetings are being conducted online and working from home is, at least for the time being, part and parcel of many roles. To manage this, job seekers must be able to demonstrate their initiative, their personal responsibility and take ownership of their own motivation whilst at home and not give in to distractions. This is a new concept for many people, but those without any experience of life as it once was, or only the traditional 9-5, this is fresh territory.

In a digital world, to stand out from the crowd, job seekers should ensure that they feel comfortable in their own creativity. Accessing creative ideas and being able to translate them into actions or solutions will be hugely important for the workplace going forward as we try to problem-solve our way around a global pandemic. 

Finally, ensuring job seekers can demonstrate their capacity for persistence is more important than ever before. As we all manage the pandemic and its impact, our resilience, agility, strength, and persistence will be the qualities that see us through.

If you’re an employment professional, educator or employer and want to discuss how to support the development of employability skills, myself and my colleagues would like to speak to you. Find out more about NCFE’s ‘go the distance’ initiative and how we can work together to support young people, job seekers and marginalised groups through this continuing crisis. You can also take a look at Skills Forward’s Skills Work employability tool which will help your organisation to understand your learners’ individual starting points and when and where to offer intervention in the key areas we’ve identified as essential to youth employability.  

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