The importance of soft skills for young people is now more prevalent than ever. Despite students increasingly achieving top grades, many are struggling to secure employment after leaving college or university due to a lack of experience in the workplace. With the high focus on achieving top grades at school and college, and the lack of emphasis on soft skills and career advice, students are left ‘hopelessly unprepared’ for the world of work.
A national survey of more than 2,300 young people aged 16 to 25 by employment agency Reed found that ‘young people who had a part time job while at school were 67% more likely to move into employment once they finished their education’ and that ‘those who did not were more than twice as likely to still be out of work for over a year upon completion of their studies’. The report also examined the quality of careers advice for young people, with 63% of young people citing that they did not have ‘enough information about the range of career options available to them’. The report added: “Employers expect young people to be work ready at the point of interview and therefore we believe the development of the soft skills essential to employability should be considered of equal importance to qualifications.” With university fees at an all time high, graduates are now left with tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt, many without the soft skills, initiative and confidence to find a job. To address the soft skills deficit, companies are also increasingly using soft skills training as part of their graduate schemes.
ASDAN has campaigned for the recognition of soft skills and has led the way in specialising in soft skills education for over 30 years. We offer a wide range of qualifications and programmes to help recognise and develop soft skills, including our popular Certificate of Personal Effectiveness (CoPE). This qualification focuses on six underpinning skills: teamwork, independent learning, problem solving, research, discussion and oral presentation, all of which are vital skills for employment. CoPE aims to teach candidates to understand, take responsibility for and learn from appropriate activities, rather than simply to experience them.
In my personal experience, both my two sisters and I were always encouraged by my parents to take up part-time work while at school, sixth form and university, including waitressing and retail work. I also took a gap year before starting university; at the time it was not a conscious decision to gain valuable work experience or develop soft skills, rather a delayed decision as to whether I even wanted to continue into higher education. However, I found that I was able to draw upon my year’s experience as a receptionist once I had graduated from university, which led to me finding full-time permanent employment within days of commencing my search. Since then, I have never been questioned by any potential employers about my degree classification; the focus has always been on previous work experience and competency questions, things I would have struggled with had I not spent my teenage years in part-time work.
Schools and colleges have a duty to prepare young people for work by increasing their focus on soft skills and careers advice. In an increasingly competitive market, if the attention continues to be simply on achieving high grades in core subjects, future generations will be put at risk of not being able to succeed in the workplace.