Exams are important – but so are soft skills, say Britain’s business leaders

Exams are important – but so are soft skills, say Britain’s business leaders

The focus on good qualifications in maths and English in our education system is not without good reason. For employers, these achievements are vital if the people they take on are to fulfil their roles and responsibilities, and make a positive contribution, in the workplace.

But it is important to remember that, when studying a job applicant’s CV, employers will look beyond academic qualifications to see what other skills the individual can bring to the role.

A study from Oxford Open Learning, which provides distance learning courses, examined what skills and qualifications employers considered were valuable when recruiting new staff.

Top of the list were people skills with more than seven out of ten of the 500 business leaders surveyed, with team skills following a close second. Strong communication skills were deemed important by 68% of respondents, with proficiency in computer use cited by 66%. Competence in basic maths was mentioned as vital by 65%.

The skill that was valued least by business leaders was networking, the study, carried out by YouGov, found.

However, their answers were also dependent on the size of their business. Employers of larger companies considered teamworking as the most important skill – cited by 79% of respondents – followed by people skills, 73%. Medium-sized employers, meanwhile, focussed on strong and effective communication, 83%, while smaller businesses said people skills, 69%.

When asked about academic qualifications, good passes in GCSE maths and English were said to be most important by 51% of business leaders, following by A-levels in those subjects, 35%. Having GCSE Science was cited by less than a quarter of respondents.

Dr Nick Smith, Courses Director and founder of Oxford Open Learning Trust, said the study provided an interesting insight into employers’ thinking when considering job applicants and what skills they considered important in helping their businesses to thrive.

“Hopefully it’s given some insight on what to highlight on your CV and application form and what potential employers are looking out for,” he said.

“It’s important to consider the size of the company and the industry so you can tailor your CV to their needs. Interpersonal qualities rate more highly than general business skills as these are things that cannot be taught and should definitely be mentioned when applying for jobs.”

ASDAN’s Certificate of Personal Effectiveness Level 1 and 2, aimed at students in Years 10 and 11, enables learners to develop a wide range of soft skills that employers value such as teamworking, communication, problem solving, self-management and research. CoPE Level 3 is available for those in post-16 education and can also be used with younger gifted and talented groups.

Author: Dorothy Lepkowska, Journalist and former ASDAN media liaison consultant

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