Why are we focussing on soft skills for the Employability Skills match service (ESMS) we are designing and developing here at Jisc in the Prospect to Alumnus co-design challenge?
Scarcely a day goes past without an article or event which draws attention to the disconnect between the worlds of education and employment, and highlights soft skills as at the core of this. The most common observation in this debate is that employers of all types are struggling to get recognition, in the world of education, of the soft skills, qualities and attitudes that are fundamental for an effective employee/ organisation member. Typically these vital qualities are empathy, resilience, versatility, cross-cultural awareness, initiative and the like. A recent study concluded that soft skills are worth £88 billion to the UK economy. The UKCES has concluded in a report that these qualities will only become more essential in the future: “skills and attributes that will be at a premium in future, including resilience, adaptability, cognitive skills (such as problem solving), and the core business skills for project based employment”.
However, for those, perhaps in academia or in other less economically-driven fields, these qualities have an equal significance. In short, the happy accident is that, as the weight of evidence shows, the skills valued most by employers are the skills that are most valuable in society. These are in fact life skills. And we are all lifelong learners.
Personal develpment is not an academic pursuit but a responsibility we each have to ourselves, and to society in general.
Our employability skills-match service will benefit institutions, learners and employers alike, as it is founded on three principles:
- helping HE and FE institutions demonstrate the employability of their learners and graduates;
- getting the employer voice into education, especially through employer consortia – we are collaborating with a wide range of organisations from Deloitte to Medecins sans Frontiers;
- providing a means by which learners’ non-academic achievements such as p/t jobs, sport and musical activities, volunteering, work with NGOs etc can be recognised and valued.
For it is actually often these extra-curricular activities that are most formative in developing the core life skills and soft skills so valued by employers and so valuable for the individual.
We have developed a very simple three-category skills framework that underpins our ESMS service. Think of the three categories as the layers of an onion, with Qualities at the core. These qualities have been expertly broken down by Simon Grant into their component behaviours that learners can demonstrate and self-appraise, which will provide the learner pathways in our ESMS service.
In the context of the education to employment gap, we often talk about the need for T-shaped graduates and T-shaped employees: those with both domain/discipline depth and cross-domain/culture breadth. This ideal combination requires the qualities and behaviours that underpin these qualities to be applied effectively and sensitively. Bryan Mathers has recently applied a bit of his creative ‘visual thinkery’ to this concept:
Open badges are a valuable tool in recognsing these non-academic qualities, so our service will be based on open badges, defined by employer consortia. Courtesy of CINECA’s blog for their .Bestr service, which shares features and concepts with ours, here is a philosophical take on open badges from a leading expert in learning technologies, Serge Ravet.
Eportfolios are also an important tool in the world of learner personal development, and Jisc has been a leading proponent of these, helping to embed them within the sector. Our skills- match service will complement ePortfolios and also the Higher Education Achievement Record, and these components will be inter-linked in future development phases.
In fact, Jisc is very busy in the economically-critical areas of employability and digital skills at the moment; our Digital Capability co-design challenge has developed a framework of digital skills, including Digital Innovation/entrepreneurship and Digital Learning, with which our employability skills-match service strongly resonates. The reality of the wider context of lifelong learning and life skills rather than just graduate employability has been demonstrated in the Technology for Employability work.
We hope these combined initiatives, as we work with our partners and stakeholders, can help equip learners, HE and FE institutions and indeed ‘UK Plc’ for the knowledge economy and learning society of the future.