Academic results and qualifications vs. employability skills

Former teacher and creator of EDLounge, Sam Warnes, discusses the importance of employability skills and outlines ways in which schools can help their students to develop that ‘little something extra’ that can help them stand out from their peers in a competitive arena

While academic results, rigor and qualifications are instrumental in mapping out students’ futures the importance of employability skills should not be overlooked; the best academic results in the world won’t guarantee students their dream jobs. Sure, employers are looking to recruit graduates with technical abilities but they also want them to have that ‘little something extra’ that makes them stand out from their peers – those additional skills that can’t be assessed through examinations.

Assessing the skills gap

We regularly have college students with us for work experience – youngsters who are involved with a lot of local apprenticeship schemes and have even been employed as apprentices – so I’ve seen first-hand where young people fall down in terms of their employability or ‘soft’ skills.

Many don’t realise that, as fresh out of college or university interns, they’re actually costing their employers money rather than generating any for the business. They’ve got their qualification so, understandably (to a degree), they believe this means they are more than qualified to carry out the role. However, as any employer will tell you, soft skills can often be more important than technical skills.

Valued skills

In May this year, the Office for National Statistics reported that, ‘11.2% or 800,000 young people aged 16 to 24 are NEET (not in education, employment or training)’. One reason for students not being in employment could be attributed to findings from the British Chambers of Commerce which revealed that, ‘69% of businesses believe secondary schools are not effective at preparing young people for work’.

They also found that, ‘The top five entry level skills that firms value most are communication (88%), literacy (69%), numeracy (64%), computer literacy (56%) and teamwork (53%)’. Further, firms believe that, ‘…careers’ advice should include workplace experience (64%), encounters with employers and employees (62%) and link curriculum learning to careers (45%)’. As a former teacher, and now employer, I couldn’t agree more.

Developing the necessary skills

Fortunately, there are ways in which schools can help to ensure their students leave with the necessary academic skills as well as those all-important employability skills. Here are some ideas:

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Practical classes: Classes that show students how to make the very best first impression are important. Knowing how to, for example, draft an impressive CV, create a portfolio or present an idea are all simple tasks, yet they’re some of the fundamentals for any business. Surprisingly, so many students come to us completely clueless on all these fronts.

Role play scenarios: Acting out scenarios that students will most certainly face in the world of work can be incredibly useful. Some example scenarios could include: taking criticism constructively, dealing with a difficult client, suggesting improvements for business efficiencies in the right way or acting as a representative of the business in a professional manner.

A day in the life: Get students to intern in a local business for a day, ideally, where they spend some of the day customer-facing so that their soft skills can really be tested. For example, they could be asked to welcome visiting guests to the company, create a task list in order of priority, or contribute to a team brainstorm. At the end of the day the student should be given honest feedback on what they did well and which areas they need to improve. Feedback could include comments on their punctuality, manner, time management, team work, ability to work independently and adherence to dress code and company policies on, for example, the use of mobile ‘phones.

Expert help: There is lots of help available online for improving employability skills. The University of Kent website is well worth a visit and, within the employability skill sector of EDLounge, we’re currently working on being able to offer students advice, tips and resources as well as lessons to prepare them for employability, covering a range of topics from applying for a job and interview skills, to first impressions and customer service.

In my opinion, experience in life is key to success in any role; we have found that students with experience often have the best work ethic and, undoubtedly, a good work ethic requires a firm understanding of the soft skills.

About the author
 Sam Warnes is a former teacher and creator of EdLounge who has a passion for teaching and technology. Find out more about Sam and EDLounge. 

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