Mind the gap – Soft skills

Skills Gap Programme Director at the Design & Technology Association Cheryl Phillips explains the need to nurture and develop ‘soft skills’ in the sector’s future talent.

Skills Gap Programme Director at the Design & Technology Association Cheryl Phillips
Skills Gap Programme Director at the Design & Technology Association Cheryl Phillips

The recent CBI/Pearson Education & Skills Survey, Gateway to Growth highlighted that businesses wanted the education system to better prepare young people with the attitudes and attributes they need to succeed in the world of work.  Concerns about numeracy and literacy skills as well as more young people achieving good STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) qualifications continue to top the bill, as you would expect.

However, there is also a much stronger emphasis upon what I and many others have come to term ‘soft skills’.  61% of businesses highlighted concerns over the resilience and self-management of school leavers with 33% of respondents raising young people’s attitude to work as a concern.

This draws parallels with the recent report commissioned by the Royal Academy of Engineering called Thinking Like and Engineer – Implications for the Education System.  This report describes six engineering habits of mind; characteristics which, taken together, describe the ways engineers think and act.

For some time schools have been embedding ‘softer skills’ development into the school curriculum in a variety of ways to help young people to grow and develop as citizens and prepare for entry into the work place.  The Personalised Learning and Thinking Skills (PELTS) introduced by the last labour government were adopted by individual schools and in many cases adapted to help embed their own unique school culture; almost like a set of corporate values and behaviours.

Some areas of the country adapted the behaviours at a local authority level to reflect the local requirements of business and industry. However, when you zoom out from these and look to understand a generic set of ‘soft skills’ which would fit the requirements of business on a national scale, including SMEs, it becomes more difficult.  In the majority of cases soft skills, each bespoke framework contains the same skills but the language used to describe them is different which means we end up with a long list and ambiguity.

Local needs analysis and ownership of what skills are required seem critical, however, on a national level, the development of a one-size-fits-all framework which we can all interpret correctly, relate to and own must be exceptionally challenging.   If the role of schools is to be pivotal to the skills agenda, including the development of key ‘soft skills’ then we need to be clear about what is needed so that teacher training, careers advice and work experience can be developed to meet the need.