By clicking “Accept”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyse site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.

View our Privacy Notice.

A focus on essential skills is key to successful skills-based recruitment

Economic challenges, hard to fill vacancies and skills shortages continue to put pressure on businesses to get the talent they need now and for the longer term. At the same time, recruiters want to provide positive and inclusive candidate experiences while predicting the success of future candidates. To overcome this, many employers are now opting for skills-based recruitment – with interest in the practice up by 63% in the past year according to Google Trends data analysed by Remote. The World Economic Forum is also making the case for skills-based hiring, concluding that the model can help businesses to retain talent, while creating paths for upward mobility. It’s also said to cut costs, make hiring the first time more attainable, and diversifies the talent pool. 

This shift in approach is positive, but HR and senior leadership need to ensure that any approach to skills-based recruitment is rigorous, follows the data and research and is consistent across sectors. An undefined, catch-all approach to ‘skills’ will only emphasise the biases and problems that skills-based hiring is seeking to avoid. 

What skills are we talking about?

There are three layers of skills: basic, essential, and technical. While all three are critical for employment, recruiters and businesses should properly consider these differentiating factors when looking for skills-based success. 

  • Technical skills: skills that are specific to a particular sector or role, sometimes drawing from a particular body of knowledge. These skills are not easily transferred beyond the sector or role to which they relate.
  • Essential skills: highly transferable skills that everyone needs to do almost any job, which support the application of specialist knowledge and technical skills
  • Basic skills: these are literacy and numeracy, and basic digital skills.

Essential skills act as a scaffold, enabling people to unlock the potential of other skills and expertise. The Skills Builder Universal Framework defines these eight essential skills as  Listening and Speaking; Problem Solving and Creativity; Staying Positive and Aiming High; and Leadership and Teamwork. These skills are in demand: for example, problem solving, aiming high and communication skills were found to be most in need for three-quarters of employers with hard-to-fill vacancies in research by CIPD in 2022. 

Our employees and organisations will increasingly need to flex and adapt to new technologies, automation or AI, as well as the creation of future roles, such as focused on the green economy. These changes put these eight highly transferable skills in the recruitment spotlight if we want to enable teams, managers and leaders to adapt. 

How recruiting with essential skills reduces recruitment randomness

When we look to recruit based on skills, we also recognise that recruitment decisions are hugely important judgements, often involving multiple stakeholders across a business, meaning decision making can be variable and unpredictable. The compound effect of randomness at each stage can reduce the value of a recruitment process to almost nothing if: 

  • The skills and specific steps related to it required for the role haven’t been clearly defined
  • The capabilities being assessed for by each recruitment exercise are therefore not clearly defined
  • The success criteria, or ‘what good looks like’, for each exercise do not have consistent, reliable, clear measures
  • The candidates do not know what the success criteria for each exercise are

Embedding the Universal Framework and Skills Builder approach into recruitment practices drove a 23% improvement in employers being able to recruit candidates with the skills they need in their business. This was due, in part, to a 29% improvement in employers’ confidence at identifying skills in the recruitment process. 

How can we make skills requirements transparent?

Employers looking to widen their talent pools, while creating more inclusive recruitment practices should explicitly indicate the essential skills that they are recruiting for. Almost two thirds (64%) of working age adults would be more likely to apply to a role if it clearly and transparently explained the essential skills required in the job description. The Skills Builder Universal Framework makes skills explicit by breaking each into 16 measurable steps, which is the key mechanism for making skills-based recruitment work. 

To take Teamwork as an example, are you looking for someone who can contribute to group decision making (step 6), or influence the team by evaluating successes and failures and sharing lessons (step 13). Or take Speaking, does this position require someone who speaks engagingly using facts and examples to support their points (step 7), or do they need to speak adaptively by planning for different possible responses of listeners (step 12). 

Because each step is sufficiently specific about what is needed in the role, it is therefore able to be tested precisely in recruitment. It’s this explicitness that will reduce guesswork for potential candidates – providing an opportunity for them to reflect on their skills to assess whether the role is the right for them. 

Essential-skills based recruitment can also help towards creating a workplace that values diversity and inclusion. Processes that focus on and accurately assess skills can benefit the less advantaged, rather than traditional recruitment based on experience or other variables that favour those from more advantaged backgrounds. It can also reduce susceptibility to bias. 

Emma Reay, Head of Employer Partnerships at Skills Builder, says that to make skills requirements clear, employers need to begin with their language: “It’s easy to assume candidates understand the specific and technical language that you’re used to within your organisation. We guide employers to think about how they can ensure they are using the language of essential skills at every stage of the selection process”. 

Essential skills recruitment in practice with Morgan Sindall Infrastructure 

Morgan Sindall Infrastructure delivers some of the UK’s most complex and critical national infrastructure across six core sectors of energy, water, nuclear, highways, rail and aviation for public and private customers. Working on projects and long-term frameworks, Morgan Sindall believes in connecting people, places, and communities through innovative and responsible infrastructure.

Given their prominent position within the construction sector, Morgan Sindall recognised the value of reaching wider and diverse audiences, and worked with Skills Builder to:

  • Determine 41 minimum essential skill requirements  
  • Embed these into candidate-facing role profiles
  • Train their team to map essential skills to different types of roles so they can repeat for future roles
  • Develop a candidate interview preparation guide to support understanding of the essential skills required and how to effectively demonstrate them
  • Equip hiring managers with interview scripts using the language of essential skills.

As a result, graduate and apprentice roles saw a significant rise in the number of high-quality applications received, totalling an increase of over 170%.

Embed essential skills in your organisation

For employers who want to start looking at ways to embed the benefits of the Skills Builder Universal Framework into their HR practices, take a look at our employer prospectus.

Interested in learning more about our research? It also highlighted the relationship between essential skills and productivity.