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A guide to creating inclusive careers resources using a strengths-based approach

Educators, employers and impact organisations in the Skills Builder Partnership have together created over 2.6 million high quality opportunities to build essential skills in just this past year. The Skills Builder team supports partners through training that is objective-focused, inclusive and accessible so that one day, everyone will build the essential skills to succeed.

This blog, in celebration of National Careers Week, will explore several key areas, with best-practice insights:

  • What are essential skills?
  • How a strengths-based approach can be used to build essential skills.
  • Examples of two partner organisations use a strengths-based approach to create inclusive careers resources.
  • The principles of effective essential skill development and how these support inclusive practices.

What are essential skills?

The term ‘skill’ is often associated with words like ‘expertise’, ‘progress’, ‘communication’, which makes it confusing for us to know what skills are, and how we can develop them. We define three broad types of skills:

  • Technical skills - these are specific to a particular sector or role, sometimes drawing off a particular body of knowledge. 
  • Basic skills - these are literacy and numeracy, and as technology develops, our basic digital skills.
  • Essential skills - those highly transferable skills that everyone needs to do almost any job, which support the application of specialist knowledge and technical skills. The skills consist of: listening, speaking, problem solving, creativity, staying positive, aiming high, leadership and teamwork.

Essential skills are an integral part of lives, from developing in school, through our careers and into everyday life. They contribute to individual well-being, societal progress, and create a common ground for understanding and developing essential skills for a more positive future. So it’s crucial that every learner is given the opportunity to master these highly transferable skills. To do this, a skill needs to be broken into a sequence of steps allowing for gradual progression and improvement. 

Equally, establishing a common language around skills is important for all individuals, and more so for those with additional barriers to education and employment; The Buckland Review also cited barriers around confusing terminology and a lack of consistent language hampering effective careers development and education from an earlier stage.

It’s imperative that essential skills aren’t sidelined in careers education. Let’s catch up with our partners to see how it’s being done.

Showcasing effective practices with Katherine Jennick and Richard Lamplough

Richard Lamplough has a 28-year background in supporting young people with additional needs into paid employment and is the founder of My Employment Passport, winner of the Careers and Development Institute post-16 career programme 2022.

Katherine Jennick is a Careers Adviser and creator of What's Your Strength?, an award-winning card-based activity that empowers people to explore their skills and qualities, discover strengths, and unlock potential. 

Why build essential skills for career education and development?

Katherine, as a Careers Adviser, understands how important essential skills are in young people’s lives. They not only help them wit future career aspirations, but also in making careers conversations more relatable. 

“Building essential skills enables young people to better navigate the ever-changing landscape of the world of work,” says Katherine.“We’re seeing a shift in recruitment processes with an increasing number of employers moving towards skills-based hiring,” says Katherine . “They are looking for candidates who not only possess relevant technical skills but also demonstrate proficiency in essential skills. So, it’s crucial that young people not only understand what their skills are but can articulate and demonstrate them to others.”

“From my own experience, young people can find it difficult to recognise their own skills and qualities which has an impact on their ability to make career choices and plan for their future, as well as have a negative impact on their self-esteem. If we can help them to discover what their skills are, we can empower them to know how to use them. This is one of the reasons why I created What’s Your Strength?, to give young people the opportunity to realise how amazing they are and pursue careers where they can thrive.”

Katherine’s What’s Your Strength?’s ‘Let’s get started!’ card pack has been developed specifically to support career learning and self-awareness for young people with additional needs, helping learners identify and reflect upon their own essential skills. 

Aligned with the Gatsby Benchmarks, My Employment Passport’s founding principle is one of inspiration. “If we as supporters, teachers, tutors, parents and employers can inspire our young people, throughout their education to believe that they can get paid employment in the future,” says Richard, “then everything else is built on top of this.”

Richard also recognises the critical role of essential skills for the careers of today’s job market. “The eight essential skills identified by Skills Builder are important for careers in today’s job market because they represent the heart and soul of what career aspiration is all about.”

Both Katherine and Richard acknowledge the importance of transferable essential skills in creating resources accessible to all learners. They will share their approaches to incorporating this aspect in their work.

Using a strengths-based approach, What’s Your Strength and My Employment Passport resources centre around what people do well and the skills they have, and builds on these to inform people-centred and sustainable development plans. 

“The magic of the Strength-Based-Approach for young people is that they learn that they are capable of growth, that their success is defined by their own journey and not how they compare to others. This is when they develop the confidence to step up, risk failure and aspire to become the very best version of themselves.” explains Katherine. 

Let’s call essential skills what they are – essential

Many still categorise skills as ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ – with ‘hard’ referring to technical skills and ‘soft’ to often everything else – generally things like teamwork or communication. But this terminology is misleading. 

“Personally, I’ve never been a fan of the term ‘soft’ skills because it somehow implies they are a ‘nice to have’ rather than something with significant importance,” explains Katherine. 

“It takes one search on Google for the question, ‘What are skills?’ to realise that it’s a minefield of different terms and definitions; skills, qualities, talents, abilities, traits to name but a few,” says Katherine . “The Universal Framework provides a level of consistency and common language from which everyone can work: educators, employers and young people alike . This is the reason I collaborated with Skills Builder to create the Let’s get started! cards and several other resources in my collection. You can still be flexible and empower young people by using language that’s meaningful to them but you can easily link it back to one of the essential skills.”


Using the 6 principles to effectively build essential skills

Building skills effectively requires a clear and structured plan that allows for the most impactful results. The 6 principles below work as a guide to develop and embed essential skills successfully:

Keep it Simple: Focus on a consistent set of essential skills, using the same language across different contexts to ensure everyone has a shared understanding.

“This Principle really resonates with me,” says Katherine. “It’s how I approach any new resource that I create. What’s Your Strength? is a simple concept that helps people translate their life experiences into their skills and qualities; it’s powerful in its simplicity!”

Richard has witnessed how consistent language promotes a shared approach to essential skills development across pathways and objectives. 

“Skills, Qualities and Passions is just one Paid Job Foundation Block within our programme. Others include the support young people get from home, their independence, the way they like to communicate, their work ethic and the best ways they learn new information and follow instructions.”

“This last point, in my experience of observing other organisations using Skills Builder, is one embraced with a variety of successful approaches.”

Start young, keep going: Start building essential skills as early as possible to allow for long-term mastery, extending beyond employability to benefit individuals in all aspects of life.

“It is never too early to encourage children to self-reflect and develop self-awareness,” says Katherine. “Children are naturally curious, so what better time to encourage them to be curious about their own skills? Providing them with ongoing, practical learning opportunities that focus on specific skills will enable them to discover which come more easily to them and which they need more support with.”

Richard considers the various factors that can influence a young person’s essential skills development. “Even before a young person enters year 8 within education, their background, the parenting and care that underpins their development, the social factors that surround them, and the financial pressures the family may face, mean that there will be a huge impact on the young person’s essential skills. Add varying ingredients of support needs around disability and/or neurodivergence into the mix and the picture becomes cloudier still,” explains Richard.

The good news is that taking a long term and consistent approach has been proven effective. By focusing  on building skills over time, regardless of their starting point, learners can achieve progress and positive life outcomes to reach their full potential.

Measure it: Regularly assess and reflect on skill development through observation or self-assessment to identify strengths, weaknesses, and progress, guiding further development. 

“Without a balanced understanding of strengths and areas for development, including for young people with additional needs, (within either specialist or mainstream education), making any genuine progress towards paid employment becomes more challenging,” says Richard.

While Katherine’s resources are built on a strengths-based approach, she doesn’t actively deny the existence of so-called ‘weaknesses’. “A strengths-based approach fosters a growth mindset so individuals can reframe weaknesses as areas for development,” she says. 

“A Year 11 student described this perfectly: "It makes me want to concentrate on my weaknesses so I have more strengths. It takes time but you can get there".”

Focus tightly: Build upon existing knowledge and skills, ensuring dedicated time is allocated to explicitly teach and practise specific essential skills.

Sometimes the barrier is knowing where to begin development. So building on knowledge and skills with specific steps is what Katherine aims to address. 

What’s Your Strength? has been designed to encourage young people to reflect on their life experiences, including their previous learning, and translate those experiences into their own unique set of skills and qualities.”  

This neatly demonstrates the strengths-based approach. With the framing of the Universal Framework educators, professionals and individuals have the language to articulate their essential skills with a shared language.

Likewise, those on the My Employment Passport programme use workbooks to reflect during and post-programme to track their progress. Reflection is guided through targeted questions and focuses on specific essential skill steps that support activities within each session. 

Keep practising: Regularly reinforce and integrate skill use into various situations, maximising opportunities for practice and application.

Richard takes a holistic approach to essential skills, in how young people and adults reflect on various aspects of life with a range of people’s support to do so. 

“There are sixty-five cards in the full set of resources, which have been aligned to the relevant essential skills and use Skills Builder skill icons to aid recognition. This set of resources, like many others in the course, are given to young people in duplicate, meaning there is one set for them to keep at school, college or day services, and one set to take home with them.” 

“As the Gatsby Benchmark number one says: a stable career programme is one that’s understood by parents. My Employment Passport goes one step further as it’s a stable career programme that can be used by parents.”

“Every video young people watch at school, college, or day services, they can watch at home supported by parents, carers and family. Clear instructions are given in a bespoke session plan for each module, with suggested timelines for 60 or 80-minute sessions.”

This consistent language for essential skills combined with the real-life application means they can be demonstrated in many settings, making essential skills development further accessible for young people and their wider support networks.

Bring it to life: Make learning engaging and relatable by using real-world examples, scenarios, and activities to bring essential skills to life and encourage active participation.

This final principle is evident in the My Employment Passport programme in the 30 different videos available – many starring young autistic people and young people with learning disabilities who are in paid employment. 

When Richard first met these young people, they didn’t have jobs as they were still at school, college or day services. Seeing positive role models helps programme participants recognise their own essential skills and serves as aspiration, aligning with the strengths-based approach. Thinking about their own skill sets, the language of the Universal Framework provides the participants with the words to articulate their strengths, which essential skill(s) they have developed as a result and how they can transfer this to other areas of their work.

“The programme takes the view that if you can inspire young people with resources (the programme uses videos as the lead ingredient) then this, in itself, is one of the best ways for them to learn new skills, build their qualities and follow their passions.” 

Top tips for creating resources

The six principles emphasise the importance of clarity, consistency, continuous development, and practical application in building a strong foundation of essential skills for learners.

Katherine has 3 ‘top tips’ for anyone creating a new resource or deciding how to best use an existing one to engage young people: 

  • Make it interactive – ensure that young people can be actively involved
  • Make it empowering – enable young people to be the decision maker and discover things about themselves 
  • Make it inclusive – ensure that everyone can participate in a way that’s comfortable for them

About our contributors

Katherine’s What’s Your Strength? ‘Let’s get started!’ card pack achieved a Skills Builder Impact Level 2 accreditation for the way they support participants to reflect on their essential skills.

The visual nature of the cards including photographs, simple vocabulary and consistent links to Skills Builder icons make them a perfect tool to start a journey of self-discovery . The accompanying glossary offers clear and consistent definitions, and the instruction leaflet offers suggestions for reflective discussions and extension activities, including references to Skills Builder resources to practise skills further.

Katherine has also created a range of free-to-download What’s Your Strength? Resources which have achieved an Impact Level 1 accreditation for the way they help to raise awareness of essential skills:

  • Skills Diamonds, designed to encourage conversation and debate about the importance of the 8 essential skills in different job roles.
  • Skills Snapper Game, which encourages conversations about the importance of essential skills in a fun and interactive way.
  • My Mini Skills Journal, designed for young people to keep a record of their skills as a reminder of how amazing they are!

There are four different versions of Richard’s My Employment Passport programme. The Gold Offer has achieved an Impact Level 4 accreditation in recognition of the way it guides participants to identify which essential skills they are using and supports them to reflect on their own strengths and areas for development . Workbooks give learners the opportunity to reflect during and after the programme to track where progress has been made.

My Employment Passport’s Building My Learning printed materials can also be used to support Year 8+ learners with additional learning needs. The 65 explanation cards define the qualities, skills and scenarios that will be part of the journeys of young people towards paid employment. On the outside of each card is a different element, for example being reliable or showing initiative. On the inside is an explanation, linking to the world of employment and essential skills.