View our Privacy Notice.

Better prepared: Essential skills and employment outcomes for young people

New research conducted by the Skills Builder Partnership explores the relationship between higher levels of essential skills, using Skills Builder Framework, and employment outcomes. Read the full report here.

The transition of young people from education into employment between the ages of 16 and 25 is always a challenging one.

The pandemic has once again had a disproportionate impact on young people – both through disruption to education, and the oversized damage to the retail and hospitality industries that often act as a critical bridge for young people into employment. This has placed further emphasis on essential skills and their critical importance to supporting an effective transition into the world of work – a relevance increasingly echoed by both educators and employers.

While there is some evidence that essential skills support effective transitions and workplace progression, the emergence of the Skills Builder Universal Framework as a shared approach to defining essential skills and quantifying progress provides a new opportunity.

This research sets out to use new data gathered with YouGov to explore three questions:

  • Who has essential skills, and how does this vary by socio-economic background?
  • How young people build essential skills, and what are their attitudes to them?
  • What is the impact of essential skills on earnings and qualifications level?

Who has essential skills, and how does this vary by socio-economic background?

This new study found significant differences between average skills score of young people coming from less privileged backgrounds and their peers from higher social grades: the median score for individuals who received FSM while at school was 42 against a median score of 54 for their peers who were not eligible for them. Similarly, those individuals in the higher social grade had a median score of 55 against their peers in lower social grade with a median score of 41(with these scores differences being statistically significant at 5%).

There were differences in essential skill scores depending on the school type. These scores were higher for grammar and independent schools versus non-selective state schools, although the difference was not large and statistically significant. The big contrast was with those who had attended an alternative provision setting, where the mean skills score was 22, against 55-58 for the other educational settings.

Individuals who reported that their parents or carers were very engaged with their education performed significantly better in respect to their essential skills score against their peers whose parents or carers were less engaged. Only 37% of young people with the lowest level of parental engagement in their education reported a skill score equal or above average while this is 36 percent higher for those with very engaged parents or carers (58% reported a skill score equal or above average).

How young people value essential skills, and how they build them?

The survey also explored the value that young people perceive in essential skills, where they have opportunities to build them, and how they link to wider attitudes and aspirations.

Overwhelmingly, young people see the value of essential skills across key aspects of their lives for transition, including academic performance (78%), university entrance (66%), successful recruitment (91%), progression in employment (91%), and overcoming wider life challenges (89%).

There is strong agreement from young people that these skills should be taught through the education system (90%), and many felt that they had those opportunities – primarily through extra-curricular provision, but many also referred to dedicated learning time and through broader subject teaching too.

In employment though, young people felt that only 46% had opportunities to regularly build their essential skills, while 45% did not. There is some evidence that individuals who reported higher levels of essential skills both have clearer career ambitions, and have found them easier to work towards.

Finally, there are strong links between higher essential skill scores and self-efficacy and perseverance of effort. These further supports the case for the positive impact of building these skills.

What is the impact of essential skills on income and qualifications?

Finally, we turn to establishing the value of essential skills in supporting young people’s employment outcomes. There is evidence of a wage premium of around 15% or £3,400 per year for full-time workers aged over 19 moving from the 1st percentile of skills score up to the median.

This wage premium is substantially increased in cases where young people report confidence in applying their essential skills in a range of scenarios. In this case, the wage premium for those individuals rises to £10,200.

We have also seen that higher levels of essential skills are correlated with higher qualification levels.

Where next?

This report gives us important new insights from the three key questions that have framed this research. These drive several important implications for all those working to support individuals to build essential skills.

  • The considerable variation in essential scores mean that educators need to think about the needs of individual students, whilst employers need to think about essential skills in a more nuanced and granular way.
  • Social disadvantage and school type are strongly correlated with lower essential skills, and so educators and employers should think about where they target their efforts to boost equity.
  • Parental engagement matters and so educators should think about how they can engage parents better, whilst employers could consider how to raise awareness of essential skills among their employees who are parents.
  • Young people themselves see the role of essential skills vividly in supporting their academic performance, employment opportunities and overcoming adversity in their lives.
  • Relatedly, young people feel strongly that those essential skills should be a normal part of a good education but at the moment not all young people are getting those opportunities.
  • Employers can also do more to ensure everyone has the opportunity to build their essential skills through their work, as 45% felt they lacked such chances.
  • There is still a challenge that many young people see their capabilities as fixed over time, rather than flexible. This is a challenge that will need to be grappled with – particularly because there is strong correlation between essential skill scores and self-efficacy, and perseverance of effort.
  • Finally, essential skills clearly pay a dividend as a wage premium, particularly when combined with the ability to transfer and apply those skills. This supports a robust economic argument for investing in these skills.