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Closing the Skills Gap: squiggly careers and mapping skills

How do you close the skills gap while attracting and retaining talent?

In partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions, and with fantastic speakers, including from our partner Opencast, our closing the skills gap event proved to be an insightful morning for those in attendance. 

When we pose the question ‘how do you close the skills gap’, our first step is to consider exactly what skills we are talking about, why, and how they make a real difference in the workplace.


The case for essential skills

Skills Builder COO, Robert Craig, presented some of our recent research on the state of essential skills in the UK. Through the Essential Skills Tracker 2023 research, we expanded the understanding of a complete taxonomy of skills – the three levels of skills we see as being critical. These are technical skills, basic skills and essential skills. Essential skills include: listening, speaking, problem solving, creativity, staying positive, aiming high, leadership, and teamwork.

Skills pyramid: technical skills, essential skills, basic skills

One of the key takeaways for employers is that these skills underpin rapid acquisition of technical skills and allow us to realise the potential of our basic and technical skills. 

While technical skills are important for work, and for many careers – these often need updating and don’t adapt so well to a changing economy – essential skills are those highly transferable skills that almost everyone needs to do almost every job. For this reason, they also support business adaptability in a rapidly changing work environment, due to automation, AI, remote working and so on. 

We see that within those transferable skills, there are many differences between the levels of them people have. For example, Creativity remains a relative weakness in the UK when compared to other skills, and skills that many of us don’t get explicit opportunities to build, like Speaking and Leadership, are shown in the research to have much wider ranges. 

Opportunities to develop these highly transferable skills are lacking, despite being continuously cited as vital for organisations and individuals alike -- 92% of workers want to develop these skills.

Making essential skills part of what you do in your workplace

During the ‘Closing the Skills Gap’ event, we heard from many employers that they are looking to improve social mobility around skills in their organisations. As Tony Hyland MBE, DWP, put it: “It only takes one internship or one employer to think outside of the box to make a difference to social mobility.” Others reflected on the new wave of interest in social mobility within their EDI goals. From a skills perspective, those in the room considered how some individuals from less advantaged backgrounds can find it challenging to effectively articulate their skills in an interview situation, because of a lack of skills vocabulary.

Others were interested in practical ways to build in essential skills, like measuring impact of skills programmes, benchmarking skills, incorporating them into recruitment strategies, and how organisations can better appeal to early talent. 

Our work with employers aims to tackle some of these challenges, and support these goals. Employers work with Skills Builder across three broad areas to support their businesses to solve key problems: nurturing a talent pipeline through outreach initiatives, enhancing transparency and fairness in the recruitment process to boost application rates, and promoting retention and staff performance by investing in ongoing employee development.


Essential skills at work in practice

Before the event, Cate Kalson, Chief People Officer (CPO) at Opencast Software joined us to talk through Opencast’s vision for essential skills. People are at the core of Opencast’s purpose, mission and vision, and with our support, Opencast is creating opportunities for people in the business, and the organisation as a whole.

How and why did you know the Skills Builder approach was the right match for you at Opencast?

“We are an organisation of technology professionals – so we are very confident on how to teach and train people in technical skills, the knowledge, tools and methods that are critical for their specific roles. However, as a consultancy we work in complex organisations who are doing difficult projects with challenging contexts and stakeholders, so it is often our people’s non-technical skills that are critical to success. We have found that career progression is closely linked to these other skills developing, enabling our people to be change agents and influencers, to keep learning and support others to do so too. 

We were looking for an evidence-based framework that would allow us to focus on these Essential Skills and directly support people to understand what they are and how to build them. When we found Skills Builder we found the skills to be a really great fit with our values, the behaviours that we value – but with much stronger evidence and pedagogy than how we’d managed to articulate it to date!”

“It is often our people’s non-technical skills that are critical to success”

What are your essential skills ambitions?

“Firstly, it’s to create an environment within Opencast that harnesses the potential of our people. We are trying to create a learning culture that feels accessible and relevant to everybody in the organisation.

Secondly, we want to connect with people outside of our sector who may be considering moving into it, and inspire them to want to join us and see how the Essential Skills that they have can lead to them being successful in our industry. We work with school children, people considering leaving the armed forces and adults who want to switch job or career direction – and we love the fact that Skills Builder was originally created for these audiences and with social mobility at the core.”

How will your work with Skills Builder support you to achieve those aims, and create opportunities at Opencast?

“We’ve created a common set of competencies for everyone at Opencast that have the Essential Skills framework underpinning them. These are being used directly as tools for people to reflect on their skills and decide what they want their skill progression to look like. Our people can also access the self-assessment tools and resources to take action to build their skills.

We will be weaving some of the Essential Skills language and concepts into the way in which we design our work experience and outreach activity.

We will also be reviewing our interview processes to align them with the assessment of essential skills, especially in early careers.” 

“It was great to see the linkages between everyone present, Skills Builder, Opencast and the DWP. Hopefully, this is the start of a new journey.’ Tony Hyland, MBE, DWP.

Contact us

Employers looking to achieve a similar goal within recruitment, outreach or in staff development, download a prospectus to learn more about our programme. Or you can set up a free consultation to talk through your priorities with our team.