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Essential skills for 2035

You might have already seen the new report from the NFER-led Skills Imperative 2035: Essential skills for 2035.

Part of a five-year research programme, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, it spells out the expected changes in the demand for skills by 2035. The findings show that even with major changes in society, the environment, and the economy, the Essential Employment Skills will remain relatively similar to those measured a decade ago. 

The report lays out the essential employment skills of:

  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Creative thinking
  • Information literacy (skills related to gathering, processing, and using information)
  • Organising, planning and prioritising work
  • Problem-solving and decision making  

This set has been informed by Skills Builder’s Universal Framework for Essential Skills. The eight essential skills in the Framework are implicit in those outlined in the report, and we define them as:

  • Listening: The receiving, retaining and processing of information or ideas.
  • Speaking: The oral transmission of information or ideas.
  • Problem solving: The ability to find a solution to a situation or challenge.
  • Creativity: The use of imagination and the generation of new ideas.
  • Staying positive: The ability to use tactics and strategies to overcome setbacks and achieve goals.
  • Aiming high: The ability to set clear, tangible goals and devise a robust route to achieving them.
  • Leadership: Supporting, encouraging and developing others to achieve a shared goal.
  • Teamwork: Working cooperatively with others towards achieving a shared goal.

The Framework breaks each of the essential skills down into a sequence of steps, taking individuals from being an absolute beginner through to mastery. 

“Almost 90 per cent of the 2.2m new jobs that are forecast to be created in England between now and 2035 will be at professional and associate professional level where higher levels of proficiency in these skills are required.”

These top skills are the highly transferable skills that everyone needs to do almost every job, in any context. And this is the reason why they come up every time we talk about essential skills now, and into the future. As the Skills Imperative report puts it, while there will be changes in specialised technical skills that are associated with technological developments – their nature is that they are specific to relatively fewer jobs. This is why they don’t rank highly in the overall distribution of skill utilisation. 

Essential skills are already being developed widely across the UK and globally, and they are projected to increase in need and use in the future, with a growing number of occupations relying on these skills. 

Why does this matter for Higher Education? 

Well, we have already seen that many young people are reconsidering their options – because of the impact of AI. 

If we are to become more reliant on our essential skills in the future AI world, then we need to make sure that our students go into their programmes without fear, with the knowledge that as well as their technical skills, they will be building essential skills that without a doubt will be needed in their future careers. 

We echo the report – we cannot leave who builds these skills to chance. They are not a side-benefit, or ‘soft’. They are fundamental to working life now, and well into the future. 

HEIs who are already invested in developing students’ essential skills will know that preparing graduates for successful working lives will help them earn a significant wage premium. In our annual Essential Skills Tracker research, we revealed the wage premium: those with higher levels of essential skills can earn up to £4,600 more than their peers. 

“students will rightly demand high visibility of skills, embedded or otherwise, so that they can confidently pursue aspirational work opportunities post-graduation.”

This report, alongside our own skills research, brings urgency to the debate. We need to explicitly use the language of essential skills, and get ahead of the curve so that our graduates will have the essential skills they need to succeed. 

How you can start with essential skills

HEIs will need to consider how to ensure consistency of essential skills across their programmes and different contexts. There are various ways you can start to think about embedding these into existing programmes to enhance them, or try something new altogether. 

Areas you could consider using essential skills:

  • Careers departments: how do essential skills link up with your graduate attributes? Using language of employability skills in the Universal Framework, you can map skills to potential jobs by course.
  • Focusing on your graduate attributes: what do your students really understand about the attributes they’re working towards? The Universal Framework uses eight essential skills, making it easily accessible.
  • Measure your impact: use Benchmark, an online self-assessment tool to measure impact of your interventions and programmes.  
  • Build essential skills in your curriculum: connect your curriculum and learning outcomes with skill steps from the Framework. 
  • Your outreach: with 85% of secondary schools and colleges having a touchpoint with essential skills, you can use this same language to speak with prospective students.

Contact our HE Education Associate Joella Lynch for more information.