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How do essential skills influence life outcomes? An evidence review
October 1, 2020
New research conducted by The CFEY in partnership with the Skills Builder Partnership explores the relationship between essential skills and young people's life outcomes. Read the full report here.

Background to this report

The Skills Builder Universal Framework and the wide partnership of organisations adopting it provide a new opportunity: to focus and consolidate the evidence base around essential skills – both why they matter, and how they can be most effectively built.

There are plenty of reports which emphasise the importance of building essential skills in light of structural changes in the labour market, including technological disruptions and changing work norms. But what is less available is a wide range of experimental, quasi-experimental, and high-quality qualitative research to investigate the links between essential skills development and education, employment and social outcomes.

Key findings

This research explores the relationship between young people's skills development, and life outcomes in terms of their educational attainment, employment prospects, and social and emotional wellbeing.

The evidence review focuses on work looking at the outcomes for young people following interventions focussed on skill development, however some studies did not make it clear whether they were interrogating the relationship between interventions and skills development, or skills development and outcomes. Additionally, studies sometimes focused on causal relationships and sometimes on associations, and we noticed gaps in the evidence base for examples of interventions delivered to younger children.

(1) The relationship between essential skills and academic outcomes

There was evidence that some of the essential skills, including listening, staying positive and teamwork, can support young people's academic outcomes, resulting in improved reading and writing skills, as well as attainment.

(2) The relationship between essential skills and employment outcomes

The evidence found that the development of skills such as speaking, listening and staying positive can positively influence young people's employment prospects. There was also evidence of links between teamwork and leadership skills and performance in the workplace.

(3) The relationship between essential skills and social and emotional wellbeing

The literature also indicated that interventions focused on pupils' social and emotional skills, such as teamwork, speaking and listening, can improve children and young people's emotional and social competencies. These competencies support self-regulation and relationship building, and can result in positive outcomes around wellbeing.

What works in building skills

This review highlights the need for future research to unpick the features of skills-focused delivery that generate the greatest benefits for children and young people.

The literature indicates a correlation between positive outcomes for young people, and activities that are:

  • Structured: breaking the skills down into chunks, highlighting what ‘success' looks like, and helping children and young people identify how they can improve.
  • Supported: giving teachers and other adults working with children and young people the resources and training they need to implement essential skills teaching effectively.
  • Targeted: ensuring that children and young people who need additional help get it, and that the teaching of skills is responsive to needs.

This is in line with the approach taken in the Skills Builder Framework, as well as their best practice principles. These include ensuring that building essential skills happens consistently, over the long-term, is measured, uses explicit teaching, gives opportunities for regular practice, and is linked to real life.

Next steps

There is a need for future research to unpick the features of skills-focused interventions that result in benefits for young people. In other words, the 'how'. An emphasise on a shortage of longitudinal research that tracks outcomes over multiple years, and which focuses on younger children as opposed to university students and recent graduates is very important.

About the organisations

The Centre for Education and Youth

This report was written by the education and youth development ‘think and action tank’ The Centre for Education and Youth. The Centre for Education and Youth is a social enterprise - we believe that society has a duty to ensure children and young people receive the support they need in order to make a fulfilling transition to adulthood. We work towards this vision by helping education and youth organisations develop, evaluate and improve their work with young people. We then carry out academic and policy research and experience.

The Skills Builder Partnership

The Skills Builder Partnership brings together educators, employers and impact organisations in a shared mission to ensure that one day, everyone builds the essential skills to thrive.

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