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One year on from the Trailblazers Report: Supporting employers with essential skills

In 2023, employers continue facing challenges in their workforce. One of the most talked about this year is the rise of AI and automation -- with businesses pondering and hypothesising about the future of jobs and work in such a changing landscape. Among the challenges remain those of an increasingly remote and hybrid workforce, skills shortages in many sectors and difficulty attracting the best early talent. 

More than ever, employers must equip their staff with high levels of transferable essential skills, such as problem solving and teamwork, to ensure their business can adapt and flex through lateral movement internally or to take on new roles that emerge. This is where the power of essential skills comes in, with their universal applicability across sectors, roles, seniority, stage of career - and are relevant throughout a whole person’s life – from education and within social impact organisations and communities. 

A year on from the Trailblazer report

In 2022 we drew on national research, surveys and case studies with employers that have leveraged a structured approach to essential skills in order to boost their recruitment, staff development & outreach. The results gave practical insights and act as inspiration for other organisations on how and why to build the essential skills you need into your business. 

Since our 2022 Trailblazer report, we released the Essential Skills Tracker 2023, which revealed the £22.2bn cost of low essential skills to the UK economy. Organisations and individuals can also now leverage data from the Careers Explorer, a tool that supports HR and L&D practitioners to embed essential skills and ground their processes in data and evidence. 

Recruitment: Hiring and attracting employees with essential skills

There has been much progress to date to address bias and subjectivity in recruitment practices, with organisations keen to build inclusive, diverse teams – however we know that these challenges can be difficult to overcome. HR decisions often involve multiple stakeholders, making writing job descriptions, hiring for the right roles and assessment variable and unpredictable. 

In search for ways to make recruitment fairer, transparent, and at the same time more appealing, employers may want to note that 64% of working age adults would be more likely to apply to a role if it clearly and transparently explained the essential skills required in the job description. 

As the trend in skills-based hiring becomes the norm for many organisations, in attempts to widen the talent pool – the essential skills so many are looking for can be mistakenly defined. Without a sense of ‘what good looks like’ for skills such as Creativity – one of the most lacking skills in the UK population according to our research – employers aren’t fully assessing candidates transparently and robustly. 

“We used to have a scoring system using numbers – but that was so subjective.” HR Business Partner, AKW

Employers that provide transparency, resources, and learning through the recruitment process not only improve the candidate experience, but create fairer, more effective, and more diverse recruitment. Embedding the Skills Builder approach, employers found

  • a 23% improvement in recruiting candidates with the skills they need. This was due in part to a 29% improvement in employers’ confidence at identifying skills in the recruitment process. 
  • 75% felt candidates’ essential skills were stronger following the updated recruitment process and had more confidence in applying the skills. 
  • 75% reported that their recruitment processes were inclusive because the essential skills were clearly explained, with a 5% improvement in the ability to recruit diverse candidates. 

Learning & development: Building employees’ essential skills 

92% believe that essential skills are important for success within their career, with the vast majority eager for more opportunities within their professional development to improve them. With over nearly 60% of UK workers saying they would consider moving jobs for better skills-building opportunities, employers who deliver these could stand to improve retention, and attract more applicants. 

Employers involved in last year’s Trailblazer report evidence that essential skills boost productivity and staff wellbeing, and since then, we’ve exposed even more evidence. Essential skills predict job satisfaction, as one of the key measures of staff wellbeing and engagement, as strongly as income. So for employers concerned about retention or engagement, it is likely that building your employees’ essential skills has a significantly higher return on investment than increasing their salaries.

The employee experience of building these skills with the Universal Framework is resoundingly positive: 100% of those surveyed said they wanted to continue with more opportunities in future.

Employees reflected on the importance of these skills to be able to motivate and inspire others: 

“Essential skills are very important in my role because I need to be able to motivate people from across the organisation to be involved in different projects and opportunities, being most of the time extra activities in their day to day.” Employee, HS2

Using the same Universal Framework in recruitment and staff development creates a seamless journey, beyond tick boxes and onboarding. Supported with the evidence, structure and clarity of the Framework through its measurable steps - employers found that performance increased, individuals developed their skills, and teams were reported as being more productive. 

  • 89% of employees who were provided with the Universal Framework for essential skills in staff development believe that the structured approach improved their performance, with 75% feeling more engaged in their work. All those surveyed said they wanted to continue with more opportunities to use the Framework. 
  • 75% of these employees reported an improvement in their essential skill levels. 63% of this improvement was attributed to having a coherent Universal Framework that built awareness and confidence. 
  • 67% of these employees’ managers and talent teams also reported that, after only 6 months, team performance improved thanks to building essential skills using the Skills Builder approach.

Employees have a lot to gain from building their essential skills – as we saw in the Essential Skills Tracker 2023. At an individual level, people with higher levels of essential skills experience improved social mobility, employment, earnings, job satisfaction and life satisfaction. Critically, these skills work as a platform for developing other skills, including the basic skills literacy and numeracy as well as technical skills.

Outreach: Effective programmes that build skills 

Employers engaged in CSR, social impact or community programmes want to build skills and knowledge, often while attracting and inspiring the next generation of talent. Within these programmes, it’s often a focus on skills which can neatly join up aspirations from both employers and beneficiaries. 

Our research showed that people who build essential skills early on seek out further opportunities to build them, and enter higher skilled, higher paid jobs. By widening access to opportunities for young people to build transferable essential skills, and by using a Universal Framework that spans the entire career spectrum, employers are futureproofing our workforce with skills to succeed in roles that may not exist yet. 

Reflecting on this in terms of skills demand trends, our recent Careers Explorer data shows how the essential skills are more important now than a decade ago. In a trend that seems to have accelerated since the Covid-19 pandemic, we see demand increase most for Creativity and Problem Solving.

Labour Market Essential Skills demand over time, Skills Builder Careers Explorer 2023

Organisations who adopted the Skills Builder approach and Universal Framework into outreach programmes drove a 17% increase in CSR professionals reporting that their programmes effectively build essential skills, with 100% reporting that it improved their programmes’ impact. 

  • 98% of participants achieved demonstrable, significant progress in essential skills, pre and post measurement using Skills Builder Benchmark showed. 
  • 83% of employees and volunteers working on the programmes also developed their own skills through using the Framework, and all reported a better understanding of these essential skills. 

“Without good transferable skills, I wouldn’t have been able to completely change careers, demonstrate my strengths, have someone take a chance on me, and get into stable employment.” Amber, Kickstart Participant

‍By investing in essential skills, organisations can provide the critical opportunities staff need to foster a continuous learning culture, support employee engagement and gain organisational resilience in the ever-changing labour market. 

Ready to take the next step to build and attract the skills you need?

To support employers on their journey, we offer a structured programme with the expert advice and tools required to optimise your implementation. Together we can craft a tailored strategy, enabling you to take a project, or organisational approach to embed the Universal Framework, on a structured programme for employers: the Skills Builder Employer Programme.

Book a free consultation with our friendly team to talk through your challenges and ambitions, or read more about the work we could do together in our Employer Programme prospectus

Read the Trailblazers report to find more insights, reflections and case studies from businesses already working with us.  ‍