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Skills Builder in the House of Lords Youth Unemployment Report: Our reflections
December 1, 2021
Eleanor Collard
Communications Associate

You may have seen that on Friday 26 November, the House of Lords Youth Unemployment Committee released a vital report into youth unemployment and skills: Skills for Every Young Person.  

The main takeaways? Youth unemployment is pervasive, the skills gap remains wide, and both issues need to be tackled with urgent action right now. Improving and expanding skills teaching for young people is the key way to get there.

This alone would be reason enough to discuss the findings at length, but there’s more. What’s especially encouraging is that the report explicitly endorses the Skills Builder Framework language and approach to essential skills development, as well as mentioning the support of partners including Youth Futures Foundation, the CIPD, and Burnley FC.

A universal language and shared recommendations

The report uses the term ‘essential skills’ in line with our own definition – transferable skills needed for almost any role – which is differentiated clearly from ‘basic skills’ and ‘technical skills’. It justifies this by citing the distinctions we’ve laid out in our Universal Framework and referring to a recent publication of ours that measured the impact of essential skills on education outcomes.

[1]

We’ve long advocated for the use of a common language around skills and a widespread understanding of the distinctions between different types of skillsets, so we welcome the inclusion of our definitions in this report. A universal, transparent, and clear language of essential skills is necessary for reaching collective impact in the push for essential skills teaching.

The report furthermore identifies the “mismatch between what schools and colleges teach, and what skills and knowledge employers expect students to have learnt” [2]. Our latest research, Better prepared: Essential skills and employment outcomes for young people, likewise expressed that many employers are dissatisfied with the essential skill levels of graduate candidates – and further argued that although young people are well aware of the benefits of essential skills, many feel that opportunities to regularly build them are limited.

It doesn’t end here. The recommendations of the report are directly aligned with what we’re trying to achieve:

We strongly support the report’s repeated emphasis on increasing the availability of skills development opportunities for every young person. We also endorse the report’s proposal that the Government must recalibrate the national curriculum and school standards to account for essential skills teaching from Key Stages 1 to 4.

From page to practice

So what next? How can the Government put these proposals into action?

In terms of legislation, there are some good places to start. As £3.8 billion more is being invested in further education and skills from 2024-25, now’s the time to think of the best ways to use that funding. This report, and the experience of our partners, backs making essential skills a critical focus.

In addition, the Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi touched upon a potential schools Bill during his party conference speech. This could be an excellent vehicle for achieving tangible changes in the school curriculum and in other areas.

As for capacity-building programmes on the ground, our School Case Studies make for good best practice examples. All Saints Academy in Dunstable, which was awarded a Skills Builder Gold Award on our Accelerator programme, completely re-wrote its curriculum to centre individual topics on different essential skills. This way, the skills are embedded as a core part of lesson content rather than considered an optional add-on.

It goes to show that while developing essential skills to a high step level should be an expected outcome of the national curriculum, approaches on an individual level should be bespoke, adapting to nuanced school and college needs and capacities.

Essential skills for everyone

Beyond the statistics, the ideas, and the compelling evidence, it’s important to keep in mind why this needs to be done at all: it will make a lasting improvement to the lives of many children and young people.

Some comments from young people in focus group sessions, appended to the end of the House of Lords report, sum this up well by pointing towards the value of essential skills:

“My college didn’t meet my needs or support me well, so I left. I then got support from a charity organisation which was really positive. I took an apprenticeship and moved into teaching assistant role. I learned so many skills and became so much more confident. It was good to be in a supportive learning environment where I could learn from my mistakes.”
“There isn’t really an opportunity to do one job for life anymore, so it is important that young people build a wide range of transferable skills so that they can move between multiple careers over their lifetime.” [3][4]

Young people are the future of our workforce, and this report into youth unemployment is an astute reminder that more needs to be done to support them after a difficult couple of years. We are continuing to make progress, and hard-hitting reports like this show that the collective voice of the Partnership is being heard. While the direct work of partners delivered more than 1.4 million high quality opportunities to boost essential skills in 2020-21, this top down support is a critical part of the equation.

We must continue to push for these changes together to ensure that one day, all young people build their essential skills to fulfil their potential.

References

[1] House of Lords Youth Unemployment Committee, Skills for every young person (2021), p. 42: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld5802/ldselect/ldythunemp/98/98.pdf [accessed 01 Dec 2021]

[2] Ibid., p. 22

[3] Ibid., p. 175

[4] Ibid., p. 177

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