There have long been calls for greater emphasis on essential skills, whether from business organisations, or from educators. But evidence on essential skill levels across the UK is limited.
The Essential Skills Tracker changes that. For the first time, we have a complete picture of how adults across the UK are building and using their essential skills – and where the gaps are.
In collaboration with YouGov, more than 2,200 adults completed an assessment against the Skills Builder Universal Framework. These assessments of essential skills including teamwork, communication, and creativity skills were then linked up with key demographic, job, education, and earnings data.
What did we learn? Read on to find out.
The main findings
The Tracker’s findings justify the importance, timeliness, and urgency of boosting opportunities for people to develop their essential skills.
First, the positives. Essential skills are associated with increased wellbeing and an average wage premium of £3,900-£5,900. Building them means you’re 52% less likely to be out of work or education. The UK public values these skills: 89% of people think they're important for work, 86% say they're important for overcoming adversity, and 71% believe them to be important for academic attainment.
But despite the benefits they bring, the Tracker finds that demand for essential skills development opportunities (83%) far outstrips supply (14%).
In addition, the Tracker exposes critical issues around inequality and social mobility. The distribution of essential skills, and the opportunities to build them, is highly uneven throughout the UK. For instance, people who had parents who were less engaged in their education tended to have fewer opportunities to develop their essential skills and therefore lower skill levels. People who attended non-independent or non-selective schools similarly had fewer opportunities and lower essential skills levels. There are also regional variations: London, the South, and Midlands all reported the highest skill levels in stark disparity to regions of the North and East of England.
Alongside this skills gap, the Tracker points to an endemic “skills trap” where many from less advantaged backgrounds have fewer opportunities to build essential skills at school, meaning they leave education with lower average skill levels. They then have less desire to build essential skills, go into lower skilled, lower paid jobs with fewer opportunities to build essential skills, and continue to earn less than their peers with higher levels of essential skills. They’re therefore likely to have lower levels of life satisfaction and total income. In short, it’s the most disadvantaged individuals who are also the least likely to build the very skills that improve life outcomes, creating a cycle of disadvantage and inequality.
To both bridge the gap and escape the trap, the Tracker recommends that the UK scales the volume of high-quality opportunities to build essential skills in education, through impact interventions, and in employment.
Want to learn what specific recommendations we have for policymakers, employers, and educators based off these findings? Read our executive summary.
More on the Tracker
This isn’t the last you’ll hear of the Tracker – far from it.
We’ll also repeat this analysis every year to generate new insights and track our progress towards our overarching mission: to ensure that one day, everyone builds the essential skills to succeed.
Our work as a Partnership
This research confirms what the Skills Builder Partnership has long known. Essential skills have a profound influence on every aspect of our lives, and everyone deserves an opportunity to build them.
Since 2018, our approach has been a collective one: bringing together educators, employers, and impact organisations around our shared mission as well as a common language for essential skills. The Partnership is now more than 800 organisations strong, and the growing impact of the Framework has been seen across education, training, and employment. In the last year, the Partnership delivered 1.46 million opportunities for individuals to boost their essential skills.
These findings underscore that this collective impact approach is the most effective way to bring about lasting change. As we commit to repeating the Tracker as an annual view of essential skills across the country, we hope to galvanise and direct these combined efforts as a Partnership and boost high quality opportunities for all.
Click here to download the report and explore our interactive dashboard.