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Future of Work 2020

Essential skills are the foundation of the future of work

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Nicola Inge

Director of Employment and Skills, Business in the Community

Essential skills are the enduring talents that underpin business success in every context, vital for early careers and throughout people’s working lives. These include attributes such as resilience, leadership, problem-solving and teamwork.

These essential skills need to be taught in education, valued and assessed through recruitment, and developed through organisational learning and development programmes.  

Over the past 18 months, Business in the Community has been collaborating with leaders in the education and skills sectors as part of an Essential Skills Taskforce, with a shared ambition to create a common language and framework for skills that would span education and employment, enabling people to develop these skills throughout their lifetime.  

The challenges presented by COVID-19 provide an additional motive for businesses, educators, and employability providers to do more to develop essential skills now.  Some of the trends that were already in place due to automation are being accelerated, as businesses rapidly adopt more technology. 

Essential skills are the critical human attributes needed to maximise the productivity gains made possible through technology, which are less vulnerable to automation.  

Whole sectors of industry have been brought to their knees over recent months, with unemployment predicted to reach two million1. In the months ahead, hundreds of thousands of people will be relying on their transferable, essential skills as they look for new jobs, with many looking to explore alternative industries.  

COVID-19 is having a disproportionate impact2 on the employment prospects of groups that were more disadvantaged even before the crisis – young people, women, older people and low-paid workers.  Young people will be hardest hit, with youth unemployment estimated to reach 27%3. With evidence that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to be not in education, employment or training (NEET),4 we must do all we can to give these groups the best chances of success and stop the disadvantage gap widening.  

A shared language and a shared responsibility

Young people in education, jobseekers looking to enter the labour market for the first time, and workers of all ages looking to progress in their careers need a clear framework and common language to identify and develop their essential skills. 

In May, members of the Essential Skills Taskforce launched the Skills Builder Universal Framework5 for essential skills with the vision that this would enable educators, employers and individuals to develop essential skills in a consistent way.  This shared language is vital to empower individuals and maximise the impact of the myriad skills development programmes that are available. 

We also need to recognise how often these skills are overlooked or taken for granted, with the false assumption often made that these skills are innate or only built through experience.  It is critical that these skills are developed through our education system, but employers also have a responsibility to ensure that everyone has opportunities throughout their lives to develop the skills that they need to thrive.

Find out more about the importance of essential skills and sign up for our newsletter at Check out the framework and supporting resources at 

1 UK economy could shrink by 35% with 2m job losses, warns OBR (2020); Richard Partington; The Guardian, available at | 2 Sector shutdowns during the coronavirus crisis: which workers are most exposed? (2020); Robert Joyce and Xiaowei Xu; Institute for Fiscal Studie; available at | 3 | 4 Establishing the Employment Gap (2019); Impetus; available at | 5 Essential Skills Taskforce members are: Business in the Community, Careers & Enterprise Company, CBI, the CIPD, EY Foundation, Gatsby Foundation and the Skills Builder Partnership

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