As millions of young people start their first term of the year at university, few will have thought beyond their studies and considered the need to develop their employability or transferable skills, yet according to a number of recent studies by the OECD, The Work Foundation and the LETR, that is precisely what they should be doing.
Take a moment to remember back to your first graduate role after university. Like many people, you probably learnt a lot of the skills that allow you to perform your current role as you went along. Learning from colleagues and mentors and observing how to work as a team, communicate effectively, be self motivated and a whole host of other “softer skills” is now what is termed as employability or transferable skills. Yet, as the job market becomes increasingly competitive, graduates are increasingly expected to be able to demonstrate not only technical skill, but a numberof employability skills from day one.
As an education sector focused lawyer, I regulary speak at universities and time after time young people tell me of their desperation and lack of optimism for the future as they struggle to secure their first employment role. But my advice to them is that the opportunity to learn new ideas and skills is perhaps one of the greatest gifts we all have and employability or transferable skills can be learnt. Those with the enthusiasm and passion to learn these skills will undoubtedly give themselves a head start when it comes to securing a job in their chosen career.
Learning to succeed
There is a risk that in searching for a solution to the skills gap, graduates are simply handed instruction on how to behave and act in order to get a job, with the hope that these employability skills will somehow appear. However, it isn’t quite that straight-forward. For example, a fundamental career skill that is often overlooked is confidence, and this is not something that you can be instructed to feel or do. Confidence is not extroversion or the gift of the gabb, nor is it something you were born with. Confidence is about empowering young people to understand their own signature strengths and develop their own self-assurance. This allows people to stand out from the crowd and be the best version of themselves that they can possibly be.
Often a lot of young people at university will have succeded academicaly in just about everything up to the age of 18, after all that is what will have got them into university. So you can understand that when applying for jobs, dealing with rejection from employers can be tough and their confidence can take a knock. This can often lead to pessimism as young people find it difficult to see a future post- university. Most people will have experienced the scenario of applying for a job, and thinking they have a great chance, but ultimately are not successful. It is tough to come to terms with. In these situations, what sets people apart is not that they have failed, but how they have reacted to failure. The ability to adapt and learn from what life throws at you builds a resilience that allows you to succeed. Confidence very much comes from experience, so, in order to help these young people build the foundations for a successful career, it is important that we give them the chance to have those experiences, but also ensure that they understand to take those experiences in their stride and use them to help them feel confident.
Watching the Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer has had a profound effect on the nation. There have been a number of inspirational performances, but for me the lasting legacy was about optimism. This is not about thinking everything is rosy. It is about understanding that life can be tough, accepting that, and having the confidence and belief that we can develop the skills to turn any situation round.
Mo Farrah’s and Jessica Ennis’ performances will live long in the memory of the nation, and will no doubt inspire many to try different sports.
Listening to interviews with elite athletes you often hear that at some time in their career they have suffered setbacks, but their belief in the future has got them through the tough times. Many of the young people I speak to are in a difficult place, at the beginning of their career and struggling to get that first graduate job. This is where experienced practitioners can add real value to young people by passing on their knowledge of the world of work. Just like a coach for an athlete, it is our job to make sure we transfer our knowledge to the next generation.
Business partnering and transferable skills
It makes sense that if you want to find out what employability skills an accountant needs, it is a good idea to speak to a practising accountant. The same applies for a lawyer, surveyor or doctor, and so on. This kind of practical experience is precisely what schools, colleges and universities are now encouraging.
At DWF we have partnered with a number of different educational establishments throughout the country on a variety of projects. These projects allow our people to spend time with students, tell them about how they work and enable knowledge to be transferred to the next generation. Often young people have never been in a professional environment before, so to get the chance to spend some time in the workplace, learning how someone does their job can actually have a huge impact in preparing them for a working environment.
All of our education focused projects are continually sense checked to make sure that what we do is aligned with our company values. This alignment approach enables us to foster longer term partnerships, which in turn help us as a business to develop sustainable programmes that benefit the young people we work with.
The sooner young people start to learn employability skills, whether through opportunities at school, college, university or through business partnering, the better. These opportunies give people the confidence to succeed, optimism about their future and the resilience to do well at whatever life throws at them.
The future is in safe hands
Schools, colleges, universities and employers have all embraced the need to help the next generation develop the skills necessary to deal with whatever life throws at them. Practical experience is essential, and as an employer, we at DWF certainly recognise our role in helping to develop a professional and passionate workforce, with a young generation that is capable and equipped for the world of work from the moment they graduate.
Whether it is opening up your company to work experience placements, or working with education establishments, it is essential that employers play their role in helping young people understand how to apply the theory of what they have learnt in a real life situation – the power of practical experience in doing this should not be underestimated.
Simon Price is an education focused lawyer at business law firm, DWF. He is heavily involved in the education sector and has spoken to over 2,000 students across the country at schools, colleges and universities on the subject of employability and transferable skills.