Employability: Incentivising Improvement

A report by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES)

This report examines shortages in employability skills as a problem for those entering work and employers and details recent policy changes in three areas: training, assessment and funding, as well as seeking levers in the existing system that could be adapted to improve shortcomings.In addition to its own research and consultation work, UKCES commissioned Deloitte to carry out research into each of the three areas, reviewing recent literature and conducting interviews, seminars and surveys of various stakeholders. Key findings and recommendations are listed below:

  • Various surveys indicate gaps between employers’ needs and available skills e.g. the CBI Education and Skills Survey 2010 showed that 68 per cent of employers surveyed were not satisfied with the business and customer awareness skills of school and college leavers.
  • However, recent policy initiatives reflect increased awareness and new approaches to the importance of teaching employability, adding personal skills such as self-management, problem solving, communication, teamwork and an understanding of business to the fundamental skills of IT, numeracy and literacy.
  • The importance of training: this strand of research details ways employability may be taught, recommending the ‘weaving’ of employability through the teaching of existing qualifications, and listing the key skills required to do so, such as trainers’ knowledge and experience of industry. This should take place through initial teacher training as well as continual professional development. Employer engagement is noted to be vital in this process, through the provision of work placements for students and teachers and becoming involved in curricular design and project assessment, for example. Mechanisms for employers to more effectively engage in education are mentioned, such as facilitating organisations (Education and Employers Taskforce, IEBE) and the inclusion of employability in National Occupational Standards (NOS).
  • Given the importance to employers of employability skills, how to recognise such skills is a key issue. The difficulty of measuring and assessing personal skills through formal assessment is noted, but attempts at recognition are highly desirable, especially for lower-level learners where this can improve confidence. Ways to achieve this are suggested, such as peer- and self-assessment, highlighting the importance of learners being able to actively reflect on the ‘distance travelled’ in their gaining of employability skills. The benefits and limitations of embedding employability into wider teaching strategies versus teaching it in a generic, unitised approach are also discussed. Once again, employers have a central role to play in this process, such as in the development of qualifications through Sector Skills Councils (SSCs).
  • In examining funding and other drivers of provider behaviour, the authors argue that there is potential for driving up quality and performance through levers other than policy change: learner choice through improved public information and embedding employability into vocational qualifications as could be signalled in NOS. Funding, targets and measures should be consistent and aligned.
  • In moving forward to ensure policy is reflected in practice, several measures of outcomes are suggested: surveys of students, graduates and employers, inspection reports and data on attainment, progression and, above all, secure employment.

In conclusion, the report recognises that progress has been made in meeting the ’employability challenge’ outlined in a previous UKCES report, but identifies ways in which existing systemic levers may be better utilised in addressing the continuing problem of school leavers and graduates being ill-equipped for the world of work.

Download the Employability Incentivising improvement report