How do essential skills influence life outcomes? An evidence review (The Centre for Education and Youth, Skills Builder Partnership)

New research by The Centre for Education and Youth in partnership with the Skills Builder Partnership explores the relationship between essential skills and young people’s life outcomes. Existing work often emphasises the importance of building essential skills in light of structural changes in the labour market, including technological disruptions and changing work norms. This report seeks to complement previous research by making available a wide range of experimental, quasi-experimental, and high-quality qualitative research to investigate the links between essential skills development and education, employment and social outcomes.

Key findings

This research explores the relationship between young people’s skills development, and life outcomes in terms of their educational attainment, employment prospects, and social and emotional wellbeing.

One large-scale study analysed longitudinal data, supporting the causal claim that aspirations for more highly skilled jobs support improved academic outcomes for young people with special educational needs. Other studies highlight a correlation between young people possessing suitably high academic goals and academic outcomes.

In a study of French secondary school-leavers perseverance, self-esteem, risk taking and communication, alongside educational level and field of specialism, lead to higher wages. This relationship was particularly marked amongst the highest earners, indicating these skills matter for accessing top jobs.

Further findings

The literature suggests that interventions designed to teach and model social and emotional skills, such as listening, speaking and staying positive, are associated with improved attainment amongst younger pupils in school. Furthermore, young people’s propensity to aim high at school and university appears to be causally linked to improved academic performance for pupils with special educational needs. Aiming high also appears to be predictive of success in employment, defined by salary growth and career satisfaction, although there is disagreement in the literature about the extent to which not meeting high aspirations can result in poorer mental health.

Research suggests that young people’s ability to stay positive may be linked to increased academic attainment. The development and possession of teamwork and interpersonal skills is associated with improved academic attainment, as well as with high performance in internships and the workplace. Leadership skills have also been linked to success in the workplace among young adults.

Communication skills, including speaking and listening, are linked to a number of positive educational and employment outcomes for young people, including academic attainment and professional competency. There is also evidence that teaching and developing these skills could support young people’s social and emotional wellbeing, through improved social self-efficacy, reduction of bullying in class and alienation when participating in sport, and reduction of symptoms of anxiety and depression for Autistic young people.

Research on interventions supporting young people’s problem solving skills suggest that development of these skills is associated with positive social and emotional wellbeing outcomes, including a reduction of bullying incidents in the classroom, reduction of symptoms of anxiety and depression amongst Autistic young people and improved social self-efficacy. The teaching of skills for creativity has also been linked to improved psychological wellbeing for young people.

Research suggests that the ability to stay positive is a skill that supports the social and emotional wellbeing of young people. The studies discussed here indicated that staying positive can improve young people’s social-emotional competence.


Where studies in this review explored the features of effective delivery, they indicated that essential skills interventions tend to be more effective when they are regular, long term, explicit, embedded, structured, supported and targeted.

The studies included in this review indicate that the possession of essential skills, and their development through interventions, can be beneficial for children and young people in terms of their educational, employment and social and emotional outcomes.

Implications for practice

Some underlying features of effective interventions emerge from the literature. These principles in particular are that interventions should be:

  • Regular, implemented on at least a weekly basis
  • Long term, helping children and young people develop skills over time
  • Explicit, making the skills themselves the focus of teaching activities
  • Embedded, where possible highlighting skills as they arise during subject teaching, and across the school curriculum rather than in classroom siloes

The literature also suggests that successful interventions are underpinned by three additional principles, namely that interventions should be:

  • Structured (but not rigid), breaking the skills down into chunks, highlighting what ‘success’ looks like and how skills can be utilised across different aspects of life, and helping children and young people identify how they can improve
  • Supported, giving teachers and other adults working with children and young people the resources and training they need to implement essential skills teaching effectively, perhaps with the support of a dedicated coordinator
  • Targeted, ensuring that children and young people who need additional help get it, and that the teaching of skills is responsive to needs including special educational needs and disabilities


Read the full report here.