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Challenging the idea that Employability Skills are simply about getting that first job

After numerous studies we’re finally getting to the point where employability skills are less contentious, there’s a degree of acceptance about what these skills are, and just how important they are. It’s taken some time to get to this level of acceptance, and it may be argued that it is partially due to a misinterpretation of what the term employability skills implies: it’s often taken to mean the
skills that are needed to get a first job and is therefore only applicable to young people entering the workplace for the first time. However, a more accurate definition, and one that is increasingly
recognised, is that these are the soft skills that continue to have value throughout our lifetime in employment and are those that need to be developed throughout our careers.

Reading a list of the ‘Big 10’ Employability Skills it becomes obvious that these are primarily Interpersonal Skills, the behaviours we engage in order to make our workplace relationships efficient and effective.

•  Communication Skills: Listening, giving instructions, getting a point across etc in a way that demonstrates situational flexibility. Activity suggestion: Colourblind

•  Decision Making: Gathering all the important facts, seeking advice, looking at the big picture, considering alternatives, being aware of repercussions etc. Activity suggestion: Narrow Margins

•  Showing commitment: Dependability, reliability, enthusiasm, and the ability to work with low levels of supervision. 

•  Flexibility: Adaptability that allows a person to try something new and develop at a pace that is in line, or exceeds, that of workplace change. 

•  Time Management Skills: Prioritising the most important tasks, and then deciding which actions will produce the maximum appropriate output with the minimum appropriate effort. Activity suggestion: Webmaster

•  Leadership Skills
: Showing the ability to lead by example, to constantly look to improve, to self-motivate, to demonstrate a positive approach, and to know when to follow instructions and when to show initiative. Activity suggestion:

•  Creativity & Problem Solving Skills: The ability to apply both logic and creativity to solve problems. Activity suggestion: Challenging Assumptions

•  Being a Team Player: Having team goals clear in mind and working with others to achieve them, showing openness and honesty, offering constructive suggestions and listening to others. Activity suggestion: Teamwork & Teamplay Cards

•  Accepting Responsibility: Taking pride in your output, and accepting responsibility for the mistakes as well as the successes. Activity suggestion: Simmetrics

•  Ability to Work Under Pressure: Staying focused and coping with the stress of deadlines and customers’ expectations. Activity suggestion: Keypunch

 As an educator, and designer of learning materials, I look at this list through the professional lens that asks;

“How do I develop these skills in any given client or student group?”

That’s a big question that is very subjective, but it’s very clear to me that these are soft skills that can only be effectively developed experientially - we have to put learners into situations where they acquire and practice these skills in contexts similar to those that they will ultimately need to use them. This means in situations where they are working with others on novel problems that need a broad range of soft skills to succeed.

In developing the learning tools that support learning environments designed to address these skills, I have always started by considering the learning need, rather than the learning subject. This means that, at RSVP Design, we don’t take as our start point “The target user is a student, or a supervisor, or a senior manager”, we start with “The skill set that we’re trying to develop is creativity and problem solving, or being a team player, or making decisions”. The reason being that these are skills that can, and should, be developed throughout our working lives. The language and session structure adopted by the facilitator may change between these user groups, but the skills developed are fundamentally the same, and the learning tool should support the educator in achieving their objectives no matter what defines the group they are working with.

Talk to us today about what interpersonal skills you would like to enhance in your organisation - we are more than happy to provide advice.