Harnessing employability skills to succeed in an ever-changing environment

The evolution that we’ve seen occur over the past few years in the global workplace is perhaps the biggest that all working generations have seen. While the COVID-19 pandemic was clearly a primary catalyst of such change, there are other factors that contribute significantly, such as the 4th industrial revolution as a result of the massive progression of technology and AI.

28 March 2023

If we consider what is being termed ‘The Great Resignation’ (or, as we’ve heard others describe it, The Great Re-shuffle, The Great Re-think, and even The Great Retention), there is a flurry of movement of people between jobs, into new jobs and onward to higher levels of their careers. 

It is a time of both challenge and incredible opportunity. And because the landscape of work has shifted so dramatically, one of the biggest opportunities available to people who are riding these waves of change is to assess their skills, identify valuable employability skills, as well as skills gaps – and then get to work on further developing them. 

What are employability skills?

In the words of Amanda Kelly, Industry Manager for Maths, English and Employability at City & Guilds, “What one person calls employability skills could be another person’s very core values, and yet what another might simply call soft skills.” 

Employability skills are a blend of the transferable skills needed to move between roles and even industries with confidence, but can also include some more practical skills which involve marketing and preparing yourself for the ever-changing job market. Many of the skills which we recognise as enhancing an individual’s employability, such as teamwork and team management, or problem solving and lateral thinking, already exist in an individual’s toolbox of abilities. 

These skills are sometimes present naturally within a person, or they’ve been developed through work experience in various environments, and one just needs a way to evidence these abilities. Effective communication, for example, encompasses a range of skills, and while we often focus on the ability to speak and communicate, the ability to be a good, active listener is every bit as important. 

Other employability skills are less obvious. Self-management and initiative, resilience and wellbeing are also important in supporting people into employment and helping them to retain their jobs. Without competence in technology and digital skills, sound numeracy and maths, and English literacy skills, none of us would be where we are now.

Why are employability skills so powerful?

Employability skills are often also referred to as work-readiness skills, and although they’re seldom listed in actual job descriptions, they’re often the very skills and traits that will help a candidate stand out from other applicants – even above those who may have better technical qualifications or experience. 

Why? Because while technical skills can be learned, practised and developed, the critical but less tangible skills such as teamwork and communication are equally desirable, sometimes more important in some roles, and harder to measure.

Developing employability skills opens doors for all kinds of people – especially in a world that’s changing so fast. Kelly comments, “Employability is about visualising where you want to be, and adapting as needed to get there. And that changes, as circumstances change. These underlying skills are essential to help cope in today’s world.” 

School-leavers and graduates who have acquired good technical qualifications may benefit from developing certain work-readiness skills that are sometimes not covered in their vocational syllabus.

Workers who have been displaced by the dramatic impact of the pandemic may move into new industries, and progress faster by acquiring a wider set of employability skills.

People who have been unemployed for a while can refresh their employability skills and regain their confidence, which will not only facilitate faster recruitment, but better performance on the job. 

Lower-wage earners are able to explore wider horizons, especially where employability-related qualifications are funded through the adult education budget (AEB). By developing universal skills, these individuals are able to venture into new industries with better opportunities for growth. 

Seasoned workers with vast experience but limited digital technology abilities can enhance their performance and potential to collaborate with modern teams by developing the skills to better utilise technology in their industry. 

Hilary Gwilliam, Senior Category Manager for Pre-employment at City & Guilds, adds: “Employability skills need to be seen as lifelong skills, and can often be as important to life in general as they are for work. There are always opportunities to continue to develop and refine them at every stage of your working life as you progress in your career or transfer between roles, not just in the early stages.”

Preparing for progression

Although it depends on the culture of each organisation, we’ve typically moved away from having one job for life. There is constant progression – the workplace is fluid, and workers are placed under greater pressure to adapt, be confident and become competent in new skills and crafts at regular turns. 

Gwilliam comments, “The future looks different, and there is a lot of evidence emerging which is helping us to identify the right employability and human skills needed for the future, and across different industries. That said, there is also a core pool of skills that that we all need in order to be responsive and adaptable to new landscapes, and in order to grow.” 

In terms of the 4th industrial revolution, roles are expected to revolve around managing people, facilitating difficult and technical communication, and bridging the gap between human and machine. This is uncovered in fascinating depth in the Top 10 Jobs of the Future - 2030 report.

Out of the top 10 emerging jobs identified: 

  • 2 revolve around enhancing remote working relationships and productivity
  • 2 focus on personal and professional wellbeing amidst new working conditions
  • 1 falls within environmental sustainability
  • 5 fall within cutting-edge digital technology and AI 
  • All involve successful implementation of technology in some way, and in varying degrees

For real people – A holistic approach to employability

At City & Guilds, our purpose is to help people, organisations and entire economies develop skills that drive growth. Our employability offer supports: 

  1. Progress into a job
  2. On the job
  3. Onto the next job

Our employability skills courses enable learners to select from a wide range of topics, empowering them to design their own path, or to enrol on expertly-tailored qualifications for specific industries, including construction, retail, hospitality and catering, and social care. We also offer digital credentials which recognise the skills achieved and allow them to be showcased on line.

If you’d like to find out more about our adult and range of work-readiness qualifications, recognised by employers across the world, read about it here.