From education to employment

Mastering employability, building resilience

Kerry Boffey

Resilience among staff is increasingly important for employers. Kerry discusses teaching and measuring it as a means of improving workforce productivity while cultivating a culture of continuous learning.

Developing employability skills is recognised as a critical component in education and training in improving people’s lives, enabling them to feel valued and contribute to society. The partnership between educators, training providers and employers plays a pivotal role in shaping a workforce that meets the dynamic and evolving needs of the job market.

The increased knowledge and universal use of AI is moving at an exponential speed and the importance of educators and training providers actively reaching out to industry stakeholders to gain insights into their evolving needs has never been more important. 

One of the most valuable employability or transferable skills, sometimes overlooked, is resilience. Without resilience recognised as important and valuable, we are inadequately equipping people for the workforce of tomorrow. As part of employability or many programmes on offer, there is more emphasis on work experience or work tasters. Gaining cooperation with employers is paramount in the success of these programmes whether it’s work experience, opportunities for interview following a skills bootcamp or securing employment. 

Having conducted an initial research project into employers’ needs six years ago, we recently worked with the Adult Learning Improvement Network (ALIN) to update this research. We wanted to identify to identify patterns of change in employers’ needs and values post-Covid.

The updated research and comprehensive study have unveiled a noticeable shift in the skills and attributes prioritised by employers. We will release the complete findings in the coming months and I wish to highlight one aspect initially – the perception of resilience by employers, emphasising its renewed significance.

Resilience now critical for employers

The research highlighted that employers not only acknowledged a variety of factors contributing to a lack of resilience but also highlighted its status as one of the most valued skills in their current workforce. As industry contends with uncertainties and challenges, resilience has become a critical factor in evaluating both existing and prospective employees.

For example, I had the benefit of joining a group of learners listening to an employer from a security company. The personal insights were fascinating and the group of long-term unemployed men and women on this course clearly enjoyed the frank approach. Technical knowledge, health and safety and the law were important parts of this course. However the employer focused his attention unreservedly on resilience.

The employer shared invaluable anecdotes and a range of examples where his employees exhibited resilience, not only adapting swiftly to the changing circumstances but also motivated their teams to stay focused and determined. He also shared experiences where the lack of resilience resulted in decreased morale, missed deadlines and a negative impact on team dynamics. The employer stressed the ripple effect, where a single individual’s inability to navigate challenges had broader implications for the entire project and team performance.

Can we actually teach resilience and how do we test it?

Recognising its importance is one thing but teaching others to value and become more resilient is more challenging. Is it more than just bouncing back from setbacks; does it encompass a range of attributes that contribute to an individual’s ability to thrive in challenging environments? I would suggest it’s all these and so much more.

Attributes such as adaptability, perseverance, emotional intelligence and a positive mindset are all contributors to resilience. Without resilience, how will potential employees demonstrate the ability to navigate uncertainty, learn from failures and stay focused and productive when faced with challenges? 

To promote and actively encourage resilience, we need to recognise and celebrate these qualities. Training providers and colleges have the opportunity to establish effective systems for recognising and valuing resilience among their students. While it’s likely that some have already initiated such practices, there remains untapped potential for much more to be done.

It is essential to explore and implement additional strategies that go beyond current approaches to not only acknowledge but also actively encourage and celebrate resilience, e.g. by incorporating resilience-related criteria into practical assessments, acknowledging and showcasing examples of resilience and sharing stories or experiences.  The buzz around creating recognition programmes that celebrate individuals who exhibit exceptional resilience can be very powerful.

How to measure resilience

Measuring resilience can be challenging, but it is possible. Evaluations can be designed to capture resilience-related competencies. Portfolios, case studies and reflective assignments or special projects can provide evidence of an individual’s ability to overcome challenges and adapt to new situations. By incorporating real-world scenarios into employability training programmes, trainers can create opportunities for learners to showcase their resilience in practical settings.

Recognising resilience goes hand in hand with cultivating it. Training providers and colleges can integrate resilience-building activities into their programmes, encouraging students to take on challenges, learn from failures and develop a growth mindset. The ability to confidently give and receive constructive criticism is frequently a valuable indicator of resilience.

Learning from mistakes

Our research uncovered the value of making mistakes but also how fear of failure stifled creativity. In discussion employers talked positively about fostering a culture that encourages experimentation and that the ability to learn from failures is crucial. They recognise that in a training environment learners and students can feel safe to take risks, make mistakes and openly discuss what they have learned from those experiences. By reframing mistakes as valuable learning opportunities, we not only develop resilient individuals but also foster innovation and continuous improvement.

Industry will thrive by employing resilient individuals who exhibit a remarkable ability to maintain focus and productivity in the face of adversity. This involves staying committed to goals, managing stress effectively and adapting to changing circumstances without losing sight of the bigger picture. Educational programmes should incorporate stress-management techniques, goal-setting exercises and real-world scenarios to help individuals develop the focus and productivity needed to navigate challenging professional environments.

Collaboration between educators and employers is paramount, while understanding the research and the changing landscape of employers’ needs is critical. This collaborative approach ensures that educational programmes not only provide technical proficiency but also cultivate resilience, empowering individuals to thrive in an ever-changing professional landscape.


Resilience, with its components of navigating uncertainty, learning from failures and maintaining focus, is a critical asset in today’s fast-paced professional landscape. As we strive to create resilient professionals, we simultaneously cultivate a culture of continuous learning and improvement, shaping a workforce capable of embracing the challenges of the future with confidence and adaptability.

By Kerry Boffey, Fellowship of Inspection Nominees

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