There is a £21 billion opportunity for the UK economy in developing and nurturing soft skills – skills such as communication, teamwork and time management.
Recent research conducted by McDonald's UK shines a spotlight on soft skills – something that we recognise at the Peter Jones Foundation and have been working to promote in our young people through our work over the past 10 years.
The research has provided a timely reminder of the importance of these skills. It highlights that they are vital to the success of our country's future, and to increase awareness the organisation is planning on publishing a series of long-term recommendations to promote these skills towards the end of this year.
Soft skills are really anything but soft. They provide hard benefits to the economy, and are estimated to be worth £88 billion to the UK economy – a number that will rise to £109 billion during the next 5 years.
Today's workplace is calling out for talent, and it has never been more important for young people to possess a broad spectrum of skills, particularly those that extend beyond academic knowledge.
Although teachers and educational institutions are doing all they can to promote enterprising activities, it is sometimes hard to prioritise such activities when the emphasis is strongly directed to the core academic subjects. The Foundation encourages entrepreneurial activities, including Tycoon in Schools, and while students do not receive an official qualification, they are encouraged to reflect on what they have learnt and most importantly students are telling us the experience is invaluable.
In our increasingly competitive job market and rapidly changing workplace these skills need to be recognised as fundamental prerequisites for success. This was highlighted in Lord Young's Enterprise for All report last year, which discussed the implementation of an 'Enterprise Passport', a nationwide template allowing young people to record and demonstrate their enterprise learning.
A more formal recognition of these skills, through the 'Enterprise Passport' and other school focused schemes, like the Peter Jones Enterprise School Award, empower young people and encourage them to promote not only their academic achievements, but also these broader, all important 'soft' attributes including team work, resilience and problem solving.
In addition to the economic impact that soft skills have, it has been predicted that by 2020 over half a million UK workers will be held back as a result of lacking these necessary proficiencies. There has never been a more important time to make sure our young people are equipped with these skills for the workplace and leave education as well-rounded individuals. The success of our country lies firmly in the hands of this generation and we must ensure that they are provided with the right opportunities and are encouraged to develop the skills that will drive the future growth of our economy.
At the Peter Jones Foundation, we firmly believe in promoting a 'learning by doing' approach to nurture the development of the broad range of skills needed for the 21st century workplace. This method is key in all of our initiatives, especially the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy.
Our Level 5 Apprenticeship in Business Innovation and Growth gives students the opportunity to earn whilst they learn. These apprenticeships enable Academy students to apply practical skills to a real business environment and learn to commit, cooperate and communicate – all of which set them up with the best possible start for their future career. Apprentices bring fresh new talent to already established organisations and are becoming invaluable change-makers within the workplace.
Young people face a much tougher job market than ever before and we must continue to work towards giving every student who leaves education the right skills they need to get on and succeed.
At a time when many employers report the increasing difficulty in judging young applicants on their educational qualifications alone, the recognition of soft skills is crucial, as they are the new hard currency of business.
Alice Barnard is chief executive at the Peter Jones Foundation