Emma Finamore, Editor, AllAboutSchoolLeavers.co.uk

At the end of March a new report showed that while 60% of employers say being adaptable has become more important in the last decade, simultaneously over 60% of educators don’t think school leavers are leaving education with the adaptability skills they will need for work.

LifeSkills, created with Barclays, published "How Employable is the UK", reporting that over 60% of employers across a range of industries believe adaptability has become more important over the past decade, more than any other employability skill.

It also found that 64% of educators feel that school and college-leavers do not have the adaptability skills needed for the workplace, showing that more resources for teachers could help them to support young people to become more comfortable with managing change and uncertainty.

Adaptability is one of the transferable, future skills that experts such as Matthew Taylor, author of the Government’s Good Work report, have said are vital for school students.  Adaptability, in particular, is a key skill that will enable people to thrive in the 21st century workplace.

“Resilience is very important, as is adaptability…. We’re facing into an unpredictable future, so being able to deal with high levels of ambiguity is important, both for our mental health and for our productivity as a nation,” said Sherry Coutu, Serial Entrepreneur and CEO of Founders4Schools, in the report.

“Life skills as well as technical skills are lacking and that’s causing 93% of business leaders to complain about the skill crisis… I believe that’s down to a lack of exposure to business leaders both in the classroom and particularly in the work place. It’s vital for 16 to 18 year olds to experience what’s expected of them.”

This new research just builds on information we have been hearing over a number of years: that standard education (schools and university) is failing to give young people the right employability skills for the modern workplace.

The Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) published research in 2017, for example, in which 174 organisations reported on the quality of candidates coming straight out of university degree courses.

The chief executive of the AGR, Stephen Isherwood, said at the time that employers reported a lack of people skills and a "fundamental understanding" of the world of work, as well as lacking "the ability to work with people and get things done when things go wrong".

LifesSkills is now offering helpful, free lesson plans aimed at 14-16-year-olds in order to help them develop these key adaptability skills – which should be welcomed and embraced.

Using scenarios from the workplace, it aims to help young people to develop an adaptable mindset and understand the importance of versatility in their future careers.

It takes example problems from different industries and challenges pupils to work in groups to plan how they could adapt to solve them.

This type of group activity helps young people think about approaching problems with an adaptable mindset and complements building employability skills in practice through work experience.

But it’s worth bearing in mind that these are also skills that apprenticeship programmes are already teaching to young people, and have been doing so for years.

Intermediate Apprenticeships – which have been out of the spotlight for so long, as things like Degree Apprenticeships grab the headlines – for example, should be applauded for helping 16-year-olds develop soft skills like adaptability, while they attain formal, technical qualifications.

Perhaps we should be encouraging young people who find it especially difficult to develop skills like this in the classroom, towards apprenticeship programmes?

Apprenticeships of all levels help develop adaptability, whether it’s through the day-to-day hands-on experience of operating in the workplace – and all the situations a young person will have to respond to, improving each time – or through the flitting between study or coursework and the normal working day, that’s a key part of an apprenticeship.

We should welcome the idea of teaching adaptability in schools, but bear in mind that there are already programmes in place to develop employability skills alongside study: they’re called apprenticeships.

Emma Finamore, Editor, AllAboutSchoolLeavers.co.uk

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