Is it hard to be soft?

Alan Sinclair, former Senior Director for Skills and Learning in Scottish Enterprise, considers the skills shortage and shows us another path — putting the three Ps before the three Rs.

Assembled in the room were the senior civil servant and his top team responsible for education in Scotland. My job was to present what 22,000 employers big and small, public and private told us about the people they recruited in the past year.

The data told an unexpected story.

New recruits were poor at talking and listening, working with one another and with the public, and poor at elementary planning or problem solving. Employers of lower paid people, for example jobs in care and retail, had the greatest dissatisfaction. Graduates recruited, we were told, had the same soft skill shortage, just to a lesser extent.

After two hours of close questioning and discussion, the headman closed the session by saying, “ Thank you that was most interesting. But it has nothing to do with us”.

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Work, learning and community in the 21st century

Jobs in the 21st century are becoming project-driven and problem-driven rather than subject-driven, requiring teamwork that involves the collaborative engagement of specialists and generalists. Employers increasingly seek to employ those with breadth of knowledge and skills, including communication, interpersonal and technical skills, and the capacity to analyse problems from different perspectives. Subject-specific knowledge is no longer the primary determinant of suitability in most graduate recruitment. According to the Institute of Student Employers (an employment-led membership organisation) 82% of graduate recruiters in 2017 did not mind what degree subjects or qualifications candidates offered.

Higher-order skills will be essential to meet these and other complex challenges, with a rebalancing beyond narrowly focused specialists towards more flexible learners and workers with ongoing access to lifelong IDL and training. The OECD’s skills strategy identifies the need for higher order skills to thrive in an uncertain world, including problem-solving, creativity, critical thinking, team working, resilience and adaptability.

However, IDL is not just about equipping learners with more useful knowledge and skills for the workplace; it is more broadly about providing learners with experiences, knowledge and understandings that foster a lifelong love for learning, creativity, collaboration and community, and a deeper understanding of the world.

Read more about what the network will do in practice, and how you can contribute, on this page.

Featured image: National Library of Ireland, Dublin. © Colin Graham 2018