THE BLOG

It's Time for Soft Skills to Be Given the Hard Sell

12/08/2014 14:37 BST | Updated 11/10/2014 10:59 BST

As young people get ready to receive their exam results, a recent study has revealed just how much employers believe that qualifications alone are not enough to get a job.

The nation's bosses are increasingly looking at the personal qualities candidates can bring to the table, both immediately and in the long term. But just whose responsibility is it to ensure young people don't just place more emphasis on these skills in job applications, but on achieving them in the first place?

As part of the Brathay Apprentice Challenge 2014 eight of the country's leading apprentice employers discussed this very issue.

Bosses from PepsiCo, e2v Technologies, Oxley Developments, British Airways, QinetiQ, South Worcestershire College, Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Virgin Media all stated how job applications they receive are often poorly written. They also claimed that far too many applicants show very little interest in the job that they're applying for, merely listing qualifications that they have achieved.

The way for young people to really catch the eye of an employer, these companies claimed, is to show the employer who they are, not just their qualifications, but also proudest achievements and what they will bring to the organisation - in short, the employers want to see personality and potential.

But what can employers do to help young people find employment?

A number of the employers taking part in the discussion had already started changing the way that they recruit young people. One organisation has expanded the work experience it offers to young people in the local area in their last year of school, giving them a chance to understand the work that they would be doing on an Apprenticeship and build relationships within the organisation. Virgin Media says that this gives them the chance to talent spot potential apprentices and attract a much wider variety of students into the organisation.

Many of the employers attend careers fairs to advertise their Apprenticeship vacancies and let young people know what the company does. This in turn helps young people explain why they really want the job. Many employers have also tried to support events in schools, but here they are still reporting an age old problem - many schools are actually refusing to let these employers present to their students, wanting their 'high achievers' to go to University rather than take on an Apprenticeship.

The employers believe that this comes from schools still not understanding the breadth and depth of Apprenticeships and what they can offer young people. This means that some young people are missing out on great Apprenticeship opportunities which may be more beneficial to them than going to university. An article in the teaching press captures this perfectly, citing research that shows both teachers and parents are giving young people outdated careers advice. The article also quotes research by CBI and Barclays that states 93 per cent of young people felt that they were not being given the right information to make informed career choices leading them to become demoralised and believe that they cannot enter into the profession that they want to.

How do young people stand out to an employer?

Of course, the employer can only do so much to help young people achieve their goals and get that all-important first step on the career ladder. Young people also need to take responsibility when looking for an Apprenticeship. One thing that all of the employers taking part agreed upon was that young people really need to understand why they want to work at the company, what do they want to learn, where do they want to be? The one thing that all of the employers had experienced was young people going into an interview and not even doing the smallest amount of research into what the company does.

Young people, according to the employers, also need to have a sense of adventure. It's more than likely that they're going to have to travel quite a distance to get to work and maybe at some point even move to be closer to work. This means that it's key for young people to be ready to travel and be enthusiastic about new experiences.

Young people also need to show employers real life examples of what they have achieved and know that any achievement, whether it be playing in a football team or volunteering at the local charity shop. These examples show that an applicant is using their own initiative and has other interests outside of work.

What are the next steps?

It's clear that young people need soft skills to get ahead in todays tough job market and taking that first step into employment can be extremely daunting but what young people need to remember is that it's the person that the employer is looking for, not just the qualifications.

Also, if employers want these 'soft skills' they have a responsibility to try and give young people this opportunity through 'enhanced Apprenticeship' experiences such as the Brathay Apprentice Challenge and allow them develop the skills that are so sought after.

To see what winners PepsiCo did to be crowned official 'apprentice team of the year' or if you are interested in entering the Brathay Apprentice Challenge 2015 please visit http://bit.ly/BAC14-Apprenticetv