THE BLOG

Soft Skills Are Making the Grade With Employers

13/08/2014 15:38 BST | Updated 12/10/2014 10:59 BST

The mass reporting and scrutinising of GCSE and A-level results can send young people into a panic. Getting good grades can of course open the door to a promising future, but more employers are stressing the importance of soft skills when it comes to recruiting young people and graduates. A recent survey supported by the CBI has indicated that 89% of British firms regard attitudes to work and character as the most important factors in entry level positions.

With a widening skills gap, this comes as no surprise. While employers understand that technical knowledge is increasingly important as workers progress in their careers, being good at communicating and able to work in a team are the key ingredients to getting the initial foot in the door.

The education system can teach school leavers a number of transferable skills that will ease their transition into the workforce, but it is soft employability skills that offer a real opportunity for young people to become job-ready and transform their prospects. The economy is steadily improving, but we need to address the skills shortage and ensure that young people are better prepared for the world of work in order to bolster this economic growth. We also know that failure to do so results in high levels of youth unemployment and a tragic waste of talent.

Almost 12% of 16-24 years in London are classified as not in education, employment or training (NEETS), with that figure even higher in some boroughs. Although these numbers are expected to drop slightly in the short term, the issue of young people being left on the proverbial scrap-heap continues to blight individuals and communities alike.

I am encouraged by some of the work that is being done at a governmental, local authority and grassroots level in addressing the barriers many young people face in getting into the workforce. It is essential that they have the opportunities to fully integrate into society and play their role in the economy, so we have the skills and resources to compete successfully on the global stage. Reducing the number of NEETS across the whole of London promotes social inclusion, but it also means that the City and the capital as a whole have a larger and more diverse talent pool to draw from.

Through our Working Together programme, the City of London Corporation has a number of partnerships with businesses and the voluntary sector, which are designed to enhance skills and improve learning opportunities for young people across London. In addition to apprenticeships, work placements and business taster sessions, we back an ambitious NEETS programme called The Youth Offer through our charity the City Bridge Trust. The £3.2 million initiative to tackle the escalating number of NEETS is already proving to have a real impact. The money assists partnerships between local councils and charities who work with the most disadvantaged young people.

The projects are also bringing together employers and previously marginalised members of the community, proving that no young person should be beyond reach. One encouraging transformation we've seen is in Abdul Ibrahim. Despite being a bright teenager, he spent many years in and out of training, expelled from school, and in trouble with the police. Helped by the charity, Spearhead, he received pre-employment training, which is so valuable in adequately preparing people for the professional environment. After spending years out of formal training and education, he needed mentoring to help overcome negative attitudes to authority and work in general. Because he was given this second chance, he now has a much more promising future. The confidence, team work and problem solving skills he acquired from this training meant he was able to secure a job at Westfield - where he is thriving in a customer service role.

By galvanising charities and community programmes in this way, thousands of young people in London are being given access to pre-employment training and a chance to build up soft skills which many of us take for granted but are increasingly in demand from employers.