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Skills for employment

Leaflet 11.04
March 2011

You've got the qualifications and the motivation... What else do you need to persuade an employer to give you a job? Employers want evidence of skills such as teamworking, communication, problem solving and computer literacy, whether you're a year 11 school-leaver or a graduate.


Essential skills for work

What links the work of a doctor, hairdresser, software developer, plumber and sales assistant? They all need to be able to communicate effectively, work well with other people, stay organised and manage their time efficiently! This leaflet describes these and some of the other work skills you are likely to need, whatever job you want to do. These skills are sometimes known as 'transferable skills' as they can be transferred across many different settings.

The skills that most employers are likely to consider essential are:
  • literacy– being able to read and write
  • numeracy– being able to do simple calculations and make sense of numbers
  • communication– sharing ideas and information through writing, speaking and visual images; understanding others through listening and reading
  • information and communications technology (ICT)– using computers for basic tasks such as emailing, word processing, recording and organising information, as well as understanding other basic technology
  • working with others– working as part of a team to achieve results, sharing responsibilities, working to agreed schedules and work patterns
  • improving your own learning and performance– knowing your strengths and weaknesses and taking steps to improve, accepting feedback from others
  • problem solving– identifying the cause of problems and a range of possible solutions, choosing the right way to solve the problem.

Other important skills

Other skills that employers often look for, particularly for jobs with some responsibility, are:
  • time management– being able to plan your working day, give tasks the right priority and meet deadlines
  • leadership– showing the ability to motivate and manage other workers
  • research and evaluation skillsbeing able to make sense of and analyse a wide range of information
  • initiative and a proactive approach– an ability to decide for yourself what needs to be done and to get on with it
  • negotiating skills– advanced communication skills that involve reaching an agreement that is acceptable to all sides
  • decision-making skills– being able to select and commit to the best course of action without unnecessary delay
  • strategic skills– showing an understanding of factors that may be outside your control and the long-term impact of decisions
  • the ability to network– forming ongoing, positive working relationships with other people
  • project management skills– being able to complete a stand-alone piece of work, possibly involving setting and meeting deadlines, managing others, planning schedules and so on.

Developing your skills

You will have certainly been developing many of these skills all through your time in education and through your outside interests. For example, if you've been in a sports team, a drama production, a voluntary group or any other activity in which you have to cooperate with others, you will have needed teamworking skills. If you've contributed to a school or club magazine, then that may have helped you to develop your communication skills. If you have a part-time job in a shop, you will probably take payments, give change and, perhaps, check stock levels – all of which require numeracy skills. Think about the opportunities available to you that allow you to develop your skills or gain new ones.

You can use a record of achievement or CV to show potential employers the kind of things you have achieved, both in and out of education/training. This can be used as evidence that you have some of the skills mentioned above.

Courses and qualifications

Literacy and numeracy are the two most basic skills that employers are likely to need. Usually, employers will consider GCSEs in English and maths, or equivalent qualifications, as suitable evidence that you have skills in these areas. If you have difficulty with these skills, you should be able to find help at any college of further education, adult education centre etc. Classes are usually free and can lead to qualifications.

Skills that are considered important for work may also be incorporated into courses and training programmes, or you can gain stand-alone qualifications in them. Functional skillsqualifications are available, up to level 2, in English, maths and ICT. These are qualifications in their own right, and are are also built into Apprenticeships, Diplomas, GCSEs and other types of learning. Essential Skills Wales(taught in Wales) are similar to functional skills.

For training for some careers, functional skills qualifications may be accepted for entry instead of certain GCSEs. Check actual entry requirements with individual courses and training institutions, as key/functional skills qualifications may be acceptable to some, but not to others.

Some schools and colleges offer certificates in subjects such as career planning, job seeking and employment skills. For example, the exam board, Edexcel, offers a range of job-related skills qualifications called WorkSkills. Such certificates can be useful evidence to show employers.

If you enter a government-funded training programme such as New Deal, you may be offered courses to help to develop your skills and improve your employability.

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For Further Information

Visit the education and learning section on the Directgov website for further information about functional skills, improving your reading, writing and number skills, etc:

To find out about courses available in your area, contact your local further education college, phone the Next Step helpline: 0800 100 900, or search online at:
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