e-Learning and the Employability Skills Gap

Every year, thousands of young people leave school or university in the hope of finding a good job. However, they may be disappointed. Recent research published by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) suggests that up to 80% of young people in Britain do not possess the basic skills necessary to succeed in the workplace. This presents a considerable challenge for young people trying to enter employment and poses searching questions for the education sector. Moreover, it imposes a significant burden on employers as they are compelled to provide support in even the most rudimentary areas, draining resources and reducing productivity.

Despite high levels of youth unemployment worldwide (an estimated 75 million in 2013), employers consistently report that they struggle to find candidates suitable to fill even entry-level jobs (McKinsey and Company 2013). When new employees are recruited, and enter the world of work for the first time, they often struggle with the elementary parts of working life and require significant help from colleagues. This compromises the effectiveness of a team and may damage morale, both for the person needing support and among staff whose workload increases to compensate for the skills deficit.

‘Employability skills’ are difficult to define but, according to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, include personal skills such as self-management, problem solving skills, people skills (i.e. the ability to communicate and work with others) and the aptitude to understand the business and its work. These personal skills need to be supported with functional competencies such as traditional literacy and numeracy, as well as the capacity to use Information and Communication Technologies in an effective way.

The supposed crisis in employability skills presents worrying implications for young people. Some of whom may be at risk of a life of unemployment and socio-economic exclusion or may find it difficult to progress at work and reach their full potential. Whilst poor employability skills are a concern for the individual, the absence of such skills may have troubling consequences for employers, the economy and wider society. It is therefore an issue which educators and employers need to debate and address.

The education sector clearly has an important role to play in this, particularly in teaching literacy, numeracy and digital skills to children from an early age. Yet it has been argued by CIMA, that, in contrast to some other European nations, British educational institutions do not align their curricula with the skills that businesses require. Indeed, influential research by McKinsey and Company (2013) suggests that the majority of employers in the United Kingdom believe that those leaving education do not possess the range of skills necessary for the workplace. It is a concern shared by young people themselves, with only 40% of those surveyed by McKinsey, believing that their post-secondary school education had enhanced their employment prospects. Therefore, it is important to strengthen the link between education and employment to ensure that young people enter the world of work equipped with the skills they need to succeed. No doubt, these debates will continue to be negotiated between employers and the education sector for many years to come.

At RWA e-Learning, we believe that emerging digital technologies and e-learning can play an important role in addressing the employability skills gap. Such an approach can be used to upskill young people and to reduce the burden of employers having to ‘nursemaid’ new employees as they make the transition from formal education into employment. To this end, we are developing a series of modules that will introduce young people to the world of work. These offer employers an affordable and flexible solution to the training of new employees.

Indeed, learners can complete the modules in their own time and at their own pace, using a range of devices. This allows learning to be carried out in the office, at home, or even whilst commuting by bus or train.

In the coming weeks and months, many new courses will be added to the DevZone. These include introductory modules, which have been designed to help those entering work for the first time develop personal skills in areas such as self-management, communication and problem-solving. New modules such as time-keeping, verbal communication, basic research, information gathering, teamwork, ‘asking for help’ and empathy will be added shortly, with more to follow. These complement a much wider array of courses which can help learners discover more about how businesses and organisations operate. We trust that our modules can guide a new recruit through the basics, helping them acquire much-needed confidence in the workplace.

Of course, no amount of e-learning, or indeed classroom-based learning, can prepare young people for every challenge they will face in work. People learn by doing and the best place to do this is through actual experience in the work environment. By combining practical experience with structured learning, young people will be in a stronger position to succeed. We therefore encourage employers to discuss learning needs with employees and collaborate to set personal development plans, comprising of specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound targets. The DevZone helps businesses do this and allows employers and employees plan, carry out, record and monitor appropriate training, whether the learning activities are carried out online or in practice. Furthermore, the DevZone promotes reflective learning, meaning that the learner is encouraged to consider how the skills training they have received can be applied in the workplace.

Young people are the future of our country. It is vital to invest in them and provide them with the training and skills they need to develop and make a positive impact in a business or organisation. This is a responsibility of employers, the education sector and young people alike. Embracing e-learning is one of the ways in which employers and employees can boost skills in a cost-effective and timely manner.

About the author

Nathan joined RWA in 2016 on successfully completing his PhD. He previously worked in the private, public and charitable sectors. Nathan leads the content and professional standards team at RWA and is responsible for managing and curating technical content on the Aviva Development Zone and the award-winning My Development Zone e-learning platforms.

Since joining RWA, Nathan has written hundreds of business skills e-learning modules and assessments on a variety of subjects, including leadership and management, communication skills, human resources, employability, regeneration, citizenship and equalities.

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