Kirstie Donnelly explains why she thinks the teaching of soft skills need to be incorporated more into apprenticeships and wider vocational training.

Soft skills get little respect but can make or break your career, according to American leadership coach Peggy Klaus in her book ‘The Hard Truth about Soft Skills’, and it’s a mantra we would do well to adopt over here.

The jobs market in the UK may be picking up, but employers tell us that they are still struggling to find young people with critical skills they need, such as creativity and problem-solving.

It’s no secret that our education system is not currently preparing young people adequately for the world of work.

Somehow we have lost our way and education and employment has become disconnected — it’s time that we resolved this.

We know that this conundrum is partly why the currently the Government has put such a huge amount of effort into remaking the current apprenticeship system.

Currently we have a crazy situation where we have people without jobs and jobs without people — this has to change

The theory is that allowing employers to take control and reshape the system will help them get the skilled workers they need.

However, to make this work we must make sure that core transferable skills are embedded into these apprenticeships giving young people the skills they need to progress throughout their careers.

Additionally, teens need at least basic employability skills to even enter into an apprenticeship in the first place.

‘Employability’ is the buzzword of the moment — even our friends in higher education have begun to track their success at finding jobs for their young people.

Coming out of education with a piece of paper is no longer enough, young people really do need to have the ‘skills to pay the bills’.

And the current NEET [Not in Education, Employment, or Training] stats ably demonstrate that — one in 10 young people is still locked out of employment.

We can’t allow this to continue.

The City & Guilds Alliance commissioned Bill Lucas and Ellen Spencer to carry out research to consider how we embed employability skills in an FE setting, from traineeships to apprenticeships and beyond.

‘Learning to be Employable’ identifies the key attributes employers look for and a set of supporting transferable skills such as communication, self-management and problem-solving.

Similarly to the apprenticeship reforms, ‘Learning to be Employable’ identified that the biggest catalyst for change will be joint action from business, educators and the Government.

Developing partnerships will be key to sharing best practice, learning from mistakes, and ultimately demonstrating joined up thinking to ensure that young people are properly prepared for the modern work environment.

And this is something we desperately need to get right.

Currently we have a crazy situation where we have people without jobs and jobs without people — this has to change.

It’s why we have worked with employers to rework apprenticeships during the reforms and create curriculums such as our new TechBac which have those all-important employability skills baked in.

With the Government’s increased focus on the apprenticeship agenda through their target of delivering 3m by 2020, there has never been a better time to continue to stimulate debate.

This should be around the quality and delivery of apprenticeships, and other vocational routes, to ensure they are providing young people with a successful pathway into the career of their choice and equipping them with the most vital employability skills. That’s why we are all here after all.

Visit to read the research.


Kirstie Donnelly is the managing director of City & Guilds UK

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