5 key takeaways from our webinar on the importance of essential skills in lifelong learning | NCFE

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5 key takeaways from our webinar on the importance of essential skills in lifelong learning

In the aftermath of a global crisis, essential skills are a core underpinning of employability and lifelong learning, supporting people to switch sectors as the world recovers and changes. When the only constant is change, the only safe investment is in our ability to adapt – and essential skills equip individuals to train and retrain with ease and confidence. But what exactly are these skills, and how should we best utilise them? 

Our recent webinar, “The importance of essential skills in unlocking lifelong learning”, examined these questions and more. Chaired by Heather Reynolds, Client Success Director at Careermap and attracting almost 400 viewers, an hour-long discussion took place between our panel of experts, Dan Howard (Operations Director for Learning for Work), Andrew Barton (Senior Operations Manager at NCFE) and Scott Parkin (CEO, Institute of Employability Professionals), to share their thoughts and advice. 

Chair Heather Reynolds (Client Success Director at Careermap) Dan Howard (Operations Director for Learning for Work), Andrew Barton (Senior Operations Manager at NCFE) and Scott Parkin (CEO, Institute of Employability Professionals)

Here, we’re sharing our 5 key takeaways from the webinar, to explain and highlight the importance of essential skills within the journey of lifelong learning. 

1. Defining essential skills 

From essential skills, to core skills, to meta skills – the range of terms that people use to name this set of skills can vary, but at their core they all share the same definition. Essential skills are those that help us to navigate, progress and transition throughout the complexities of our personal and professional lives. They include – but are not limited to – resilience, communication, speaking, listening, problem-solving, presenting, adaptability, flexibility and understanding.  

However, there is no set list of essential skills for a good reason. As addressed by Andrew in our webinar, this list will continue to evolve over time, reflecting changes in employability and in our general lives. For example, very few of us were experts at working Microsoft Teams or Zoom pre-pandemic - yet now, many can arrange a video call in a matter of seconds. Over the past decade, digital skills have become essential skills. Who’s to say what will qualify the next set of essential skills! 

2. You’ll work on them for life 

It’s also important to note Scott’s point that gaining essential skills is not instantaneous, but a continuous work in progress. We interact with different people and learn from new experiences daily, which helps us to improve our essential skills year on year, even decade on decade. Lifelong learning isn’t about one course or qualification – instead, it’s about the skills you build throughout your lifetime. 

We’ll all have to transition through different career paths in our lives. As outlined by Dan, industry 4.0 and increasing automation mean that we’ll all need to continue to work on our adaptability to be able to compete in what is very much a skills-led labour market.  

What’s more is that different occupations will determine the essential skills you may need to identify or improve within your skillset. When transitioning career, you’ll need to be aware which skills your employers will expect from you. 

3. Essential skills can come from anywhere 

During the webinar, an attendee asked the panel how essential skills can be showcased to an employer where work experience has been limited or not possible. It’s important to remember that essential skills are everyday skills and as such, they can be exemplified in a number of real-life ways. 

We’ve all faced challenges and had experiences that affect us as human beings – how did you handle that challenge? Have you helped a friend through a crisis, or supported your community in a time of need? Or, as suggested by Dan, have you ever been part of a sports team where you’ve regularly had to demonstrate teamwork, effective listening or problem-solving skills? 

We’re constantly developing real-world essential skills – so don’t be afraid to use these types of examples in interviews to unlock the next step on your learning journey. 

4. Taking individual responsibility 

Another key takeaway from the panel was the importance of individual responsibility. Whilst we can’t plan for every possibility (as demonstrated through Covid), in Scott’s words, we can all “take action to learn what actions we need to take” in order to be in the best and most future-proof position possible, when the time to transition arrives. 

There are many ways we can all take responsibility and help to improve our future prospects. For example, networking is a brilliant essential skill that can expand and broaden your opportunities. LinkedIn and Twitter are great tools; why not begin building a presence by following, creating lists or joining groups of people that interest you? You never know how the people you connect with may influence you on your journey of lifelong learning.

5. Tools and resources are imperative

Whether you’re a training provider, a learner or looking for your next job, there are a wealth of tools and resources that can help to identify, access and work on your essential skills. For example, our Skills Work employability diagnostic tool, endorsed by industry, helps to measure an individual’s core employability skills and identifies strengths and weaknesses. Essential skills covered in the test include collaboration, communication, motivation, persistence and more. 

We also have several qualifications including Essential Digital Skills (EDSQs), our Functional Skills offering, and our employability courses that can support individuals in building fundamental core skills. 

As training providers and educators, we must also continue and improve in embedding essential skills across all training and learning qualifications and curriculums – something that collaboration and partnership will be fundamental to achieving.  

You can listen to the full webinar on-demand here. To find out more about Skills Work, our EDSQs and other products and services we offer around essential skills, visit ncfe.org.uk or call 0191 239 8000.