Recognising soft skills: the importance of understanding your strengths in the jobs market

Sarah Hitchcock from RiSE International tells us Sarah Hitchcock from RiSE International how their project is supporting young people to move into employment at a time when coronavirus is having a major impact on the jobs market.

"In April, one in ten 18-24-year olds in the UK had lost their jobs, more than double the 4% average across all age groups. The Resolution Foundation’s ‘The Full Monty report: Facing up to the challenge of the coronavirus labour market crisis’ highlights the speed at which the labour market has been hit by the crisis, with young people one of the worst affected groups in terms of job losses. 

The report sets out the ongoing need for ‘sector switching’, with people needing to be flexible and adaptable when looking for work and moving into areas where skills shortages have been identified. 

In order to achieve this, it’s imperative that people understand their own skills. Through our Understanding My Journey (UMJ) Erasmus+ project, we want to make young people aware of the power of their soft skills. 

We recognised that whilst young people were taking part in volunteering, work placements, or entrepreneurship initiatives, and could speak broadly of personal growth through these activities, they were less able to tangibly link their development to specific soft skills and recognise these as valuable skills within a workplace setting. 

Recognising your skills

The UMJ project, led by Ballymun Job Centre in Ireland, is a three-year cross-sectoral collaboration between six European partners to help young people develop their soft skills and increase their chances of future employment. 

The tools we have developed through the project support young people and their practitioners in the process of conscious and structured soft skills development. Soft skills are only useful and effective if a young person is fully aware of their development, understands how they can use them and has tools to support the learning process. 

Recognising and proving possession of soft skills can be crucial in getting a job.

By recognising their strengths and areas for development, and being able to assign these skills to tangible examples, young people can be more resilient within the labour market. 

The tools are available in six languages and can be used in different learning contexts and adjusted to the different needs and ages of participants.

Using the toolkit

At the start of the project, Ballymun Job Centre led research to better understand some of the challenges in supporting young people with soft skills development across our partner countries. It found: ‘Young people develop soft skills in a range of settings. But much of the focus of soft skills development revolved around the employment experience. This can leave young people feeling like they are lacking skills and create a deficit approach to soft skills mapping.’

Understanding My Journey Erasmus+ project mountain image

The UMJ toolkit has been developed as a PDF and an interactive, gamified blended learning approach that suits various learning styles. It has been designed for use in a range of settings, for young people undertaking non-formal learning activities or for young people in education settings. The major benefit of working with a group of partners across sectors is the ability to develop and test the resources in a range of settings.

It supports young people to recognise how soft skills are developed in a range of settings and how these skills can be applied when applying for work and in a work setting. Recognising and proving possession of soft skills can be crucial in getting a job and our tools help to achieve that.

The toolkit offers a resource for self-led learning for young people, in the form of a downloadable toolkit and an online gamified resource that allows an individual to track their learning journey and recognise their development holistically. 

The tools also include a valuable guide for practitioners which helps them gain greater awareness of young people’s existing skillsets and areas for improvement.

Success so far

Jane Sacco, World of Work coordinator at BSix College in London, is our UK project champion. Jane piloted the UMJ toolkit with learners at the college and shared her experience and feedback in a video. 

Jane said: “Visually, the toolkit is great and it has worked particularly well with our ESOL students, who enjoyed the visual experience as well as the process. I think it would work really well in schools, introducing the concept of soft skills to younger learners, as well as in colleges.”

Jane plans to integrate the toolkit into her employability support for all ESOL learners at BSix College. This means that 100 learners will benefit directly from their engagement with the toolkit, which is a great outcome.

We have found our VET college partners have been really interested in the tools, particularly at the moment, as they are looking increasingly for digital tools that young people can use, which can be integrated into a blended learning approach. All the resources are available on the project website for any organisation to use."

Want to find more information about employability in Erasmus+? Visit our Learning Networks Employability page to see more.