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What Employers Want

Young people are taught by educators not employers, so the employers must be specific about what they mean by communication and self management skills. An open-source skills taxonomy will set the foundation of understanding between all parties

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23 16

Written by DeletedUser

Every employer survey since the CBI's 1989 report has shown two things:

1. employers' emphasis on the importance of employability skills and

2. continued dissatisfaction with particular "soft" skills required in every workplace e.g. communication and business/customer awareness.

Employers want applicants with employability skills, but the definition of these skills varies from company to company, and even departments within the same company. For schools, colleges and universities, without a clear definition, they are unable to teach and assess "employability skills" because it will never fit into their required "learning outcomes assessment criteria" frameworks. This results in academia being unable to deliver what the majority of students want: "a nationally recognised record of the employability skills you have developed..."(CBI/NUS, 2011)

Almost half of students say that the importance of employability hasn't been explained to them during their time at university (CBI/NUS 2011), while universities are admitting that they aren't best equipped to teach employability without more input from employers (MMU Employability and Citizenship Conference 2012).

Instead of asking employers if they are happy with, for example, graduates' communication skills we propose a 3 phase solution to these problems:

1: Defining employability

2: Training for employability

3: Hiring on employability

Example Scenarios:

Scenario 1:

An employer has a few dozen apprenticeships available for the coming year but gets 9000 applications. To narrow down this number in order to look for candidates it wants to interview, it has to reluctantly reject the majority of applications based purely on the number of 'A's achieved in school exams. As exam grades have continued to rise, this method is becoming even less effective and the employer (in this case, National Grid) acknowledges this, but at the moment sees no viable alternative.

The implementation of this concept will give this employer exactly what it needs: a finer grained differentiator that measures work skills rather than just academic qualifications.

Scenario 2:

Mark is a young person who has never been great at exams. He's a hard worker, so he's been able to pass, but his grades have never been great. On Saturdays he works in a shop and has built a great rapport with the customers, and on Sunday's he plays for the village football team for which he also acts as club secretary. He is looking for a job but is finding that his average exam results are eliminating him before interview for all but the lowest paid jobs.

The implementation of this concept will give Mark a better way to gain the attention of employers: His Saturday job and work at the football club have resulted in much better than average "marks" in communication skills, business and customer awareness, teamwork and leadership etc. An enlightened employer using the system will find and chose Mark over hundreds of straight-A students who don't have the same initiative/real-world skills. 

The Three Things the Panel Wished to be Explored Further:

1) How will it scale?

One of the best things about this concept is that Phases 1 and 3 scale very well through the use of web technologies and the fact that a common curriculum/rubrick/taxonomy will cover the whole country. An idea management system (such as OpenIDEO!) will be used for Phase-1 and a secure, database-driven web site/service for Phase-3. 

A perfect example of something being performed in a particular industry is the Bloomberg Assessment Test (BAT) and we encourage fellow OpenIDEO folks to check it out for inspiration :

We have met with the Bloomberg people in London and been shown what they are doing first hand. It's most impressive and the concept is a perfect base on which to build a similar solution for employability skills.

The middle phase (delivery and assessment) doesn't benefit so directly from online tools, but is still very scalable at the "human" level due to the fact that there are already dozens (hundreds?) of individual employability initiatives throughout the country and some are very good indeed. Leveraging this existing "infrastructure" and the increasing number of business people wishing to "give back" by sharing their hard-earned experience, makes the proposition very scalable indeed.

Last month Carole & John were invited to meet with Lord Tim Clement-Jones as he has a particular interest in this area. Tea and cake at the House of Lords was wonderful, but his advice (and Anna's in the comments) was even better: Start small and, because the concept is so good, give it the space to snowball. Find three or four school/uni - employer pairs and allow the Government to host a launch event in Westminster to give the concept it's blessing and have Skills Minister John Hayes say a few words. [Update: As of this morning's cabinet reshuffle (5th Sept) John Hayes is now Energy Minister. We will therefore approach Matthew Hancock or Vince Cable directly or via an introduction from Tim].

2) How can we include young people who have already left school?

Back to the idea of scalability, if employability skills are on the curriculum at school then the solution is (relatively) neat, and - after hearing Carole's elevator pitch at an event - Michael Gove has asked for a meeting to explore how this could work. However, once people have left school then the provision of the skills teaching and assessment can still be provided by the private sector possibliy in collaboration with local Colleges/Universities.

An organisation like the Association of Employment and Learning Providers ( is perfectly placed to help coordinate this and Graham Hoyle OBE is already enthusiastic about the idea. With a common taxonomy to work to, suddenly service providers will no longer be a heterogeneous collection of 100s of small outfits, but will become a powerful coalition working towards the same goal.

An "after school" club format is one idea to help young people who have just left school but which could be run on local company premises, co hosted by either the local council or an approved skills provider with young people self selecting based on their preferred industry. This concept comes back to the idea of employers being involved in the delivery and assessment of the skills at school and higher education level. Hosting skills evenings, again in collaboration and with the support of learning providers or Colleges/Universities would offer employers and local councils a low-cost opportunity to engage in outreach.

3) Can we think of a better name?

We believe we have a plan to progress all aspects of this concept, yet ironically this simple yet most important of tasks has so far proved beyond us! "Employability Taxonomy Initiative" is neither catchy nor descriptive, so we appeal to fellow OpenIDEO members and the challenge sponsors for help.  One idea would be to find a pronounceable acronym which included the name of the organisation willing to sponsor the initiative e.g. Barclays Employability Taxonomy (BET), but better! 

Update - Anna Haaland in the comments has kindly set the ball rolling with some three-letter acronym suggestions. We have also have an offline suggestion of GET (Generic Employability Taxonomy) which has the advantage of being an 'action' word.

Experts consulted so far:

Anne Tipple OBE - National Skills Executive, British Chambers of Commerce
James Fothergill - Head of Education and Skills, CBI
John Cowen - Skills Directorate, Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS)
Sir Deian Hopkin - President of the National Library of Wales, Ex-Vice Chancellor of London South Bank University
John Fairhurst - Ex-President of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL)
Dr. Janet Hannah, Director of Coventry University London Campus (CULC)

How will your concept support young people as they transition into the world of work?

Phase 1: Defining employability Young people and educators know employers want employability skills but they are not provided with sufficient information to know exactly what employers mean by "communication skills" and "self management skills". With a detailed, public domain taxonomy crowd-sourced by a wide range of UK employers, schools, colleges and universities have exactly what was proposed at the 2005 JISC CETIS conference: "Break down skills into smaller parts until they are no longer disagreed on". Phase 2: Training for employability With the complete taxonomy/rubric created in Phase 1, publicly available as open source, educators and employers can develop employability training which makes sense both in the classroom and in the work place. Because of its nature, the assessment of a student’s employability skills cannot simply be a single letter grade or even a percentage score. The student’s performance must be assessed, and marks exposed, for each of the individual dimensions exposed in Phase 1. Phase 3: Hiring on employability With a successful conclusion of Phase 2, students will not only have a nationally recognized record of their employability skills, but the granularity of the assessment will be such that it will address two of the main issues employers have when hiring new graduates: • Existing academic qualifications are no longer considered a good differentiator of candidates. • Different employers value different employability skills. If a graduate’s employability skills “grade” is exposed to employers not simply as an ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ etc., but as a set of marks, one for each sub-skill identified in Phase 1, then a student’s final grade can be customized to each employer’s requirements. From the same assessment, a graduate could be a “pass” for McDonalds, but a “fail” for KPMG because of the different weights employers give to the individual employability skills. A simple prototype to demonstrate how this “weighted assessment” would work can be found at: First action steps for Phase-1 1) Meet with Michael Gove to get his buy-in and suggestions of how it can fit into the school curriculum (which is a tighter fit than higher education). 2) Select and prime an idea management system. 3) Choose the lead school/uni + employer pairs. 4) Government sponsored launch event in Westminster with invitations to (at least) members of the CBI (Confederation of British Industry), BCC (British Chambers of Commerce), ASCL (Association of School and College Leaders), Universities UK, and all relevant APPGs (All-Party Parliamentary Groups).

What online or in-person components of your concept will best support this transition?

During Phase-1, the public domain taxonomy will be crowd sourced using a combination of face-to-face interviews and an online idea management system. A prototype of such an online system has been created at with screenshots in the Images & Videos section of this concept. Following a meeting with, and advice from, Anne Tipple OBE, National Skills Executive at the British Chambers of Commerce, we believe that during this phase the face-to-face employer engagement will be more successful than the online component. This is due to the latter being seen by many employers as just “another survey to fill in”. Of course, this effect could be mitigated somewhat with a high-profile sponsor and government buy-in. In Phase-2, the training and assessment of employability skills will be predominately offline with ‘only’ the entering skills evaluations being online. However, once this concept is established, one can envisage an increasing number of online components such as a repository of knowledge/tools to support this phase. Phase-3 will rely on an online component which employers can use to weight the skills they require for different roles within their company and filter potential employees based on these. This is a much sharper instrument than trying to differentiate on the basis of the one-dimensional grades in “academic” exams. A simple prototype of this – using only 3 skills “dimensions - has been created at Once established, this online component of Phase-3 can be easily developed to allow employers to expose their skills requirements for different roles. This will allow job hunters to “shop” for a role that will suit them based on how well their skills profile “score” matches role requirements.

My Virtual Team

I'd like to acknowledge the following, without whose ideas, advice, and timely input, this concept would have never got off the ground: John Hamlen Sir Deian Hopkin John Cowan Lord Tim Clement-Jones CBE Anne Tipple OBE Dr. Janet Hannah

Evaluation results

4 evaluations so far

1. IMPACT & REACH: How much impact and reach do you think this concept could have in helping young people transition into the world of work?

A great deal – something like this would really make a difference - 25%

A moderate amount – it’s certainly helpful but probably not a game-changer - 75%

Not very much – it’s unlikely to make a significant difference to young people seeking work - 0%

2. FEASIBILITY & RESOURCES: Thinking about the resources needed to implement this concept, how feasible will it be for your community to turn this concept into a reality? (Hint: when you think about resources, think: people, money, time, technology, infrastructure, partnerships and any other inputs for implementation)

Highly feasible – resources wouldn’t be an issue for my community if we tried to implement this - 25%

Moderately feasible – my community could do it if we could get find assistance with some of our resource constraints - 75%

Not feasible – it would be almost impossible for my community to implement this concept; it's just too resource-intensive - 0%

3. SUSTAINABILITY & LONGEVITY: Does this concept feel like it could be sustained as a project, business or movement over years rather than just months? Will continue to be relevant in future?

Yes – this concept has enough momentum to stand on its own two feet and remain relevant for years to come - 50%

Maybe – it’s not clear how long it would take for this concept to stand on its own feet or how it will continue to be but there’s reason to feel hopeful - 50%

No – this concept will have trouble sustaining itself in the long-run and probably won’t be as relevant in years to come - 0%

4. ORIGINALITY: How new or innovative is this idea? Are there many different versions of this concept out there already or is this something more disruptive and unique?

Very original – I’ve not seen anything else quite like it - 50%

Fairly original – there are similar things out there but this particular version brings a new element to the table - 25%

Unoriginal – there are already too many other concepts out there that are similar to this one - 25%

5. Overall, how do you feel about this concept?

It rocked my world - 25%

I liked it but preferred others - 75%

It didn't get me overly excited - 0%

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Attachments (2)


An initial employability skills taxonomy which can be used to seed the process in Phase-1


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ahmad Amr

Hi, is there any progress with a software that can do this type of weighted assessment?

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