The Importance of “Soft Skills”: A BCC Manifesto on Skills and Employment

In recent posts we’ve reflected on the Compass Education conference and the “Making Education Work” report from Sir Roy Anderson and Pearson Education. We’ve also referred to the British Chambers of Commerce’s “Skills and Employment” manifesto.

Skills and Employment manifesto

A link to this document is now available via the British Chamber of Commerce website:

Here’s a summary of some of the key points from this document.

  • An OECD report says British workers have “lost ground” to other developed countries regarding key skills
  • Employability should be an integral part of what a school offers, starting at primary school. Careers advice is negligible, often non-existent and this needs to be addressed urgently
  • Inconsistency and constant changes to qualifications have affected their value and usefulness for employers
  • Qualifications do not equate with skills needed for employment
  • Application of knowledge is poor
  • Greater links between business and education are required, particularly links with HEIs and courses they offer in relation to current workforce needs
  • PAYE tax breaks for employers to work with quality training providers for their employees
  • Young people should learn “soft employability skills” and the teaching and learning of these skills should be inspected within accountability procedures.
From CBI 2009 c/o

From CBI 2009 c/o

The final point on this manifesto should be abundantly clear to anyone in politics, education and business.

Governments across the UK must commit to work with business and the education and skills system to deliver training that employers value. The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) is calling on all political parties to make an explicit pledge that employability, and real partnership with employers, should be at the heart of education and skills training. In particular, governments across the United Kingdom must:

•Ensure all young people learn the soft ‘employability’ skills and benefit from employer contact and quality careers education while at school.

•Work with Chambers of Commerce to encourage and support more SMEs to invest in apprenticeships and workplace training.

Come on folks! We’ve been saying this for years.

The “functional” skills of literacy, numeracy and “digital” literacy are a vital component of learning but so too are these “soft ‘employability’ skills”. Which government, over the last three decades, has paid any attention to this? Who decided to call them “soft” and therefore undermine their incredible importance to employability and personal wellbeing? When will people acknowledge that these soft skills are not just skills but key aspects or components of a range of intelligences that we need to develop in order to live and work well?

Consecutive governments have used words like “attainment” and have consistently congratulated themselves on a rise in “standards”. Great! But to what effect?

We have generations of children who have had knowledge pumped into them by a stringent and prescriptive National Curriculum – where they have “attained” a “standard” in English and mathematics. However, in too many cases, the acquisition of this knowledge has not transferred to understanding, let alone using that understanding in the real world. Furthermore, a genuine love of learning for its own sake has all too often been throttled by this hopeless insistence that “standards” are the be all and end all of education.

Here’s another set of damning quote from the BCC manifesto.


“Too many people lack the basic skills to succeed at work, let alone the higher skills required to underpin our national prosperity.”

“Too many young people are let down by weaknesses in how they organise themselves and interact with others.”

“Employers repeatedly tell us that they also want school leavers to demonstrate passion, discipline and an ability to learn.”

“Young people should leave the education system with a career direction that is relevant to them, realistic expectations about entry level jobs, and the attitude, passion, skills and experience that employers want.”

“Many employers are confused by the wide range of different qualifications and frequent changes to the system by successive governments.”

“Individuals are branded for life by the grades they achieve at school with little opportunity or incentive to improve those grades.”

“Inadequate careers information, advice and guidance means that few young people are able to make an informed decision based on the full range of opportunities available to them, and many focus on skills that are poorly matched to demand from employers. Business has had enough of this broken system and calls for urgent reform.”

“The remits of the education inspectorates across the UK must be changed to place a greater emphasis on schools’ efforts to develop soft ‘employability’ skills including team working, time management, resilience, flexibility, problem-solving and communication skills.”

Schools have spent years cramming our children with prescribed facts but haven’t enabled or encouraged them to think for themselves, let alone play a part in planning their personal and individual learning journeys. A lack of personalised learning and opportunities for collaborative learning has meant that many of our young people can’t organise themselves and set challenges for themselves. Carrying out their assigned curriculum, they have little space for imagination. Their creativity is stymied because everything that they are supposed to “learn” is set in stone with few opportunities or time to extend their learning to satisfy their individual passions and interests. How can this be right?

According to this BCC manifesto, it’s not good for the individual and it’s not good for business.

John Taylor Gatto

There are now calls from every corner and every sector of our society and from people of every political persuasion to do something to review/rearrange/reinvent/reform/revise education. Changes suggested are frequently similar, even though they’re often for different reasons. What is absolutely clear to us that “reform” isn’t enough.

Reinvention, based on a clear vision for the agreed purposes of education, is what is needed.


Whilst our thoughts on the need for an education that develops all of the intelligences are based on our knowledge and philosophy of child and human development and wellbeing rather than the specifics of employability, we concur with many of the recommendations and ideas within this document. (We’re not too enamoured with the graphics that see our young peoples’ heads as cogs in a wheel of work, but work is an important component since it’s such an integral part of our lives.)

Empowering young people and also those of us who are a little older to continue to want to learn is so important.  “Soft skills” are not soft and neither are they restricted to work or employability. The “skills” of “team working, time management, resilience, flexibility, problem-solving and communication” are life skills – as relevant to how we live and how we form and nurture relationships as they are to work.

We sincerely hope and trust that politicians from all sides will consider this manifesto in conjunction with the other important documents from the business sector that we’ve already mentioned in recent posts – the CBIs “First Steps” and the Pearson report “Making Education Work”.

We strongly support anyone and any organisation that is prepared to acknowledge the need for the reinvention of our system of education along with a fundamental change to the values, aims and purposes of education to reflect the need to develop all of our intelligences and legislate for life-long learning.

Related articles:

Pasi Sahlberg –

Rearranging The Deckchairs –

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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