Businesses focus on employability skills

With employability looming as one of the major issues for 2021, a group of Oxfordshire business representatives have started working on how the next generation of employees can be better prepared for work.

The group from the B4 business network includes representatives from Oxford Brookes University, Unipart, Oxford City Council, Oxfordshire LEP, Jennings and STL. They’re focusing on a plan to bring business awareness and work experience to secondary schools in a ‘virtual’ environment.

“For many years, Oxfordshire businesses hosted students on work experience programmes. But the pandemic changed that,” said Frank Nigriello, Director of Corporate Affairs at Unipart.

“Most of us in business have been learning to work remotely and adapting our day-to-day business activities to videoconferencing and digital applications. We’re interested to see how we can stretch that experience to create a virtual environment for young people to get greater insights into business and into the 21st century skills that our businesses need.”

There are two major sets of skills that businesses agree are absolutely essential for success in the post-Covid economy. The first is digital skills or understanding how the convergence of digital tools can provide innovative new products or enhancements to existing products and services.

But the second skill set is far less technical but harder to learn. Essential or “soft” skills refer to the way in which people work together or take responsibility for their own motivation. Team working, self- awareness, communication and leadership all form part of the essential skills set.

“These are the skills that are seldom taught in classrooms,” said Mike Jennings of Jennings. “Yet these soft skills are the real basis for success in the workplace. While aptitude is important, more business nowadays are realising that to build a thriving team attitude is paramount, or as one local business leader said to me, ‘we recruit on aptitude, but employ on attitude.’ ”

The B4 group plans to work with Oxfordshire LEP and representatives from local schools to apply the ‘build back better’ idea to developing the workforce of the future for Oxfordshire.

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