Developing Employability Skills in Lockdown: Challenging students’ misconceptions 

By Emma Tonkin, Marketing Manager, Unifrog  

As we enter the second year of the Covid-19 pandemic, school and college doors across the UK are once again closed to the majority of students. We’re starting to gain a better understanding of the impact this is having on how able students feel to develop the skills they’ll need for the future. 

At Unifrog, we’re in a privileged position to explore this. In our UK Skills and Enterprise report: the pandemic’s impact on skills and career aspirations, we analysed aggregated data from 700,000 active UK students on the platform and 6,253 student survey responses to find out more about how the pandemic has impacted employability skills development.

Why the focus on skills?
As we all know, skills are essential to help young people succeed in the future and to stand out in what’s likely to be a highly competitive job market. What’s more, making sure that employers are able to hire people with the necessary skills will be vital to help successfully regenerate the post-pandemic economy. 

Even before the start of the pandemic, employers were facing skills shortages. The Department for Education’s last Employer Skills Survey in 2017 showed 226,000 skill-shortage vacancies.

Difficulty developing skills
Unfortunately, the majority of students we surveyed believe the pandemic has made it more difficult to develop skills that might be useful for their future career. And as they get older, the more likely students are to report difficulty developing these skills. 70% of those in Year 13 report finding it more difficult to develop useful skills, compared to 46% of Year 10 students. 

Which skills have been most impacted?
Analysis of the Unifrog Competencies tool – used by students to reflect on and record the key skills that employers, apprenticeship providers and universities look for - gives us an insight into employability skills development during the pandemic. 

The two competencies which saw the greatest decline in logging during the pandemic were teamwork and leadership. Compared to the year before, there was an 82% drop in the number of teamwork competencies logged, and a 79% fall for leadership.

Arguably these are two of the skills traditionally most reliant on in-person interaction and as a result, students perceive them to be difficult to demonstrate during lockdown.

Challenge misconceptions
However, it’s important to help students realise that, while they may not be able to demonstrate some skills in the traditional way, they’re still using and developing them in other ways. Just as we have all had to learn new ways of working as part of a team and leading others while working remotely, students have adapted in the same way. 

For example, any online collaborative projects will involve students using their teamwork skills and often leadership abilities to co-ordinate the project. In the same way, many students have been using their communication and listening skills to support friends who may be struggling during lockdown.

A boost for digital skills
An area where students have really thrived is digital literacy. As Natasha Roberts, Assistant Head of College at Melton Vale Sixth Form College puts it: “One of the positives to emerge from this period is that our students are becoming incredibly digitally savvy which will help them in future applications.” 

These enhanced digital skills will serve students well in future job applications as digital skills are increasingly essential in the world of work. The Open University’s Bridging the Digital Divide report in 2019 found that 88% of organisations across Britain were lacking in digital skills, with many expecting this to increase in the next five years.

Reframe the pandemic
Therefore, by challenging students’ misconceptions, we can reframe the pandemic as an opportunity for students to develop new skills and further existing ones. 

By encouraging them to reflect on the skills they’ve developed and finding opportunities for them to practise those they’re finding more difficult, we can motivate them to strive towards their best futures.
Unifrog is the main sponsor for ASCL Annual Conference 2021 and an ASCL preferred supplier.
Posted: 15/02/2021 12:03:01