The skills for today, not for the future

The Harlequins Foundation’s CEO, Marc Leckie, has written about how the Skills Builder framework is the key to helping people develop the essential skills they need to succeed. 

When faced with the enormous challenges we see today and with huge uncertainty about the future, and with no clear way out it can feel overwhelming.

This is particularly acute for our young people, who have experienced major disruption to their education over the last six months.

Even if the pandemic had not happened would our children have the essential skills to be ready to confront the challenges that face them as they transition into adulthood?

I would suggest that for many the answer is no.

This will have a greater impact on certain individuals or groups within our society. The findings from the Education Endowment Foundation in June 2020[1] suggest that school closures will widen the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers, likely reversing progress made to narrow the gap since 2011. The median estimate indicates that the gap would widen by 36%.

It is important to note that like the virus the lack of skills development, or perhaps more accurately the lack of a supportive environment in which they may be improved, can affect anyone.

The importance of developing a set of essential skills for individuals to thrive in education, employment and entrepreneurship has been long documented, from the CBI’s landmark 1989 report[2] through to the Taylor Review in 2017[3].

These are the skills which ‘almost everyone needs to do almost any job. They are the skills that make specific knowledge and technical skills fully productive’.[4]

Too often this is an area where terminology is confused and confusing. The work of the Essential Skills Taskforce[5] over the last year has been to try to cut through this, to refine a consistent, universal approach to these essential skills.

Our starting point is eight essential skills. Known by many different names, we define them as: Listening, Speaking, Problem Solving, Creativity, Staying Positive, Aiming High, Leadership and Teamwork.

These eight skills maps across to the four domains that come up time and again as the core, transferable skills for employment. In pairs they cover communication, creative problem-solving, self-management, and collaboration skills. They are laid out in the Skills Builder Universal Framework[6].

The Framework breaks each down into tangible steps which can be developed in turn. We can use it to clarify what success looks like in each one and to map out the trajectory for growth for each person.

As a father of two young children I am constantly aware of their development, wishing to support them whilst still wanting to let them ‘find their way’. I come from a single parent family, experienced domestic abuse and knew we were poorer than many of my peers growing up. I often talk to friends about how we raise our children to understand ‘the value of a pound note’, be resilient and independent without them having to experience hardship or fear. I must add that I still had an enjoyable childhood and my mum was a superhero bringing up my sister and I on her own, both of us successful in our own right and with families of our own. How you measure success is of course another commentary piece of its own.

In a professional context as the CEO of The Harlequins Foundation[7] I am equally as passionate about the programmes we deliver, and the impact they have on the lives of individuals. The development of essential skills is as vital in my primary school-aged children as it is for the elite athletes at Harlequins.

Nor are these skills bound by geography, they are truly global and if developed will enable individuals to apply any academic and/or technical skills they learn more effectively, be they an eight-year-old child or a 28-year-old international rugby player. Ultimately this will result in more rounded, capable, and productive employees who are agile and adaptable for whatever role or function they find themselves in.

Working in partnership with a group of sports organisations, we have developed a full version of the Toolkit to be used in sports settings to set the standard of ensuring high impact essential skills are developed from coaching through to competing.

If you are interested and want to find out more head to the website links below for more information.

Sports Toolkit: 

  • Advice & case studies for all sports settings.
  • Advice for building essential skills into progamme planning, delivery and workforce development.

Coaching Handbook:

  • Practical ideas for building essential skills with learners.
  • A starting point for coaches & impact organisations to introduce, practise, reinforce and assess the skills into their sessions – one step at a time. 
  • Click on the skills icons on each chapter cover to jump to a focus skill.
  • Use the Framework pages to skip to a specific step.

A big thank you to my colleagues at The Harlequins Foundation, Sport Impact, Charlton Athletic Community Trust, Active Communities Network, Street League, Sport Inspired, Albion in the Community, Sported, London Youth, Eton Fives Association and of course the Skills Builder Partnership for their help in developing this resource, and Bella Audsley in particular for all her help and support throughout a particularly difficult time to test out a new approach!


[2] Nicholson, B. (1989) Towards a Skills Revolution: Report of the CBI Vocational Education and Training Taskforce, CBI

[3] Taylor, M. (2017) Good Work: The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices

[4] UKCES (2009) The Employability Challenge: Full Report, UKCES

[5] Essential Skills Taskforce: CIPD, CBI, Gatsby Foundation, EY Foundation, Careers & Enterprise Company, Business in the Community, and the Skills Builder Partnership



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