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The class divide in soft skills

Soft skills are essential to the success of the modern young person. These non-technical skills such as time management, creativity, resilience and ability to work in a team, are associated with positive outcomes for young people, such as financial stability in adulthood and reduced involvement in criminality (Gutman and Schoon 2013).

In addition to leading to better job prospects, these skills can help young people develop better lives for themselves by allowing them to build essential interpersonal relationships. However, there seems to be a divide in the development of soft skills between young people from richer backgrounds as opposed to those from more disadvantaged backgrounds.

Dr Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington College has been quoted saying; "The reason why alumni from independent schools are so dominant across society is not just because of the excellent exam results they receive, but precisely because of the grounding in the soft skills.”

One report from the Sutton Trust on The State of Social Mobility in the UK found that less than 50% of students from disadvantaged backgrounds take part in extracurricular activities which can provide crucial opportunities to develop their soft skills. This is in comparison to 66% participation in extracurricular activities when the young person comes from a wealthy family. This is one of the main issues; young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are receiving less opportunities to develop their soft skills from a young age leading to an inequality in job prospects. iCIMS Hiring Insights (2017) found that 94% of recruiting professionals believe an employee with stronger soft skills has a better chance of being promot

ed to a leadership position than an employee with more years of experience but weaker soft skills. So, what is to be done?

The answer is to better integrate soft skills into the national curriculum. Placing an emphasis on soft skills development would require modernisation of the current national curriculum, however, it would better prepare young people to enter the job market and succeed in wider-life. There is some interest in doing just this. In 2019, a trial of a new curriculum to improve soft skills in secondary school children in the UK found that this type of education boosts physical health and behaviour as well as leads to developments in young people’s career aspirations. Here, we see a large potential to benefit young people from d

isadvantaged backgrounds who are three times more likely to be excluded from school (Teach First). Modernising the national curriculum would require the ministry of education to work closely with teachers to develop more engaging and relevant learning opportunities with a focus on hands-on participation. This would have the added benefit of keeping youth and their families engaged in education longer and likely lead to better employment statistics among disadvantaged young people.

Furthermore, there needs to be more government funding set aside to help organisations

who specialise in helping young people develop character skills and employability, especially in the wake of the pandemic, which saw people under 35’s accounting for 80% of job losses in 2020 (Partington, 2021). In conclusion, we need to cultivate a societal shift wherein both the early development and life-long maintenance of soft skills become a priority, so that we may better prepare our young people for the future ahead. In the meantime, we at Bettering Education will continue to deliver soft skills training to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in hopes of closing the divide.

A quick look at the impact of Bettering Education:

In the past three years we have held 30 soft skills workshops and have worked with over 300 young people. From these workshops we have found that:

  • 93% of attendees either strongly agreed or agreed that they would be interested in a follow up session.

  • 91% of attendees think a series of BE Exceptional Workshops can help to reduce exclusion rates in school.

  • 100% of attendees believed the skills they learned in the BE Exceptional Programme will help them in gaining employment or in developing life skills.

  • 85% of attendees wanted to play a role in upcoming BE programs.

  • 100% of attendees created an action plan to develop their soft skills after the workshop.

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