Learning to maintain your Employability Skills

Even though the UK unemployment rate dropped to 3.9% in January 2019, the quality of new jobs is doubtful, with many being zero-hour or self employed ones, typically of low pay and conditions, (report in the Observer Business ‘Why the road to full employment has ended up being lined with food banks’, 24.03.19).

Technological, as well as societal, change is rapid and disruptive; keeping yourself adequately skilled within your subject specialism is one area of importance, but with the rapidity of technological change in particular it is arguably more useful to ensure that the main skill you have is the ability to learn.

You can then learn how to adapt not just to the needs of the ever changing workplace, but just as importantly to learn how maintain and continuously develop your employability skills, which is also often referred to as transferable skills, or even transferable employability skills. In some cases they will also be defined slightly differently, however, for the purpose of this blog I will just refer to these as employability skills. Many of these can also be included within the term ‘soft skills’ as well.

Employability skills are those skills that become an extension of your personality and stay with you throughout your life. They build on positive attitudes and qualities, with the employability aspect of these skills relating to how well you can apply them to a business and work-based situation.


If you want to develop a career in any job, improve your current job prospects or wish to apply for your first job or a new job then you will need to focus on some of the skills which make people more employable and which might make you stand out from other people who may also be competing for what you want, whether a promotion, a first or another job.

Employers will frequently look for some additional value that potential employees can either bring to their organisation, or be retained where redundancies are needing to be made.

Highlighting and explaining your key employability skills which relate to the job in hand (these might have been stated or implied within a person specification) would typically make your application stand out more than others. This could get you an interview where you are in with a realistic chance of getting the job, or promotion – that’s if it’s an internal post you are going after.

A lot of research has been carried out to try and define what is meant by employability skills. There are numerous definitions and interpretations of the term, however, distinct themes and priorities can be identified as being what most employers are looking.

Employability Skills: ‘A mix of general skills, attributes and behaviours which an individual can demonstrate to seek, obtain and sustain employment to ensure that that the relevant job is carried out successfully and in a timely manner.’ (adapted from Research Report ‘Employability Skills Explored’, Learning and Skills Network, 2008)

Being able to focus on these, along with some of the lesser employability skill requirements will provide you with a much better chance of getting yourself job ready, and this means not just for your first job, but also where you have taken a break from employment and want to get back earning and also where you want to move between different employers, or even to be retained by an employer.

Employability skills should be thought of as a project that is ongoing because you are always adding new skills, enhancing established ones and gaining experience of applying employability skills in a range of different contexts. This ongoing aspect is really important with the pace of technological change which is taking place; this cannot be emphasised enough.

What is classed as an employability skill?

There are 5 skills which are regularly at the top of most lists:

The following terms feature very frequently in employer reports and job descriptions / person specifications; make sure you take note of these when reviewing the skills that you have. These might be areas that a potential employer starts to probe at interview if you haven’t adequately demonstrated them on an application form:

What other employability skills are there?

Some of the following terms are extensions of the top ten; however, they will frequently present themselves within someone’s list of employability skills:

  • Working under pressure and to deadlines (this is very relevant in today’s working environment)
  • Decision making / Using own initiative
  • Leadership
  • Negotiating
  • Valuing diversity (a desire to engage with others; non-prejudiced)
  • Presentation of self (your general appearance; what is appropriate for the post)
  • Enthusiasm / Positive attitude
  • Creativity / Innovation
  • Customer care skills
  • Analytical skills (a more detailed attribute than just problem solving)
  • Technical ability (includes technical skills that could be readily transferable)
  • Foreign language skills
  • International cultural awareness

Investing time in learning more about these skills and how to develop them for today’s and tomorrow’s  jobs market will be a significant step in maintaining your own employment. I’ll look at each of the skills in more detail in future blogs.

Chris Gray, 24th March 2019