Essential skills – an urgent call to action for employers

Post author image. Nicola Inge
An image of Nicola Inge

Business in the Community (BITC), as part of an Essential Skills Taskforce, launched the Skills Builder Universal Framework for essential skills on 20 May, alongside a call to action for employers to do more to develop the essential skills of their current and future workforce. Nicola Inge, Director of Employment and Skills, sets out the ambition behind this launch and Business in the Community’s vision for change.  

Over the past 18 months, BITC has been collaborating with leaders in the education and skills sectors as part of an Essential Skills Taskforce with a shared ambition to create a common language and framework for skills that would span education and employment, enabling people to develop these skills throughout their lifetime.   

The Essential Skills Taskforce is made up of leading organisations from the education and employment sectors that have come together for the first time to agree a universal framework for essential skills. Taskforce members are: Business in the Community, Careers & Enterprise Company, CBI, the CIPD, EY Foundation, Gatsby Foundation and the Skills Builder Partnership

The members of BITC’s Employment and Skills Leadership Team have been active champions of this work, helping shape the new framework and acting as trailblazers testing it in their organisations.   

An issue of both enduring and increasingly urgent importance 

Essential skills are the enduring skills underpinning business success in every context, vital for early careers and throughout people’s working lives. They need to be taught in education, valued and assessed through recruitment and developed through organisational learning and development programmes.   

However, the challenges presented by COVID-19 provide an additional motive for businesses, educators, and employability providers to do more to develop essential skills now.  Some of the trends that were already in play due to automation are being accelerated, as businesses rapidly adopt more technology. Essential skills are the critical human skills needed to maximise the productivity gains made possible through technology and are less vulnerable to automation.  

“COVID-19 is having a disproportionate impact on the employment prospects of groups that were more disadvantaged even before the crisis”

Whole sections of industry have been brought to their knees, with unemployment predicted to reach 2 million1.  Over the coming months, hundreds of thousands of people will be relying on their transferable, essential skills as they look for new jobs, with many needing to look in new industries.  

COVID-19 is having a disproportionate impact2on the employment prospects of groups that were more disadvantaged even before the crisis – young people, women, older people, low-paid workers.  With evidence that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to be NEET3, we must do all we can to give these groups the best chances of success and stop the disadvantage gap widening.  

Blazing a trail 
As part of the development of the new Universal Framework, we set out to build on the success of the original framework in education, working with a group of employers who would adopt the framework in one area of their business focused on either recruitment or learning and development. We share some of the stories of the trailblazers, including Boots, Tideway, KPMG and BP in our guide How to recognise and develop essential skills.   

A different perspective 
One of the biggest learnings for me as I’ve been involved in this work over the past 18 months is how often these skills are overlooked or taken for granted, with the false assumption often made that these skills are innate or only built through experience.  I’ve become aware of all the amazing opportunities I’ve had to develop these skills throughout my life, underpinned by a strong support network, including some brilliant line managers.  More importantly, I’ve become acutely aware that these opportunities aren’t there for everyone and we all have a responsibility to change that.    

The Skills Builder Universal Framework provides the language, structure and measurability for every organisation to play a role in developing the essential skills of young people, jobseekers and employees alike. What happens next is in all of our hands.  


  1. UK economy could shrink by 35% with 2m job losses, warns OBR (2020); Richard Partington; The Guardian, available at
  2. Sector shutdowns during the coronavirus crisis: which workers are most exposed? (2020); Robert Joyce and Xiaowei Xu; Institute for Fiscal Studie; available at
  3. Establishing the Employment Gap (2019); Impetus; available at

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