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Putting skills to work: Its not so much the what, or even the why, but how

This paper focuses on how generic skills can be developed to enable young adults to best utilise them in making transitions into the labour market. Drawing on the literature and a Commercial Education Trust study of practices which encourage employer engagement in skills development, it is argued that ‘putting skills to work’ is not automatic or unproblematic. It is not simply a matter of ‘skills transfer’, but a ‘continuous, contextually-embedded and transformative process’ during which individuals, supported by partners, learn how to recontextualise skills to suit different activities and environments. It may be tempting to distil employability into a list of so-called ‘soft skills’, but context matters. It requires more than that which can be taught in Education. Support is needed in the workplace through mentoring, for example, to help recruits acquire knowledge of workplace culture, norms and practices, situational understanding, and apply metacognitive strategies for bringing together this knowledge and a range of different skills and personal attributes in productive application. Further research is needed to explore the inter-relationships between skills supply, demand and utilisation, including ways in which employers can better recognise young recruits’ skills and provide ‘expansive’ working environments that maximise their capabilities and potential for development.