Building soft skills essential for young people

Course gives youngsters the boost they need, says Martin Davidson

Course gives youngsters the boost they need, says Martin Davidson

It is no secret that young people today have a fierce fight getting ahead when they leave school and when it comes to employment, young people really have to offer something extra in order to stand out from the crowd. At entry level, it’s no longer purely about academic achievement.

Increasingly we hear employers’ heartfelt complaints that school and college leavers are just not “work-ready”. While organisations are often happy to provide on the job training for specific occupations, it is expected that entry level candidates will have a positive attitude and an ability to show enthusiasm for knuckling down to the job. Future employers and colleges want to hear from potential candidates about what they have to offer in terms of “soft skills”, highly sought after qualities such as confidence, team working skills, resilience and grit.

As Dame Louise Makin, CEO of international specialist healthcare company BTG and trustee of the Outward Bound Trust, recently said: “We really need young people who have a high degree of resilience, who have a high degree of curiosity, who have an ability to learn, who are highly self-aware and above all have a real understanding of working in a team and being able to make a difference.”

So how can we begin the process of preparing young Scots for work? Young people’s talents need to be more fully developed and then showcased to future employers or education boards. Phillippa Kramer, HR director at Akzo Nobel, comments: “When I’m recruiting, I’m looking for someone who can stand out from the crowd, something more than just qualifications.”

The trust’s work in Scotland sees us engaging with around 4,500 young people every year, delivering residential courses designed to help them maximise their potential through challenges in the great outdoors.

We conducted a review of employers’ and educational institutions’ understanding of the term “employability skills” in the context of young people. In addition to the obvious elements of knowledge, qualifications and experiences which contribute towards a young person’s employability, five skills and three attributes were highlighted most frequently by employers looking for suitable young people. These were strong self-management, problem solving, communication and leadership skills, as well as competence in working with others. They were also looking for young people who were able to demonstrate a positive attitude, emotional intelligence and determination.

With these key sought-after skills and attributes in mind, the trust is launching the Skills for Life Award, a unique 19-day personal development course for 15- to 19-year-olds, beginning this summer at our Loch Eil centre in the Highlands.

The course places great emphasis on individuals’ transition into work, university, college or an apprenticeship and is geared towards developing confidence, communication and team-working skills. Highly trained and experienced instructors use the dramatic, rugged and challenging landscape of the Scottish Highlands to embed these skills through participation in physically and socially demanding activities such as hiking, climbing and overnight camping expeditions. In addition, participants will be guided to produce a “transition toolkit”, which will include a video personal statement and a 12-month personal development action plan. The aim is for participants to leave the course with increased confidence and a substantial head start in their chosen path.

An Outward Bound® experience provokes genuine interest from an interviewer. The Skills for Life Award demonstrates willingness from the young person to step out of their comfort zone, apply themselves to succeeding in new and challenging environments, all of which helps to set them up for their ongoing journey through life.

This new course could make a huge difference to a young person starting out in the world of work, as Stephen Park Brown, CEO of NVT Group in Glasgow comments: “The Outward Bound Trust’s Skills for Life Award is right at the cutting edge of delivering the skills Scotland’s young people need to succeed in life. Whether it’s college, university or the world of work, I firmly believe that those 19 days in the Scottish Highlands will help to give them an advantage.”

Martin Davidson is Scottish director of the Outward Bound Trust. The trust is currently looking for funding partners to ensure that financially disadvantaged young Scots are given the opportunity to take in a Skills for Life Award. Please contact [email protected] for details or visit