Campaign puts £88bn economic value on 'soft skills'

By Sean Coughlan
Education correspondent, BBC News

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Supermarket shelvesImage source, PA
Image caption,
Soft skills are worth an extra £88bn in increased productivity and reduced operating costs, say researchers

"Soft skills" need to be taken much more seriously as factors for business success, says a campaign by employers.

These are skills such as communication, initiative, interacting with customers and team working.

Research commissioned by the campaign suggests such skills are worth £88bn to the UK economy.

McDonald's is backing the campaign and wants to challenge the idea that a soft skill is a woolly concept with no clear economic value.

It is working alongside firms such as Barclays and organisations including the CBI.

Jez Langhorn, from McDonald's, says soft skills are vital for employers, but they have a "reputational problem" in terms of how they are valued.

'Essential skills'

The Development Economics research group says they are worth £88bn per year, particularly in businesses that rely on "face-to-face human interaction".

The economic impact is based on factors such as increased workplace productivity and looking at what would be lost with a lack of soft skills.

These negative factors include:

  • increased operating costs
  • losing business to competitors
  • problems meeting quality standards
  • delays in introducing new products or services
Image source, PA
Image caption,
McDonald's is backing the campaign to value soft skills

The study says that unless such skills are improved, over half a million UK workers will be "significantly held back" in their job opportunities by the end of the decade.

The campaign is launching a three-month consultation and will publish recommendations later in the year.

Mr Langhorn, chief people officer for McDonald's in the UK and northern Europe, said abilities such as communication, inter-personal skills and time management, were "essential skills" for employees.

"I can't think of any job where those skills wouldn't be important... but they are not recognised as much as they should be," he said.

Many employers valued such practical skills more than academic qualifications, said Mr Langhorn, but they were worried that there were not enough people with such abilities.

'Showcase value'

"Businesses think they are important, they are massively important to the UK economy, but they are not recognised to the extent that they should be.

"Maybe it's because of the terminology or maybe it's because people haven't defined what those soft skills are or people are not sure how to articulate those skills when they're talking to their boss about promotions."

Mr Langhorn said there needed to be a better way to "showcase" their value.

"They probably have a reputational problem. They are not recognised for their importance to individuals and the economy.

"We're interested in any policies the government can implement to help employees and employers to develop soft skills.

"These skills improve productivity and that is a key thing the UK economy needs."

Neil Carberry, the CBI's director for employment and skills, said: "Business is clear that developing the right attitudes and attributes in people - such as resilience, respect, enthusiasm and creativity - is just as important as academic or technical skills."