Skills Learning Personal development Finance Competency Business concept

What are employability skills?

In the ever-evolving landscape of the contemporary job market, developing a strong set of employability skills has become essential for success. 

Employability skills – commonly referred to as soft skills or transferable skills – are the foundational attributes and abilities that transcend specific job roles, industries and academic disciplines.

Unlike the job-specific skills employers require within a particular career type or sector, employability skills are versatile and applicable across diverse professional settings. They go beyond technical proficiency and academic qualifications, and include a spectrum of interpersonal skills, communication skills and cognitive abilities.

The difference between employability skills and job skills

Job skills are specific to a particular role or industry and are necessary for the daily tasks within the job. They are often acquired through education, training or on the job experience.

Employability skills, on the other hand, enable people to thrive in any professional environment.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)refers to these as essential skills and argues that they are at the heart of almost every single job.

“Most of these essential skills are profoundly human. They are behavioural and attitudinal, and hard to replace with technology. They include communication skills, team working, empathy, problem solving, creativity and positivity. Or looked at another way, these are the essential skills required to ensure we get the most out of technology as we all need to adapt and innovate,” a CIPD blog explains. “With job specific skills changing more rapidly, employers have been focusing more and more on these essential skills and it’s now common to hear employers talk of recruiting for attitude and training for skills.”

The benefits of employability skills

Enhanced marketability

Employability skills significantly boost a person’s marketability, a fact that is particularly important in a competitive job market where demonstrating a strong set of soft skills can help distinguish candidates and make them more appealing to employers.

This is especially true for entry level positions where candidates may have limited job-specific experience.

Improved job performance

Beyond securing a job, employability skills can help contribute to sustained success in the workplace.

For example, effective communication, teamwork, and problem solving skills help people when they’re in post and building relationships with their colleagues. Employees with well developed soft skills are also typically more adaptable to changes and challenges.

Long term career growth

Strong employability skills lay the groundwork for continued career success because as people progress in their careers, soft skills become increasingly important. Consider a person’s promotion into management – leadership skills, adaptability, and critical thinking are all core skills for more senior roles.

The most important employability skills

There is a diverse array of employability skills but the most commonly requested by employers include:

  • Communication skills. Effective verbal communication and written communication skills are among the most essential for professional success. Clear and concise communication ensures understanding, supports collaboration, and helps create an open and transparent work environment. Job seekers should always strive to highlight their communication abilities within their job applications and cover letters, and demonstrate these skills during job interviews.
  • Teamwork. The ability to work collaboratively with others is a highly valued skill, and many employers actively seek candidates who can contribute to a harmonious team dynamic and oversee collective decision-making.
  • Problem-solving. Problem solving skills are crucial for navigating the complexities of the modern workplace. Employers look for people who can analyse challenges, develop creative solutions, and implement effective strategies. As a result, demonstrating problem solving and analytical skills can set candidates apart.
  • Time management. The ability to manage time efficiently is a sought-after skill for many professional teams where meeting deadlines, prioritising tasks, and optimising productivity are all essential for handling responsibilities and projects. Closely related are organisational skills and self-management abilities, which also enable people to work more efficiently and effectively. 
  • Adaptability. The pace of change in today’s work environment often requires people to navigate uncertainty, embrace change, and quickly acclimate to new circumstances, so adaptable, resilient employees are in demand.

How to improve and enhance employability skills

One of the most effective ways of developing and enhancing employability skills is to embrace a mindset that’s focused on continuous learning and building up new skills and strengths. This includes seeking out opportunities for professional development and growth – whether through workshops, courses or online resources – and regularly working to acquire new technical and soft skills. For example, someone with a growth mindset will focus on improving their technical IT skills (such as learning new formulas in Excel) while also expanding their knowledge in soft computer skills, such as communicating effectively on professional social media.

Remember that at their core, employability skills reflect a person’s openness to adapt and innovate. And in an era where technological advancements and market dynamics evolve rapidly, the ability to acquire and apply new competencies is invaluable.

For young people or those early in their careers, this can be achieved through work experience. Internships, part-time jobs, or even volunteer work provide valuable opportunities to develop and apply job readiness skills in real world scenarios. It’s also worth noting that employers often look favourably on candidates with a blend of academic knowledge and practical experience.

For those more advanced in their careers, it may be more helpful to seek mentorship for personal development. Mentors can share their own experiences with developing and leveraging employability skills and can provide insight, guidance and constructive feedback.

Regardless of where a person is at in their career journey, it’s important to set and evaluate goals. When goal-setting, define both shor and long term goals for career and personal growth and then regularly evaluate progress, adjusting goals as needed. This not only enhances focus but also showcases a commitment to improvement.

Finally, a growing area of importance for personal development is in emotional intelligence, or EQ. EQ is an ability to understand and manage one’s emotions – and those of others – and can be developed by practising self-management, self-awareness and empathy.

Enhance your employability skills and grow your leadership mindset

Develop your professional adaptability alongside leadership skills with the 100% online MSc Finance, Leadership and Management programme from the University of York. This flexible Masters programme will give you valuable insight into your own professional development while building your problem solving and communication skills.

Your studies will prepare you to respond rapidly and effectively to changing business and financial environments, and upon graduation you will receive affiliate CMI membership and be awarded a Level 7 certificate in Strategic Management and Leadership Practice.

Modules on this programme cover topics such as:

  • Operations management
  • Business finance 
  • Leading and managing people
  • Marketing and ethics in global business
  • Corporate financial strategy
  • Investment management
  • Asset pricing.