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Young people's soft skills highly valued by employers

95% of employers regard soft skills as equally or more important than exam results

A third (33%) of employers regard soft skills as more important than academic achievements, according to research from The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE).

The survey of 506 senior managers found that 95% regard soft skills as equally or more important than exam results, with 98% recommending young people invest more time in enhancing their soft skills – such as communication, teamwork and leadership – to get ahead in the competitive job market.

The value employers place on soft skills is highlighted in their attitude towards the phrase, with 82% agreeing that the term 'soft skills' does not adequately reflect their importance. Alternative terms such as 'real life skills' or 'core skills' were suggested to give the concept more gravitas and stress these skills' importance.

The employers were keen on jobseekers talking about experiences that helped build soft skills. Almost nine in 10 (86%) said that they look favourably on people who share evidence of volunteering and other extracurricular activities on their social media.

The DofE’s chief executive Peter Westgarth said employers are clearly looking beyond exam results when it comes to hiring. “The results demonstrate that a young person’s potential should not be measured solely on academic achievements,” he said. “While grades are of course important they don’t showcase a young person’s full potential. Evidence of soft skills helps employers to see that a young person is more employable and that they will adapt to the workplace culture more easily.

“It’s therefore really important that young people are aware of this and have access to opportunities such as the DofE, which is instantly recognised by employers as evidence of the skills for life and employability they are looking for."

The research coincides with this year’s A-Level and GCSE results, published on 17 and 24 August respectively.

Jayne-Anne Gadhia, chief executive at Virgin Money, offered reassurance to those receiving results this summer. “There's more to life than exams,” she said. “Good exam results show you have the discipline to study hard and that's important, but the right attitude will get you a long way. Be yourself. Find your purpose. Make a difference. Each and every one of us can change the world. Go out and find your way."

A-Level results day saw grades increase for the first time in six years. A* and A grades were awarded to 26.3% of entries – up by 0.5 percentage points compared with last year. Boys overtook girls in the top grades, which is significant because girls outperform boys at every educational stage and have been achieving higher at A-Level for 17 years.

Students collecting their GCSE results will for the first time receive a number grade between one and nine (with nine representing the highest mark) rather than a letter grade for English literature, English language and mathematics.

The changes will gradually be rolled out to other subjects by 2020.