Employability skills – from a theatre workshop

All the rumpus over GCSEs has been reminding me that there’s more to education – and to job hunting – than qualifications.

But what are these additional ‘soft skills’ or ‘employability skills’?  And how can you get them?  There’s no syllabus or exam.

The Guardian reported on ‘soft skills’ in June this year, from a graduate perspective.  The feature highlighted the importance of experience in the workplace, but also the need to be able to explain the specific skills you’ve gained.

STEMNET has published an employability skills chart to help school students do this, particularly for STEM subjects.  I find this one a great starting point.

But if you want it from the horse’s mouth (or the employer’s at least) it’s worth checking with the CBI who launched a Skills and Employability Framework this summer.

So what sort of ‘skills’ are we talking about?

– team working

– ability to work independently

– willingness to take initiative

– good time management (including basic punctuality)

– attention to detail

– persistence, and a willingness to work hard

– understanding the wider business objectives

– communication skills

There are more I could add to the list, but these are the ones I found myself talking about to Tim Hutchings, the Chief Executive of Hertfordshire Chamber of Commerce a few weeks ago.  However, we were not talking about a STEM training course or even ‘access to work’ training, but a Theatre Arts workshop for teenagers.

Earlier this year, I set up Vivo D’Arte, a Theatre Arts Training Organisation based in Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire, with 4 colleagues.  We have a strong focus on helping those who are looking to study music and drama, with the aim of taking it up professionally.  However, it has become clear to me that the attributes our participants had to show matched so well with the ‘employability skills’ that they would be valuable on an application form for any job or any college or university course.

Over 40 young people prepared and performed ‘Les Misérables’ (School Edition) over a two week intensive rehearsal period, with 4 more taking part in our pilot ‘behind the scenes’ course, including set design and build, props, sound, lighting, costume, make up, wigs and hair.

The reviews speak for themselves, and the feedback from the participants and their parents has been incredibly positive.

Our ‘values’ which are printed on the T-shirts worn by all the participants are ‘Passion, Commitment and Excellence’.  These sit very well with theatre arts …. but could apply equally well to many other areas of work.  As I was chatting to Tim Hutchings, I found myself ticking off so many ‘skills’ which were simply taken as read at our workshop:

– Punctuality at rehearsals and getting yourself on stage at the right time

– Supporting the rest of the cast, and recognising that ‘the show’ was more important than personal glory

– An awareness of what was going on around, and seeing how to work together to improve things – whether sharing space in the dressing rooms, or moving around on stage

– A willingness and enthusiasm to learn – not just the words and the moves, but how to use your voice properly and how to create stage presence

– Working really hard to make your contribution the best it could be, and sticking at it even when it gets tough.  (We did not have a ‘chorus’, where people could be carried, we had an ‘ensemble’ where everyone was vital)

– Adaptability …. when a piece of scenery jams, you just keep singing and work around it

– Communication skills?  Well, they weren’t giving PowerPoint presentations, but they all had to interpret their roles and their words, and communicate that to the audience

We were not offering an ‘employability skills’ training course, but the participants have been given a context where all these attributes were simply expected, and they rose to the challenge. Many of them probably won’t have made the connection with ‘work’ skills, and would only include the specific performance aspects on a CV, or simply consider this a ‘fun’ summer activity.

While I’m not suggesting the CBI should drop its employability skills plan, it is certainly worth thinking outside the box about how we can encourage young people to recognise, value and demonstrate employability skills in a different inspirational context.