The six capabilities for work


What can schools do to help students to be ‘ready for work’ when they leave? Drawing on recent research, Jenny North offers some advice and discusses the ‘six essential capabilities’ that students need

The UK Job market has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. Many young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, find it increasingly difficult to make a successful transition from education to employment.

With nearly one million young people not in employment, education or training (NEET) the destination of pupils after school continues to be a concern and an increased priority for schools. What can schools do to ensure their pupils leave school with a bright future ahead?

The six capabilities

Impetus-PEF is a charity that transforms the lives of disadvantaged young people by ensuring they get the support they need to succeed in education, training and employment. We recently published the Ready for Work report, in partnership with the Young Foundation and the Social Unit, which aimed to answer the question: “How can we help young people be ready for work?”

A detailed review of existing research, coupled with a series of focus groups and interviews with educators, employers, charities, young people and government helped form the basis of the findings of the report.

The report identifies six essential capabilities that young people need to be considered employable and it proposes a common language for young people and employers alike to use. These are defined as self-aware, receptive, driven, self-assured, resilient, and informed. 

These six capabilities apply to all young people and it is crucial that professionals helping young people take them into account when designing programmes to increase employability. 

Interestingly, these capabilities are typically expected of all employees, old and young but are rarely communicated clearly and concisely.

Most of these capabilities are mentioned when “character education” is discussed, and it has become a hot topic for our politicians. Both the Conservatives and Labour have recently highlighted the importance of character education, with Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, calling for schools to instil “character and creativity” in pupils and education secretary Nicky Morgan recently acknowledging the important role of schools in turning out “rounded, resilient young people that can face the challenges of the modern world with confidence”.

But what can be done on a practical level by schools to ensure their pupils are best-placed to find and stay in employment, beyond the crucial task of preparing them for qualifications?

It is certainly not a one-size-fits-all approach, but by examining the detail of the six capabilities, educators can understand how they are already developing them in their pupils, and how they might do so further. 

1, Self-aware

Takes responsibility for themselves and others, exhibits self-control, accountability for one’s actions, does not shift blame and recognises their own strengths and weakness.

2, Receptive

Willing to address weaknesses, takes feedback and advice, open to new ideas and working in different ways, open-minded, patient and flexible.

3, Driven

Displays a positive attitude, applies oneself consistently, reliable, motivated, punctual, well-organised, hard-working, and goes the extra mile.

4, Self-assured

Has good levels of self-esteem, willing to ask questions and seek more information, can work alone without clear direction, displaying signs of self-esteem.

5, Resilient

Copes with rejection and set-backs, learns from mistakes, open to constructive criticism, determines to overcome obstacles, perseveres and does not panic under pressure

6, Informed

Students need to be informed about the opportunities available to them and educators need to think how they can best provide this knowledge to their students. The informed capability is broken down in more detail to include:

  • An understanding of the jobs market.

  • An ability to search for job vacancies and complete background research.

  • Understanding office etiquette.

  • Being well-presented.

  • Effectively describing their achievements verbally and having a representative CV.


By providing children with a specific opportunity to focus on “work-readiness”, schools can ensure a structured approached to building these capabilities in the young people they educate.

The fractured nature of career services today has led to a situation where young people and those who support them rarely have direct contact with a representative range of employers, and educators may feel they are not best-placed to provide the information and training needed to make young people ready for work.

Effective programmes to help students – particularly for those most likely to need it – prepare for the work place do exist, and a school’s ability to harness these opportunities can depend on budget and location.

A case study

One example is Think Forward, a charity which provides early and sustained support to young people at risk of becoming NEET in 14 schools in north east London.

Established in 2010 by Impetus-PEF, Think Forward aims to address the stubbornly high unemployment rates of young people in east London. Their programme provides vulnerable young people with a progression coach to support them during education and into employment.

Coaches work with young people from age 14 right through to 19, seeing that young person through their GCSEs, college, and into higher education, their first Apprenticeship or job.

Kevin Munday, managing director of Think Forward, explained: “Early intervention and sustained support are key to developing meaningful relationships with young people. Think Forward connects young people with other charities and social services that may benefit them. 

“Crucially, they also connect them with employers, exposing them to the world of work through mentoring, work experience and training. Coaches are based full-time in a school, but they are not teachers or friends – they are experienced professionals who can help young people build the awareness, self-belief and motivation needed to do well at school and plan themselves a better future.”

Think Forward used the capabilities in the Ready for Work report to develop its programme and help the young people it supports to become fluent in this common language – to help them relate their own behaviours to employers’ expectations, regardless of the career or job they choose to pursue. 

Using the six capabilities as a spring board, Think Forward developed a 10-point scale that objectively describes the behaviours of a person at different stages along the journey of developing work-readiness skills. 

This allows the coaches to track and regularly respond to a young person’s development, rather than waiting until the end of the five-year programme to see whether it has worked or not – an approach proven to save time, money and, in many cases, avoid disappointment.

Having the capabilities explained in an explicit framework has helped Think Forward to communicate clearly to and between the employers and young people they work with. It also helps them understand exactly how the programme is helping and what more they can do to help young people. All this adds up to employers finding young candidates prepared to start work – and more importantly – with the skills to stay and thrive in employment.

We believe that the right level of qualifications for the job, stability in personal circumstances, and a basic level of competency in all six capabilities are the minimum required by young people to achieve sustained employment. 

It is vital that in our desire to secure the right qualifications for our children, we do not neglect the essential capabilities that will help them build a bright future.

  • Jenny North is director of policy and strategy at Impetus-PEF.

Further information
Impetus-PEF is a charity that transforms the lives of disadvantaged young people by ensuring they get the support they need to succeed in education, training and employment. It currently works with over 20 promising youth charities and social enterprises. For more on the Ready for Work research, visit


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