The competencies and characteristics learners need (free resource offer)

Written by: Martina Veale | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The disruption to young people’s education means that, more than ever, schools are thinking beyond academic success. ASDAN’s Martina Veale identifies three essential competencies and characteristics that our students will need to thrive – and offers some free resources to help

The education sector is in uncharted territory as it seeks to help young people “catch-up” on lost learning, as well as equipping them with the skills and attributes they need to thrive in a post-pandemic world.

What we do know is that the huge disruption caused by the pandemic has had a particularly damaging impact on young people from poorer families and will result in “long-term effects on their education progression and labour market performance” (Blundell et al, 2021).

As an education charity which aims to engage and empower young people in greatest need, ASDAN has set out to help schools respond to this unique challenge.

In collaboration with our members and other educational professionals, we have identified what we think are the competencies and characteristics young people need to thrive in an uncertain, post-pandemic world. These can empower learners at a time when they need self-belief and inner confidence more than ever.

Academic success alone will not equip young people to thrive. They also need opportunities to develop into rounded, balanced and resilient individuals who have the skills and grit to handle the challenges ahead of them.

In this article, I want to put forward three of these essential attributes. I also link to some free resources from ASDAN to help you explore the development of these qualities with your learners. The competencies and characteristics outlined here are an example of some of those we focus on via our personal and social effectiveness qualifications at Level 1 and 2.

1, Greater self-awareness (promotes learners’ development)

Helping young people to develop greater self-awareness is a stepping-stone towards them becoming a more empowered and effective learner with good mental wellbeing.

We bring our “whole selves” to our learning. This means we need a secure understanding of who we are as people, our heritage and what motivates us and holds us back in order to make sense of our education journey.

Self-awareness means deepening our knowledge of things we like and don’t like as learners, identifying our strengths and weaknesses, and having an appreciation of how others like and perceive us. All these things combined help generate an accurate and positive sense of self.

Self-awareness is a maturity that ultimately helps young people become drivers of their education pathway, whether that is vocational or academic, rather than seeing themselves as passengers in a process that is imposed upon them.

Our one-page profile template (see further information) is a simple but powerful resource that helps learners start to address some of these issues, as well as identifying the support they may need in fulfilling their goals. The resource, which can be set as a homework activity, should ideally be completed independently by the learner before being reviewed with the tutor. Practitioners and learners can add more fields to this template to personalise the activity for learners.

2, Leadership skills (empower learners)

All learners can gain valuable skills from taking the lead in a project or activity and experiencing what it is like to lead.

As well as having overall responsibility for the successful completion of a task or objective, a leader must also know the strengths and weaknesses of their team, how to motivate them, and how to unlock their potential to get the best possible outcome and inspire them for the next project.

Not all leaders are the same. There are many different leadership styles including:

  • Autocratic: The leader is required to make almost all the decisions.
  • Authoritative: The leader sets the goals and determines processes with little input from team members.
  • Pace-setting: Leading from the front by setting high standards.
  • Democratic: Members of the group take a more participative role in the decision-making process.
  • Coaching: The leader supports and guides the team and is focused on bringing out the best in employees.
  • Transactional: The focus is on improving group performance with rewards used to motivate the team.

Different scenarios will require varying applications of these styles. Some will feel more natural than others. Greater self-awareness helps us identify what kind of leader we are and can be.

ASDAN has developed a leadership worksheet (see further information) that provides a valuable opportunity for students to reflect on themselves as leaders and what it means to develop leadership qualities. The template enables learners to discuss when they acted as a leader in the past, how they lead now, and what kind of leader they would like to be in the future.

3, Problem-solving skills (develop confidence)

Helping learners develop confidence in their ability to solve problems equips them with another vital skill that they can use throughout their education and working and personal lives.

But being able to solve problems can be far from straightforward, especially when you don’t have a reliable structure or process to follow.

An efficient way to solve a problem is to encourage learners to do a deep dive into the problem itself, exploring it from multiple angles and increasing understanding.

Without accurate diagnosis, the risk is that we rush prematurely to find a solution that is poorly conceived and drifts wide of the target.

Einstein is reported to have said: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about the solution.”

Learning to spend time and energy during the diagnosis phase of problem-solving is a discipline that can bring long-term benefit to learners throughout their lives, as well as helping them develop a key employability skill.

Download our problem-solving resource (see further information) to run an activity with your learners where they are guided through the process of problem-solving, from defining the problem to generating ideas before recommending solutions.

  • Martina Veale is director of education at ASDAN, a charity and awarding body which offers qualifications and curriculum programmes aimed at young people aged 11 to 25.

Free ASDAN resources


  • Blundell et al: Inequalities in education, skills, and incomes in the UK: The implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, Institute for Fiscal Studies, March 2021:


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