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Communication skills for work are skills for life

I CAN’s Lead Communication Advisor for Youth Programmes, Maxine Burns writes the 2nd edition of I CAN’s Talk Paper ‘Skills for Work: Skills for Life’. Read the paper here.

I’ve worked in the field of speech, language and communication for many years, but one thing that hasn’t changed during my varied career is my belief that communication skills are at the centre of so many other ‘life’ skills; skills that those with good communication skills take for granted. At work for example, the list of skills that are required include just what you’d expect if you took a few moments to consider: listening carefully, cooperating with colleagues to complete tasks, asking questions, giving and receiving feedback appropriately, changing how we speak for different audiences, and not letting how we feel change the way we communicate in the workplace – these are all skills dependent on effective communication.

At I CAN, we know that all of these communication-based skills can be challenging to acquire for many children and young people – and not just those with identified speech, language and communication needs (SLCN).

Employers have long understood the need for good communication skills when they look to recruit, and year on year figures are published on how these skills are lacking; even in graduates. Teachers understand how integral communication skills are for a successful future, even though the work of schools is formally judged by different criteria. Likewise, young people can be aware that good communication skills will help them get a job. And yet there is still a considerable disconnect between what the curriculum provides and the skills young people need to prepare themselves for the workplace. Why is this? And what are the potential risks?

The reasons are complex and the solutions require joined-up and systemic action. I have enjoyed the research required for writing the 2nd edition of the I CAN Talk Paper, ‘Skills for Work: Skills for Life’ and could have gone on reading the hugely interesting array of contributory literature on the subject. I hope that you will find it interesting too. You can read the paper here.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had with my Dad many years ago about the potential for robots in the building industry, and what that might mean for employment. One thing I remain convinced of: If young people in the 21st century are to compete with machines for jobs, then they need a range of skills. But effective communication skills will always be at the centre of that skill set.

If you enjoy reading the paper and are an employer of young people – or know someone who is – please support our work in this area by sharing a short survey we have developed for employers. You can access the survey here. The results so far already make interesting reading!

Maxine Burns

Lead Communication Advisor for Youth Programmes