Could a National Standard for PSD address concerns about employability skills?

20th August 2015

NIACE’s latest report on Personal and social development (PSD) provision: content, format and impact reveals that PSD can tremendously improve peoples’ lives and employment prospects. Our report adds substance to BIS data showing that 46% of learners gained sustained employment following participation in a Level 1 Award in Personal Development.  


Personal and Social Development (PSD) and employability skills provision (which is PSD contextualised for the workplace), achieves its impact by enabling learners to acquire skills, behaviours, attributes and values, that increase their personal effectiveness. This helps them to, for instance, solve problems, work with others, avoid conflict, manage stress, present themselves properly and communicate effectively.


In 2014/15, approximately 150,000 learners enrolled on PSD qualifications that prepared them for life, learning and work. However, employers and organisations still regularly report that a high proportion of people leave school, college and university with unmet PSD/employability skills needs. How can this be?


Although participation in PSD appears to be high, our research reveals that learner access to PSD is actually rather arbitrary. Because it is difficult to screen learners for PSD needs, providers tend to only offer wide-ranging PSD provision to people within learner groups expected to have profound PSD needs. This means learners with wide-ranging PSD needs, outside these groups, may only be offered short employability skills provision focused on interview skills and job application techniques; or they can miss out altogether.  If we could find a way to screen and assess PSD needs more reliably, we could screen every learner and employment programme participant during their induction. This will ensure that no learner passes through learning or employment support without their PSD needs being identified and addressed.


Many providers also feel a National Standard would be helpful because there is a lack of clarity about the most useful PSD/employability skills for different purposes. Serving an equivalent purpose as the National Standard for Literacy and National Standard for Numeracy, a National Standard for PSD would:


  • Inform PSD curricula and if deemed useful, a core curriculum for PSD.
  • Inform the development of PSD qualifications.
  • Inform the development of initial assessment tools for PSD by ensuring they cover the appropriate range of skills and understanding.
  • Ensure PSD qualifications and curricula keep up with developments in behavioural sciences, if regularly reviewed.

In their recent report, the McDonalds Soft Skills campaign has called for the creation of a soft skills framework. We support this proposal, but believe Government should go further by establishing a National Standard for PSD which will encompass soft skills. By underpinning core curricula and qualifications, national standards inform and set a benchmark for the quality of publicly funded provision in a way that frameworks, reliant on voluntary buy in, never can.


A National Standard for PSD and more effective identification of PSD needs will inevitably increase demand for PSD provision. However, ensuring resources are made available to meet this demand, could help Government in their quest to eliminate employers’ concerns about the PSD needs of job applicants.


We believe a national standard and more effective identification of PSD needs could transform the work and life outcomes for huge numbers of learners. Do you agree?