Bringing transferable skills out of the vacuum and into the open

We are opening the new year with a discussion on transferable skills, giving voice to teachers, academics, student advisers, content creators, and students themselves. Join in the conversation too!

Transferable skills represent a fluid and increasingly important set of attributes that students must demonstrate for academic success and employment in the 21st Century. Frequently cited examples of these skills include: critical thinking, problem solving and time management; but also some less cited examples, such as resilience and adaptability. In my work as a Learning Development Adviser, I help students develop these skills to further their academic and personal abilities. I also help students with a more challenging undertaking: to understand why these skills matter. 

These core skills are important precisely because they can be used in all facets of life from high-stakes employment to everyday tasks: debating with others, researching a trip, or questioning a news report. The core issue I’ve identified in my role is not that students fail to develop these skills but rather that they struggle to link them to their wider learning experiences. For instance, understanding the connection between group working and having developed important interpersonal skills is, for some students, a difficult feat. But why is this the case? Part of the problem is that academic or ‘transferable’ skills should not exist in a vacuum. Nor should the practitioners who help students to develop them work in silo. In other words, teachers, skills developers and career advisers could identify further opportunities to work together to enable students to make clearer connections between their classroom learning and the skills developed. In turn, this will promote a better understanding of how these skills can be mobilised in the careers that interest students. 

Too often students view knowledge and skills as separate entities and perhaps we, as educators, are perpetuating this. By collaborating more, teachers and other support staff can help students to make meaningful connections between the curriculum, skills development and their wider transferability. This might involve co-teaching the curriculum, participating in joint conferences, or co-creating a series of resources. 

In an increasingly diverse workplace, the transferability of skills is more important than ever. Let us consider the possibility that students do not necessarily lack these skills (although in some cases they do), but that they struggle to see how they relate to their broader learning experiences. By carving out time to work together and embed reflective learning experiences into the curriculum, we can empower students to transfer their skills beyond the classroom. 

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About the author
Dr Adam Bingham-Scales is a Learning Development Adviser (Outreach) at the University of Surrey. His interests include student transitions, identity and belonging, and academic writing in Higher Education.

Transferable skills have been embedded from the start in the development of Pearson qualifications and resources: Pearson Edexcel International GCSEs (9-1), Pearson Edexcel International Advanced Levels, as well as the iPrimary and iLower Secondary for 5-14 year olds. 

Read Transferable skills: A guide for schools to find out more and see examples of how the skills are signposted across Pearson qualifications and resources.