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How to prepare young people for the future?

Future skills light bulb

At Nesta, we are exploring how to better prepare young people for the future world of work. Our 2017 report, the The Future of Skills: Employment in 2030, explored how employment is likely to change in the future, and found that interpersonal and higher-order cognitive skills are likely to be crucial.

Clearly academic success must continue to be a key priority - especially for the thousands of young people, particularly the long-term disadvantaged, who continue to fail to secure basic literacy and numeracy. However, research like this shows that there must be space in schools and young people’s lives for more than exam preparation if we are to prepare young people for the future of work.

On Friday 13th April, in partnership with the Fair Education Alliance, we met with a range of leading charities and providers of skills development programmes to discuss what works and what doesn’t in developing key skills, and help us identify how the sector can be supported. The Alliance is a coalition of organisations committed to leading the fight against educational inequality, including a shared commitment to addressing the skills issue - particularly for disadvantaged young people.

We met with leaders from Founders4Schools, Franklin Scholars, Voice21, National Citizen Service, Toolshed, UK Youth, BBC Learning, Culture Mile Learning, Enabling Enterprise, MyKindaFuture and The Brilliant Club to discuss what works in helping young people prepare for the future world of work. By talking to a range of organisations, all with extensive direct experience of supporting young people to develop the skills they need to succeed in life and work, we were able to identify key challenges, opportunities and priorities for the coming years.

There is growing evidence of the importance of social skills and their relationship to success in later life, and businesses continue to make the case for a focus on attributes and skills. Equally, recent research has found that 97% of teachers see life skills as or more important than academic qualifications, but that provision is patchy. That’s why we are exploring ways to take practical action to help young people develop the skills that our research shows will be important to their future success.

The key learnings from the roundtable included:

1. Making the case for skills

Despite broad agreement on the importance of key skills, this hasn’t translated into consistent provision (particularly as the government is not prioritising skill development). There are opportunities to:

  • Make the case for life skills to develop parity of esteem with numeracy and literacy. However, assessment of future skills needs to be introduced in a way that works for teachers (and isn’t yet another test).
  • Bridge the gap between practitioners and academic expertise by bringing together the existing evidence base for skills development
  • Bring together the various strands of the argument for breadth in the education curriculum that should include workplace and life skills, emotional wellbeing and character building (and clear definitions of these) alongside academic skills

2. Areas for further research

There is a growing evidence base for existing interventions. However, we know very little about the mechanisms and triggers that enable successful skill development. Specifically:

  • How does the structure of an intervention effect its impact? (for example, mentoring once a week for 3 months vs 1 week intensive work experience)
  • What are the triggers within interventions by which outcomes are achieved? (for example, within models of explicit teaching, coaching, mentoring or authentic/‘real life’ experience)
  • How can interventions consistently evaluate their impact on cognitive and non-cognitive skills that are difficult to assess?

3. Gaps in provision and practical steps

Alongside research and convening, what are the practical steps that will help disadvantaged young people gain future skills? Ideas included:

  • Working to develop interventions that can scale to different parts of the country (provision outside London and the South East is patchy), especially young people in communities with the biggest education inequality
  • Supporting interventions which use settings and structures which are known to be effective
  • Supporting teachers to incorporate future skills provision (eg. through partnerships with CPD or ITT providers)

We invited Tom Ravenscroft, CEO of Enabling Enterprise, to present their Skills Builder Framework, a tool to assess young people’s development of 8 essential skills. The framework builds on a decade’s work by the charity with 3-18 year olds developing key skills such as problem-solving, communication skills and working with others. The work has involved more than 330 schools, 130 employers and 60 skills-building organisations and has directly reached 200,000 learners already.

To achieve the systemic change we want to see, we need to get to a position where every child and young person successfully builds skills like teamwork, leadership, presenting, aiming high and staying positive. We discussed how different organisations could use the framework across different contexts and programmes, and the opportunities of doing so - in particular for developing a consistent language across schools and charities. Challenges were also identified - for example approaches to moderating assessment.

The official launch of the framework is next Friday 4th May, and we are exploring how we can help organisations such as Enabling Enterprise to build more consistent approaches to skill development.

In summary, there was a consensus that there is a need to bring together the existing evidence on skill development and its importance to better make the case for extending provision, as well as a stronger commitment to identifying ‘what works’ in interventions and finding ways to scale them.

A case can and should be made for a school curriculum that is broad and prioritises carefully planned skill development, support for resilience and wellbeing, alongside technical and academic knowledge.

At Nesta over the coming months we will be exploring how to connect our research on future skills with the evidence of what works in skills development - to support improved and extended provision that will help young people thrive in the future economy.

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Future skills


Jed Cinnamon

Jed Cinnamon

Jed Cinnamon

Senior Programme Manager, A Fairer Start

Jed was a senior programme manager in the fairer start mission at Nesta.

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Joysy John

Joysy John

Joysy John

Director of Education

Joysy was the Director of Education and led Nesta's work in education across innovation programmes, research and investment.

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