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Home > News and views > Oracy and Employability

Oracy and Employability

Oracy and employability

There has long been a recognition that employers are finding that recent graduates or school leavers are entering the workforce without key employability skills required to thrive. Successive reports from the CBI in the 2010s reported that new entrants to the workforce didn’t have the communication, teamwork or critical thinking skills required to progress in a professional setting. While much has been done to try and resolve this (such as the introduction of the Gatsby Benchmarks for careers education), recent research from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) shows that core employability skills remain a challenge.

The six key employability skills

The NFER’s research identified six most important ‘essential employment skills’:

  1. Communication
  2. Collaboration
  3. Problem-solving
  4. Organising, planning & prioritising work
  5. Creative thinking
  6. ‘Information literacy’ (skills related to gathering, processing, and using information)


Those of you familiar with ESU’s programmes will see something immediately obvious here – all six employment skills are developed through oracy, and more specifically through our competitions. This reiterates the central role that oracy education has in preparing our young people to thrive in the world of work – now and in the future, when AI and other technologies are likely to change the employment paradigm.

Employability and ESU programmes

While we believe that oracy is a skill for life (a fundamental educational outcome which everyone can benefit from), it’s clear that having a solid foundation in oracy means that we are setting our young people up for success.

Communication is clearly central to oracy – and therefore to employability skills. Oracy is essentially the ability to communicate well, and therefore developing oracy skills means you will develop a wide range of communication skills – both verbal and non-verbal.

Collaboration is at the heart of all our competitions and wider oracy programmes. All our competitions have collaboration built into their format, with the Schools’ Mace and ESU-Churchill Public Speaking Competition being team activities, and Performing Shakespeare allowing students to submit a duologue. You cannot succeed in our competitions without effective collaboration, and in our primary programme Oracy in Action teamwork and collaboration is explored through balloon debates, active listening and other activities. Oracy develops collaboration skills at a high level.

Problem-solving is likewise developed through our competitions. Students need to think on their feet, evaluate their opponents arguments or propositions, present thoughtful questions or points of information and respond effectively. In Oracy in Action we support students to use their oracy skills to talk through complex themes or topics, supporting them to problem-solve verbally.

Organising, planning & prioritising work. One of our four key skillsets is Organisation & Prioritisation. While this is with a oracy focus, rather than more general employability skills, the principles remain the same. Students cannot succeed in our competitions without being able to demonstrate how they can organise and prioritise their arguments, and we begin this learning at primary level with Oracy in Action. Using oracy techniques to help frame their arguments and thoughts supports written work, and is a transferable skill which can be used when prioritising wider workloads or competing demands when in the workplace.

Creative thinking skills will be increasingly important as AI develops and employers look for creativity in their employees. Oracy supports young people to develop their creative thinking by giving them the tools to work with others, to discuss complex ideas and to move arguments and thought processes on. We also develop creative thinking through our competitions, encouraging students to think of unusual, creative and diverse approaches to themes or topics, or supporting them to take a new approach with a Shakespearean text.

Information literacy, or critical thinking, is central to everything we do at the ESU. All our competitions develop information and critical literacy, supporting students to think about the sources of their arguments, to evaluate their integrity, and in the case of Performing Shakespeare to think about a historical context in relation to today. Oracy in Action develops these skills for primary students but encouraging them to discuss approaches, listen and critique each other respectfully, and to disagree agreeably. Critical thinking and information literacy skills are absolutely fundamental for all young people to develop, especially in the era of social media and fake news – and something we are passionate about supporting schools to engage with.

Where next?

It’s clear that the challenges employers are facing with the workforce are not new, nor is there a quick fix. However, we believe that by embedding oracy in all phases of education, we have an excellent opportunity to equip all young people with the skills they need to thrive at whatever they choose to do – and to have the tools to be happy, healthy adults in their personal lives as well.

Find out more about our education programmes by signing up to our schools newsletter here.





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