Insights from Skills Builder Partnership’s Essential Skills Tracker

An overview of the ground-breaking Essential Skills Tracker

Eleanor Collard  Skills Builder Partnership

There’s a growing consensus that essential skills are vital for almost anything in learning, work, and wider life.  

They’re a talking point among employers, who want candidates to demonstrate transferable skills like speaking and problem solving – especially in the face of an uncertain future jobs market where workers will need to move agilely between occupations. They underpin development of literacy and numeracy, technical skills, and digital skills. And research has shown that higher levels of essential skills are associated with greater personal wellbeing and better outcomes in education and employment.

We’re also beginning to see a vocabulary around these skills emerge in government. England’s latest statutory careers guidance for secondary schools and colleges advised that “in schools, each subject should support students to identify the essential skills they should develop to identify the pathways to future careers.” Recently, the House of Lords Youth Unemployment Committee released a report urging the Government to include essential skills in the national curriculum from Key Stages 1 to 4. 

All of this suggests that making sure everyone can build essential skills is hugely important. 

But it’s all too easy to take these skills for granted and fail to ask some key questions. Who is building essential skills? What impacts our ability to build these skills? How do they shape our lives?

Skills Builder Partnership, a non-profit social enterprise, has launched an inaugural report called the Essential Skills Tracker to fill that knowledge gap. By mapping YouGov survey data of more than 2,200 adults to the Skills Builder Universal Framework of the eight essential skills, they’ve developed the largest and most high-definition snapshot ever captured of these skills across the UK. This research will be repeated every year, providing a baseline for essential skill levels across the country and a long-term view of factors both impacting and impacted by them.

What were the main takeaways?


At a glance

The Tracker’s findings justify the importance, timeliness, and urgency of boosting opportunities for people to develop their essential skills.

First, the positives. Essential skills are associated with increased wellbeing and an average wage premium of £3,900-£5,900. Building them means you’re 52% less likely to be out of work or education. The UK public values these skills and wants more opportunities to develop them.

But despite the benefits they bring, the Tracker finds that demand for essential skills development opportunities (83%) far outstrips supply (14%).

In addition, the Tracker exposes critical issues around inequality and social mobility. The distribution of essential skills, and the opportunities to build them, is highly uneven throughout the UK. 

Alongside this skills gap, the Tracker points to an endemic “skills trap” where many from less advantaged backgrounds have fewer opportunities to build essential skills at school, meaning they leave education with lower average skill levels. They then have less desire to build essential skills, go into lower skilled, lower paid jobs with fewer opportunities to build essential skills, and continue to earn less than their peers with higher levels of essential skills. They’re therefore likely to have lower levels of life satisfaction and total income. In short, it’s the most disadvantaged individuals who are also the least likely to build the very skills that improve life outcomes, creating a cycle of disadvantage and inequality. 

To both bridge the gap and escape the trap, the Tracker recommends that the UK scales the volume of high-quality opportunities to build essential skills in education, through impact interventions, and in employment. 

You can read the full report here, and use the interactive dashboard to explore the data.  


Next steps

Not only does the Tracker mark a turning point in how essential skills are measured and analysed, but it confirms what many have suspected: essential skills have a profound influence on every aspect of our lives, and everyone deserves an opportunity to build them. And as the Skills Builder Partnership’s Founder and CEO, Tom Ravenscroft, pointed out in the report, “the events of the last couple of years have only increased the demand for these skills.”

However, as the research has also shown, there’s a long way to go before everyone reaches an appropriate level of these skills and can access the right opportunities. 

Skills Builder Partnership has a clear mission: to ensure that one day, everyone builds the essential skills to succeed. It has grown to more than 800 businesses, education institutions, and impact organisations. In 2021, the Partnership delivered 1.46 million high quality opportunities to boost essential skills. 

This Tracker underlines that these collective efforts by the Partnership to push for essential skills opportunities are enormously worthwhile. But this shouldn’t be their mission alone: it’s up to all of us both to build our own essential skills and make sure others receive the same opportunities. We’re all lifelong learners, and we’re intuitively aware of what it means to have the essential skills. Now, it’s time to become vocal advocates for them. 


Get in touch

If you want to get in touch with the Skills Builder Partnership to discuss anything above, you can find their website over at, contact them via email, or go to their social media. The full Tracker report and interactive data are available at

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