Qualifications and Attributes Critical to Employers
What are the key competencies and foundation skills for successful workers?
Many skills are necessary for individuals to be successful workers, including academic knowledge, technical expertise, and general, cross-cutting abilities (often called employability skills, soft skills, workforce readiness skills, or career readiness skills) that are necessary for success in all employment levels and sectors.
Applied Knowledge—thoughtful integration of academic knowledge and technical skills, put to practical use in the workplace.
Effective Relationships—interpersonal skills and personal qualities that enable individuals to interact effectively with clients, coworkers, and supervisors.
Workplace Skills—analytical and organizational skills and understandings that employees need to successfully perform work tasks.Two major research studies involving surveys and feedback from large numbers of employers have established that “employability skills” outrank technical skills—or those skills needed for specific occupations based on industry standards—as the most important requirement for success in the workplace.
1 Despite this, a 2007 report found that many young people lack the soft skills needed to excel in the workplace.
2 Soft skills are generally defined as personal qualities, not technical, that translate into good job performance such as time-management and interpersonal skills. The Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) identified five competencies and three foundation skills and personal qualities needed for successful job performance.
The five competencies follow:
Managing resources: The ability to allocate time, money, materials, space, and staff
Working with others: The ability to work well with other people; teamwork skills are associated with communication skills, understanding of group culture, and sensitivity to the feelings and opinions of others
Managing information: The ability to acquire and evaluate data, organize and maintain files, interpret and communicate ideas and messages, and use technology to process information
Understanding systems: The ability to understand social, organizational, and technological systems; monitor and correct performance; and design or improve systems
Utilizing technology: The ability to select equipment and tools, apply technology to specific tasks, and maintain and troubleshoot technologies
Three foundation skills are believed to support the competencies above: Basic skills: Reading, writing, arithmetic, and computational skills are essential to effectiveness on the job. Listening and speaking skills that enable accurate interpretations of informational exchanges and mathematics skills that enable workers to solve problems on the job are highly valued and are dependent on having fundamental language and mathematics capability.
The “three Rs” are building blocks to higher-level functioning on the job. Thinking skills: Most studies list critical thinking, creative thinking, reasoning, and knowing how to learn new tasks as essential soft skills. “Problem solving” is another term that expresses the ability to analyze information and arrive at logical conclusions that add value to a worker’s efforts.
Personal qualities: “Personal qualities” is a catch-all phrase that reflects values and behaviors that are aligned with the culture of the workplace. A strong work ethic, professionalism, self-management, integrity, individual responsibility, networking skills, adaptability, and sociability are soft skills that fall under this heading.
3 In 2007, the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) asked representatives from businesses that were recognized for their innovative and proactive efforts to recruit, hire, and promote people with disabilities to develop a list of essential skills for young workers. The skills the group identified were similar to those identified as key competencies for successful young workers in the SCANS report. They included networking, enthusiasm, professionalism, communication skills, teamwork, and problem solving.
4 How can these skills be developed?Soft skills can be developed through on-the-job coaching, in the classroom, through youth-serving organizations, and through service-learning and volunteering.
On-the-Job Coaching Employers can encourage both technical and soft skill development through on-the-job coaching. Examples of on-the-job coaching are internships, apprenticeships, work-study programs, and training experiences where soft skills are learned through experiences.
Although learning soft and technical skills on the job provides employees with an authentic learning experience, it can be challenging for employers to identify qualified coaches and allocate the appropriate staff time to ensure a focus on learning and skill development.
5 Schools, schools can prepare youth for the workplace by teaching soft skills or creating classroom environment.