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The Skills Gap | 7 Most Valuable Skill Competencies that Employers are Searching

According to Monica Herk, Vice President for Education Research at CED:

Every job requires a variety of competencies: a combination of some narrower skills and knowledge specific to the job in question – so-called technical skills – as well as some more general skills (like teamwork or communication) that are useful across a broad range of jobs, which I’ll call general or fundamental skills.

Technical skills can be everything from knowledge of a programming language, to the ability to operate a particular piece of machinery, to the expertise specific to a profession like accounting, medicine, or the law.  However, in addition to technical skills, all jobs also require general skills, and some jobs primarily require general skills – ones that can be utilized across a wide variety of positions.

According to a Manpower Group research, employers having difficulty filling job openings, 35% reported that it was because applicants lacked the technical skills needed for the position, while 19% cited lack of “soft skills” – e.g., communication or teamwork – in applicants.

A National Federation of Independent Businesses reported that among small businesses attempting to fill positions, the percentage reporting few or no qualified applicants for the position has remained above 40% since 2014, reaching a seasonally adjusted high of 47% last month.

If employers could design their ideal new hire, what would that person look like?
How would they conduct themselves on the job?
What essential skills and knowledge would they have?

Monica Herk in previous posts, has contested that we could make post-secondary education and workforce development more efficient and less costly, if we “unbundled” post-secondary degrees and made demonstrated competencies the primary unit of assessment and completion. Under a competency-based approach, the required skills and knowledge for a particular degree or certification would be defined, and students might take more or less time to demonstrate mastery of those competencies and attain the degree.

Pursuing this approach means that it would be useful for job seekers (and providers of their education and training) to know the general skills and knowledge that employers want.

liftSo what are the Big Seven competencies that are valuable across a broad range of jobs?

Personality and Character Traits: Strong work ethic appears repeatedly in survey data as being important to employers.

Having excluded attributes that are either less “trainable” or very difficult to demonstrate through any sort of standardized assessmentthe remaining skills and knowledge that appear repeatedly on employer surveys are the ‘Big Seven.’

1. Teamwork
“ability to work effectively as part of a team,” does not appear somewhere near the top of the list.  And digging deeper, 21st century lists  add the ability to “demonstrate presence as part of a virtual team.”

2. Communication
Both oral communication and written communication skills, including aptitude in social media.

3. Quantitative and critical thinking analytical skills
“the ability to work with numbers and statistics and – at higher skill levels – to use them to analyze situations” such as critical thinking.  Another relatively new entrant to these lists is the ability to understand and use data effectively – or as one list puts it, the “ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning.”  Given the growing importance of “big data,” the ability to understand and use data effectively will become increasingly valuable.

4. Creativity and problem solving in the real world
Another set of competencies that employers seem to value is creativity, innovation, and the ability to apply knowledge and expertise to “real world” settings and solve problems that the individual has not encountered previously.

5. The ability to digest information in a fast-paced world…
“ability to locate, organize, and evaluate information from multiple sources”

6. Being organized
being organized and having the ability to prioritize”  At higher levels, implies strategic planning abilities or having a “design mindset” – “the ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes”.

7. Diversity and cultural awareness
“awareness and experience of” diverse cultures… to the ability to work with others from diverse cultures… to the ability to “operate” in different cultural settings.

What’s important is our ability to identify a relatively small number of key competencies that are of value across a wide range of jobs, that can be taught, and where mastery can be demonstrated in a reasonably objective, standardized, and not-too-expensive way.  When we get there we’ll be a big step closer to competency-based education.


This blog first appeared on the Committee for Economic Development’s website .
Monica Herk, is Vice President for Education Research, Monica oversees research to support policy statements in which CED’s business leader Members contribute to the improvement of U.S. education. Full Bio | More from Monica Herk
The Conference Board, founded in 1916, is a global, independent business membership and research association that provides the world's leading organizations with the practical knowledge they need to improve their performance and better serve society.

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