Making Sense of Skills

Our Skills Library is based on the Department of Labor’s O*NET Content Model. Many of the elements within the library were sourced from this rich public resource. Thousands of additional work activities have also been created through extensive industry validation through the Common Language Project. Because the nature of work changes over time, library elements must be reviewed and updated periodically. This process is one of the areas SkillsEngine and C4EO are working to improve through advanced data analytics techniques.

What exactly is a Skill? It depends who you ask. This gets to the very heart of why we started Skills Engine.

The word “skills” does not necessarily mean the same thing to everyone. Technical skills, soft skills, talents, characteristics, behaviors, abilities…these are often used interchangeably to constitute skills. Add education jargon to the mix and it's no wonder aligning talent pipelines is so challenging.

What is a skill

The data returned by SkillsEngine APIs are organized into four core types of skills.

Work Activities

A work activity statement describes how major units of time are organized on the job. Every statement theoretically has distinctive starting and ending points. Each is observable and produces results susceptible to being measured. To facilitate comparisons among work activities, descriptive statements are framed in a standard syntax: an action verb (required), an object (required) plus at least a modifier of the action or object and/or additional information about context.

Each array includes a General high-level statement, a more specific Intermediate statement and, finally, the Detailed Work Activity which serves as the common language for skill translation between industry, education, and the individual.

Detailed Work Activity Syntax

Work Activities

DWAs provide a high resolution picture of workplace operations. They are sufficiently abstract to apply to more than one occupation in a job family — even if related jobs cut across several industries. That breadth facilitates analysis of transferable skills and career progressions — whether laterally into adjacent occupations or upwardly along an empirically definable pathway. That level of abstraction also gives DWAs a sufficiently long shelf-life to facilitate longitudinal analysis of patterns such as skill obsolescence, blending and mixing of skills and the emergence of new skill requirements as disruptive technologies or market conditions create new occupations.

Occupational Titles

SkillsEngine uses the industry standard O*NET Standard Occupational Classification generated by the Department of Labor. This output is especially useful to facilitate job placement and labor exchange initiatives, target retraining efforts, and for designing personalized career action plans. State-specific labor market data including current employment, projected job openings due to growth or turnover, salary data, and typical education level are also provided.

Workplace Essentials Unique to SkillsEngine

Workplace Essentials (also known as “soft skills”) are specific behaviors and characteristics that demonstrate general strengths in areas such as teamwork, attention to detail, communication and customer service. SkillsEngine uses 30 statements to describe the most important social and behavioral characteristics.

Knowledges, Skills & Abilities

Knowledges, Skills and Abilities can be assigned both to people and to jobs making them valuable indicators in the job matching process. Knowledges are principles, bodies of content and facts generally applied within academic domains. A Skill is a developed capacity like time management or information gathering that facilitates performance of various tasks and activities across occupations or the rapid acquisition of relevant knowledge. An Ability is an attribute of an individual that can influence performance on the job.

The Dynamic Nature of Skills

The world of work is not static. Disruptive technologies and new business models change the way time and effort are organized for optimum productivity and competitive advantage. Some work activities can be “deactivated” (although preserved rather than purged from the library for continuity in longitudinal analysis). Others can be reworded for more precise, transparent meaning or as they are repurposed in evolving and hybrid contexts. And the need to draft and validate new work activities accelerates with the pace of innovation and diffusion.

Maintaining the Library

Keeping pace with changing skill needs is a massive effort. The Department of Labor underwrites ongoing development of the O*NET database on a cycle which regularly rotates through industries and occupations as well as when prompted by special circumstances necessitating urgent off-cycle case studies.

SkillsEngine is aiding this process by spotting commonalities in workplace behaviors that can be grouped inductively and expressed as new statements that strike a balance between abstraction and granularity.

White Paper: Common Skills Language

Read the Texas Workforce Commission's white paper on creating a Common Skills Language approach — the inspiration that got SkillsEngine started.

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Common Skills Language