Changing the Way We Think About Skills

Workplace skills have been defined in many different ways. There have been soft skills, hard skills, baseline skills, and more. But these definitions of skills haven’t been precise enough to enable workforce boards, higher education, and businesses to make practical decisions.

In the latest version of Labor Insight, Burning Glass Technologies has categorized skills so that students, workers, and businesses can begin using skills to drive better business decisions in the most efficient way possible.

Introducing the New Occupational Skills Framework

Burning Glass Technologies has developed a structure that includes three main occupational skills categories to help educators, job seekers, and employers better organize and understand the dozens of skills which might be required for a particular role. This framework was designed to help key decision makers across government, education and human capital management identify what skills workers absolutely need in a specific job, and what skills enable workers to distinguish themselves from others.

Necessary Skills

These skills are required for a specific job and are also relevant across other similar jobs. An employee needs these skills as building blocks to perform the more complex Defining Skills. In many cases, these are skills which involve managing the nuances and complexities of the workplace as such are best learned through on the job training as part of an apprenticeship.

Examples: Market planning and business development for Marketing Managers, record keeping and data entry for Administrative Assistants, and basic mathematics and repair for Machinists.

Defining Skills

These represent the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities of the job. An employee needs these skills to qualify for and perform successfully in this occupation. These skills are important to include in the initial classroom training provided to students in order to ensure that they are able to immediately add value to the employers upon entering a job, or an internship.

Examples: Accounting for Bookkeepers, medical coding and the ICD-10 coding system for Medical Coders, and entry-level programming language such as Javascript, PHP, and HTML5 for Web Developers.

Distinguishing Skills

Distinguishing skills are sets of skills which allow job seekers to highlight their technical proficiency in the role and to differentiate themselves from other candidates. These are skills which are less commonly required than core skills and often represent the specific tools or digital skills by which job seekers can specialize. In most cases, these types of tools and specializations are best taught in a hybrid format with an introduction in academic settings along with real-world practice for learners to crystallize their knowledge.

Labor Insight includes the fastest growing skills on the market, and it also highlights skills that typically offer salary premiums.

Examples: Specific types of marketing platforms such as Marketo and Google Adwords for Marketing Specialists, and creative design and video editing for Graphic Designers.


Below are examples of these three different types of skills for a Graphic Designer / Desktop Publisher.

Necessary skills

Defining Skills

Distinguishing Skills

How can higher education institutions use this framework? 

Higher education institutions can improve their curriculum planning by using the lens of this new skills framework.  Employers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in understanding the specific skills they need, and which ones are difficult for them to fill.  As a result, graduates need to have—and be able to articulate that they have—skills that align with those needs. Using this new skills framework, institutions can build programs around defining skills to ensure graduates have the right qualifications for their ideal careers. Distinguishing skills can help graduates to specialize and gain competitive advantage in the workforce. Necessary skills are transferable across the job market; they can serve as a jumping off point for job seekers making career transitions, and these skills are typically relevant across a range of programs.

How can workforce and economic development agencies use this framework? 

This new skills framework can help workforce and economic development agencies analyze their labor market in a more detailed, practical way. Workforce developers can support local job seekers by helping them identify which necessary skills they already have—these skills are transferable and can be leveraged in other occupations. This strategy allows job seekers to quickly find new work they can easily transition into.

Additionally, workforce developers can analyze the skills their local employers need, allowing them to identify areas of specialization. Knowing this information allows the economic developers to attract relatable businesses to the area. For instance, Amazon recently chose their second headquarters locations as NYC and Northern Virginia since there are such large pools of talented software engineers that they can readily hire in these locations.

How can corporations use this framework?

As a company’s goals and strategies change, corporations can focus on a skills-first approach to assessing current capabilities and determining requirements for the future. In doing so, corporations can leverage necessary skills as part of a foundation to build versatile employees who can move within their company. Additionally, by providing employees with an internal learning and development portal for career advancement based on defining and distinguishing skills, companies will reap a duel benefit of increase employee productivity as well as increased employee retention. Additionally, distinguishing skills (plus projections) can help the company stand out and stay ahead of competition by ensuring they have the future needs for a given role.

To learn more about the new skills framework, contact us today.

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