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Industrial & Organisational : Introduction : Personnel : Organizational psychology : Occupations: Work environment: Index : Outline

Skill is a measure of a worker's expertise, specialization, wages, and supervisory capacity. Skilled industrial workers are generally more trained, higher paid, and have more responsibilities than unskilled workers.[1]

A skill is the learned capacity to carry out pre-determined results often with the minimum outlay of time, energy, or both. Skills can often be divided into domain-general and domain-specific skills. For example, in the domain of work, some general skills would include time management, teamwork and leadership, self motivation and others, whereas domain-specific skills would be useful only for a certain job. Skill usually requires certain environmental stimuli and situations to assess the level of skill being shown and used.

People need a broad range of skills in order to contribute to a modern economy and take their place in the technological society of the twenty-first century. An ASTD study showed that through technology, the workplace is changing, and so are the skills that employees must have to be able to change with it. The study identified 16 basic skills (Carnevale, 1990)[citation needed] that the workplace of the future would need in the employee of the future.

General skills

Learning to learn

Learning is an integral part of everyday life at work. The skill of knowing how to learn is a must for every worker and is the key to acquiring new skills and sharpening the ability to think through problems and to surmount challenges. It opens the door to all other learning and facilitates the acquisition of other skills. What we do know, we learned from watching the "A" students in grade school and high school. The concept of "study smarter - not harder" applies here. Few of us know how to "study smarter" based on our individual learning style. A secondary benefit of learning how to learn is that it empowers the learner to become a self-directed learner capable of identifying a deficiency, finding resource materials, and doing the work based on methods appropriate for his or her learning style.

Foundation skills

From the employer's perspective, the skill of knowing how to learn is cost-effective because it can mitigate the cost of retraining efforts. When workers use efficient learning strategies, they absorb and apply training more quickly, saving their employers money and time. When properly prepared, employees can use learning-to-learn techniques to distinguish between essential and nonessential information, discern patterns in information, and pinpoint the actions necessary to improve job performance. Many employers - particularly those dealing with rapid technological change see the learning-to-learn skill as an urgent necessity. Productivity, innovation, and competitiveness all depend on developing the workers' learning capability. Machinery and processes are transferable between companies and countries, but it is the application of human knowledge to technology and systems that provides the competitive edge.

Basic skills competence

The inability of large numbers of new workers to meet reading, writing, or computational (simple mathematics) standards is an economic and competitive issue. This forces employers to spend more on these critical competence skills. The majority of workers are literate and numerate but frequently, cannot use these skills effectively because they are rusty when called upon to use mathematical principles they have not used for 20 years, because they must use the skills in a context different from the one in which they originally learned them, or because they do not understand how to expand or apply the skill.


Reading has historically been considered the fundamental vocational skill for a person to get, keep, get ahead, or to change jobs. One educational assessment by Kirsch and Jungeblut in 1986, indicates that there is a large nationwide population of intermediate literates who only have fourth to eighth grade literacy equivalency (but are high school graduates) and who have not obtained a functional or employable literacy level.


Writing is consistently ranked among the highest priorities for job applicants and employees. One study states that more than 50 percent of the business respondents identified writing skill deficiencies in secretarial, skilled, managerial, supervisory, and bookkeeping personnel.


Because of technology, simple mathematical computation is important as employers focus on an employee's ability to compute at higher levels of sophistication. The introduction of sophisticated management and quality control approaches demand higher mathematical skills. Ironically, as occupational skill-level requirements climb, higher educational dropout rates and worsening worker deficiencies in computational skills are appearing (Brock, 1987; Kirsch and Jungeblut, 1986; Semerad, 1987). Employers complain particularly about miscalculations of decimals and fractions, resulting in expensive production errors. Employees must calculate correctly to conduct inventories, complete accurate reports of production levels, measure machine parts or specifications so that medium-to-high levels of mathematics skills are required across job categories. The business effect of math skill deficiencies is bottom line losses.

Communication skills

Formal education in communication has been directed at reading and writing skills that are used least in the workplace. Most have only one or two years in speech related courses and no formal training in listening. Workers who can express their ideas orally and who understands verbal instructions make fewer mistakes, adjust more easily to change, and more readily absorb new ideas than those who do not. Thus career development is enhanced by training in oral communication and listening because these skills contribute to an employee's success in all of the following areas=== interviewing, making presentations at or conducting meetings; negotiating and resolving conflict; selling; leading; being assertive; teaching or coaching others; working in a team; giving supervisors feedback about conversations with customers; and retraining. Employees spend most of the day communicating, and the time they spend will increase as robots, computers, an other machines take over mundane, repetitive jobs.


Skill in oral communication is a key element of good customer service. More than 76 million workers are in the service sector and companies that provide excellent service tend to stay far ahead of their competitors. To provide good service, all employees (not just designated sales and marketing employees) must learn how to talk and listen to customers, handle complaints and solve their problems.


As workers go up the corporate ladder, the listening time increases so that top managers spend as much as 65 percent of their day listening (Keefe, 1971). Because most people have had no training in this critical skill, poor listening habits cost hundreds of millions of dollars each year in productivity lost through misunderstandings and mistakes. At the rate of one $15 mistake per U.S. employee per year, the annual cost of poor listening would be more than a billion dollars.


Problem-solving skills include the ability to recognize and define problems, invent and implement solutions, and track and evaluate results. Creative thinking requires the ability to understand problem-solving techniques but also to transcend logical and sequential thinking and make the leap to innovation. Unresolved problems create dysfunctional relationships in the workplace. Ultimately, they become impediments to flexibility and to dealing with strategic change in an openended and creative way.

Creative thinking

New approaches to problem-solving, organizational design, and product development all spring from the individual capacity for creative thinking. At work, creative thinking is generally expressed through the process of creative problem solving. Increasingly, companies are identifying creative problem solving as critical to their success and are instituting structured approaches to problem identification, analysis, and resolution. Creative solutions help the organization to move forward toward strategic goals. Organizational strategy is an example of creative thinking.


Another key to effectiveness is good personal management. Self-esteem, motivation/goal setting, and employability/career development skills are critical because they impact individual morale which in turn plays a significant role in an institutions ability to achieve bottom line results. Employers have felt the pressure to make provisions to address perceived deficiencies in these skill areas because they realize that a work force without such skills is less productive. Conversely, solid personal management skills are often manifested by efficient integration of new technology or processes, creative thinking, high productivity, and a pursuit of skill enhancement. Unfortunately, problems related to these skill areas have increased primarily because entry-level applicants are arriving with deficiencies in personal management skills. On the job, the lack of personal management skills affects hiring and training costs, productivity, quality control, creativity, and ability to develop skills to meet changing needs. This presents a series of roadblocks that slow or halt an organizations progress. An organization with such difficulties cannot plan accurately for its future to integrate new technology, establish new work structures, or implement new work processes.

Motivation/goal setting

Motivation is the combination of desire, values, and beliefs that drives you to take action. These three motivating factors, and/or lack of them, are at the root of why people behave the way they do. Because you ultimately control your values, beliefs, and desires, you can influence your motivations. This means, if you consider something important and assign value to it, you are more likely to do the work it takes to attain the goal. When motivation originates from an internal source and is combined with a realistic goal and circumstance, the odds of a good outcome are greatly increased.

Employability/career development

One of the keys to success in today’s world of work is career self-reliance — the ability to actively manage worklife in a rapidly changing environment and the attitude of being self-employed whether inside or outside an organization. Acquiring the skills and knowledge to become career self-reliant will enable employees to survive and even thrive in times of great change.

Group effectiveness

The move toward participative decision making and problem solving inevitably increases the potential for disagreement, particularly when the primary work unit is a peer team with no supervisor. This puts a premium on developing employees group effectiveness skills.


Interpersonal skills training can help employees recognize and improve their ability to determine appropriate self-behavior, cope with undesirable behavior in others, absorb stress, deal with ambiguity, structure social interaction, share responsibility, and interact more easily with others. Teamwork skills are critical for improving individual task accomplishment because practical innovations and solutions are reached sooner through cooperative behavior.

Negotiation and teamwork

Negotiation skills are critical for the effective functioning of teams as well as for individual acceptance in an organization. Change strategies are usually dependent upon the ability of employees to pull together and refocus on the new common goal. Carnevale wrote in a previous book that there are two ways to increase productivity. "The first is by increasing the intensity with which we utilize (human) resources (working harder), and the second is by increasing the efficiency with which we mix and use available resources (working smarter)."


The new competitive standards affect organizational structures, requiring a move away from top- down systems and toward more flexible networks and work teams. Technical changes result in new work processes and procedures. These require constant updating of employer-specific technical knowledge. In a world of rapid change, obsolescence is an interminable danger. As technology replaces more of the hands-on work, more employees will be dedicated to service functions where they will spend more time face-to-face with co-workers and clients. Organizational formats in the New Economy require more general skills. Interpersonal skills, communications skills and effective leadership skills are required by more and more non-supervisory employees. Managers in the New Economy relinquish control of work processes to work teams and will need to provide integration through leadership and monitoring.


To be effective, employees need a sense of how the organization works and how the actions of each individual affect organizational and strategic objectives. Skill in determining the forces and factors that interfere with the organizations ability to accomplish its tasks can help the worker become a master problem solver, an innovator, and a team builder. Organizational effectiveness skills are the building blocks for leadership. A proactive approach toward increasing organizational effectiveness skills through training reflects the commitment to shared leadership concepts operating in the organization. Implementing shared leadership values has a positive impact on productivity. When leadership functions are dispersed, those who perform in leadership roles willingly take on the responsibility for creating and communicating the vision of the organization and what its work groups should accomplish. By their proximity, they are also better able to create and communicate the quality of the work environment necessary to realize that vision. One approach is the superteam which is defined as a high performing team which produces outstanding achievements. Leaders of superteams spend as much time anticipating the future as they do managing the present by thinking forward to, and talking to others about their goal, for it is this that provides the team with its purpose and direction (Hastings, Bixby, and Chaudhry-Lawton, 1986). Deploying visionary leaders improves institutional response time to changing and increasingly complex external environment factors that affect the organization's ability to operate effectively.


At its most elementary level, leadership means that one person influences another. An organization that supports the concepts of shared leadership encourages employees at all levels to assume this role where it is appropriate. The function of leadership include stating basic values, announcing goals, organizing resources, reducing tensions between individuals, creating coalitions, coalescing workers, and encouraging better performance. There is a direct correlation between the implementation of shared leadership practice and product improvement, higher morale, and innovative problem solving, which leads to a more hospitable environment for instituting change. Top management cannot make the system work without employees taking on shared leadership roles. A great many people must be in a state of psychological readiness to take leaderlike action to improve the functioning at their levels. Historically, the roots of business failure can often be traced to inadequate training in and attention to the importance of leadership as a basic workplace skill. Too frequently, companies designate leaders without providing proper evaluation and training to ensure that they are qualified to assume leadership roles.

See also


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Further reading

External links

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