Skills Vs. Competencies Vs. Work Skills


Skills and competencies are learned and applied abilities and knowledge. They show that individuals can use their abilities and knowledge effectively in workplace performance. Competencies are observable behaviors that are the result of various skills, knowledge, and abilities an individual may possess. Competencies turn skills into performance behaviors. Both can be learned through training, experience, and practice.

  • A skill is a discernible value that an individual can or has acquired or demonstrates. It is a specific ability that can be possessed. Skills range in complexity and length of time it takes to develop them. What skills workers possess can help determine if their training and experiences have prepared them for certain workplace activities.
  • Competency is the knowledge, behavior, and attitude that lead to an individual’s ability to do something successfully or efficiently.

Ecosystem Relationship

Credential providers look for evidence of skills and competencies an individual has and verifies those in awarded badges, certificates, degrees, and other credentials. Employers look for skills or competencies individuals have that demonstrates their capabilities in the workforce.


  • ACT WorkKeys® assessments measure foundational skills required for success in the workplace, and help measure the workplace skills that can affect job performance. WorkKeys assessments measure a range of hard and soft skills relevant to any occupation, at any level, and across industries. Successful completion of WorkKeys core assessments can lead to earning an ACT WorkKeys® National Career Readiness Certificate™ (ACT WorkKeys NCRC®)—a credential that verifies the skills found to be most essential across industries and occupations. Tens of thousands of employers recognize the value of the NCRC, and many recommend the credential to candidates. Assessments are available in: Applied Math, Graphic Literacy, Workplace Documents, Applied Technology, Business Writing, Workplace Observation, Fit, Talent.
  • Competency-based job descriptions help unify all descriptions and positions across the organization under a common framework. This provides structure to the organization’s HR programs, and allows HR personnel to get a much better grasp on the levels, roles, and dependencies between jobs in their organization. A competency-based job description can be linked to an organization’s interview process so its interview questions are created based on the competencies connected to the specified job description.
  • Western Governor University provides a skills library, a centralized and structured compiling of skills data, qualifications, and attributes that helps to create a unified understanding of skills for an organization in areas of employment need, curriculum development, job architecture, or competency grouping. WGU uses its skills library to inform competencies in its educational model. This approach to designing content ensures its courses are reflective of current and projected labor market demands.

 Alternative Terminology

  • Skills
  • Competencies
  • Work Skills
  • Industry skills or credentials
  • Achievements
  • Prior learning assessment / Credit for prior learning

 See Also

  • Prior learning assessment / Credit for prior learning: Prior learning assessment is a term used for various methods of valuing college-level learning that has taken place outside of formal educational institutions, that can be assessed to count toward degrees and other credentials. It describes a process used by regulatory bodies, career development practitioners, employers, training institutions, and colleges and universities to evaluate skills and knowledge. The purpose is to recognize competencies based on a given set of standards or learning outcomes. It is practiced to determine an individual’s standing in a profession, trade’s qualifications, academic achievement, and/or professional skill set.
  • Skills and competencies: Skills define specific learned activities, and they range widely in terms of complexity. Knowing which skills a person possesses helps to determine whether their training and experience has prepared them for a specific type of workplace activity. Competencies identify the observable behaviors that successful performers demonstrate on the job. Those behaviors are the result of various abilities, skills, knowledge, motivations, and traits an employee may possess. Competencies take “skills” and incorporate them into on-the-job behaviors. Those behaviors demonstrate the ability to perform the job requirements competently.
  • Skills ecosystem: The skills ecosystem is a term popularized with the advent of skills-based hiring. Skills-based hiring is hiring for skills required for a particular job role. Employers are trying to match their existing employee talent to new job positions and fill them with new employees. In the past, many employers used the college degree as a proxy for the ability to do the job—for perceived skills that have been achieved. Increasingly, the degree is not a very precise way of hiring so the skills ecosystem has been gaining attention as a new currency for hiring.
  • Skills-based hiring: Skills-based hiring focuses on skills, not degrees. Skills-based hiring emphasizes practical, working knowledge; it prioritizes what an applicant can do, rather than the education they have. To succeed at a job, an employee needs the skills to perform their role and duties; this is the foundation of skills-based hiring. The prevailing hiring mode is for companies to prioritize degrees and academic achievements over practical skills in looking at job applicants’ qualifications. The recent global pandemic has forced companies to re-evaluate their hiring methods and shift to skills-based hiring.
  • Skills-based promotion: As the workplace changes, some private and public sector employers are turning to skills-based promotion.  A skills- or merit-based promotion is based on an analysis of the employee’s performance. Skills-based promotion systems take into account ability, behaviors, experience, strengths, and technical skills. These systems are a strategy to keep high-achieving, high-quality employees engaged and motivated. This approach contrasts with traditional tenure-based systems that promote or reward workers based on seniority and service within the organization.



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