Workplace skills, often called employability skills, are the basic skills a person must have to succeed in any workplace. They are the core knowledge, skills and attitudes that allow workers to understand instructions, solve problems and get along with co-workers and customers. These skills are necessary for success at all levels of an organization and are transferable from one organization to another.

Job skills are not the same as workplace skills. Job skills are the knowledge and experience required to perform a specific job. For example, a nurse must know how to safely give an injection and must be a registered nurse (RN). Workplace skills are more general and are the foundation upon which job skills are built.

Identifying Workplace Skills

In 1990, the U.S. Department of Education funded a study conducted by the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) to identify what employee skills businesses would need in the 21st century. The study identified 36 skills grouped in five categories or competencies. They include basic skills, such as reading, writing and arithmetic; communication skills – both listening and speaking; adaptability skills, including problem-solving and creative thinking; developmental skills, such as self-esteem, motivation and goal-setting; group effectiveness skills, including teamwork; and interpersonal or influencing skills, such as leadership and understanding group dynamics. Since that time, the skills have been consolidated into three broad categories -- fundamental, personal management and teamwork skills.

Fundamental Skills

Fundamental skills are often referred to as basic academic skills and include:

  • reading
  • writing
  • mathematics
  • science
  • speaking
  • listening

Comprehension skills are included in this group and involve being able to understand and ask questions about information in a variety of forms, including graphs, charts and diagrams, as well as the written and spoken words.

Personal Management Skills

Personal management skills are the attitudes, behaviors and skills that drive personal development. These are skills that help a person learn and advance in the organization. Personal management skills assist workers in setting goals and balancing work and personal life demands. These skills also help them accept responsibility; learn from their mistakes, accept feedback and be open and able to respond constructively to change. Good social skills and employee productivity are also in this category.

Teamwork Skills

A person with strong teamwork skills is able to work effectively as part of a team or on an individual basis. Effective team members understand the dynamics of the team. They respect diversity and value different points of view. They also contribute to the team in a positive manner and share information with their teammates.

In addition, they are partners in projects and tasks, understanding the scope of the project, the nature of the work and the project goals. They can select and use the appropriate tools; monitor project progress and report both problems and successes; and adapt to changing project requirements.