Start Tracking the Underlying Methods and Applications of Skills

I have been working on tracking skills in applications for six years now, and I am convinced we need to get a level deeper by tracking the imparting of methods (represented as a framework) and applications (technology or specific use) in applying skills. Much of this is done implicitly (as teacher’s and experts know the methods they are teaching), but let’s make it explicit by tracking what methods students and young professionals are learning.

Four big reasons why:

  1. Basis to understand a competency. There is not much value in saying: “I have been applying critical thinking for ten years.” But if you can say: “I induce, deduce, verify and summarize when I solve a problem. Give me one and I will show you.” Then, demonstrate… There is context.
  2. Move forward in learning a skill. Some skills, like ones related to communication, you learn throughout your life. The methods you apply might gradually become more sophisticated.
  3. Signal chosen methods and applications. Some technical skills are extremely broad and do not mean much on their own. For example, someone applies the skill of ‘Economic Analysis’ in many different ways. Or a web designer chooses a scripting language ASP .Net, Java, or PHP.
  4. Situational application of skill. Different situations, require different applications of skill.

I have started to integrate ‘methods and applications’ into my suite of applications: Skills Based Approach, Skill Syllabi, Skills Label and Skills Culture. These applications share a common database and search engine.

With Skills Culture, I have created a search engine with has a SERP page for ‘one skill’ shown above. This is for one of the most in demand skills: Critical Thinking. On the left, you get the definition and collapsible sections of suggested matches for traits, fields, and jobs. On the right, you get a section for the methodologies. (In the graphic above, you see two methodologies and one expanded with a diagram and details or descriptions on using the methodology.)

What is the added value of this search engine compared to others?

  • Assign desired methodologies onto a Skills Label, where it displays on the label
  • Use the methodologies in Skills Based Approach – a platform for tracking learning. A user can assign skills and their methods as a task.
  • Create and share methodologies with students and colleagues. Create an account, choose a skill, and add your own methodology. Ideally, practitioners use this platform to distribute their methods with an audience. Later iterations include a peer review system.

Finding the Key to the Skills Gap

Fixing Skills Gap
Fixing Skills Gap

There is a skills gap, actually two different ones. One is in filling highly technical jobs, and the other is filling middle skill jobs; the latter representing as much as 40% of new job growth according to a US News article. The skill gap requires new tactics from impressionable students and workers, higher education and training institutions, and the actual employers. Here are some suggestions:

  • Employers publish demand for in demand skills years in advance (if they can). Signal what skills are required so students can acquire them.
  • Build awareness of alternative programs to four-year degrees. Impressionable students need to know these programs even exist.
  • Employers work directly with higher education and training institutions. (According to a recent The Future of Jobs Report, 25 percent of companies plan to ‘collaborate with education institutions’.) Create programs where students get job training and a contingency that when they graduate, then they get a job.
  • Higher education institutions focus more on skills in their programs. (Every course – perhaps every task, students know precisely what skills they are working on.)
  • Embrace new programs, such as bootcamps, nano-degrees, microcredentials, and new age apprenticeships, that target skills effectively and efficiently. (An accountant, web designer, network technician – all high demand jobs – do not require a four-year degree.) The programs save time and cost for students.

Skills Based Approach is a methodology centered on the development of a skill set through education, higher education / training, and a career. A person constantly cycles through four stages with an evolving skill set to stay relevant. The methodology is an application. It is useful for all learning programs, as it focuses on skills.

Skill Culture is a growth mindset to be motivated and taking action to learn and apply skills. In a Skills Culture, students and young professionals acquire skills and then prove competencies with assessments or demonstrations. Practitioners teach skill and concentrate on the underlying methods and applications. Companies forecast demand for skills, hire for skills, and train skills.

Skill Syllabi and Skills Label are applications to express learning in a course and task level. These resources provide a basis for competency based learning and stacking credentials needed for career readiness.

New Skills Search

Search Skills
Search Skills

Introducing a new skills search on Skill Culture. With this search, you can search on just about anything and get the same expected result – a manageable list of skills.

In addition, (if you are a teacher or professor) you can add new skills, methodologies, and relationships – all you have to do is create an account.

(I would like to see this grow like Wikipedia framework, where experts participate in building the content.) All content is verified before going live.

Why would practitioners want to participate? There are a few benefits:

  • This becomes a platform where practitioners work together to develop a set of methods and application behind skills.
  • The search is accessible to students, so there is someone accessing the results. (A practitioner can influence the search results.)
  • This skills database will be accessible to the Skills Label, Skill Syllabi, and Skills Based Approach application.


Skills Culture Could Help With High School Engagement

Student engagement dramatically falls from middle school to high school. According to a massive survey of US and Canadian students, Gallup found almost ‘three quarters of all surveyed fifth-grade students’ are engaged, while only ‘one-third of surveyed students in 10th, 11th and 12th grades are engaged”.

Student Engagement
Student Engagement

Yes, high schoolers are growing outside of the classroom, participating in sports, making friendships (many of them lifelong), and exploring interests, so school seems unappealing, too structured. But ideally (in my opinion), the percentage of engaged students remains somewhat stable from middle school to high school.

A small disclaimer, the high school model might not work for everyone and does not have to. Students who work towards a career outside of school or align themselves with a skilled trade might never get engaged in high school. For example, a programmer/ hacker who does a lot of coding in his or her free time still secures a future career (moreover, the standard high school program still lags what is offered in extracurricular activities related to programming). Another example are students who are working while in high school; hopefully they get the necessary skills for future growth (ideally with the help of a mentor).

Why are students becoming so disengaged when learning becomes so critical to their future success, when they must make mature decisions of what skills they need and how to acquire and them?

Something I have been proposing for years: teenage students get self and socially aware. They are impressionable and after high school make one of the biggest decisions of their life. (In the context of Skills Based Approach, during the planning stage, students identify an evolving set of skills and an action plan to acquire them. Self-discovery might come from a game, test, simulation, etc.)

There is considerable growth in resources to identify personal learning and career tracks. One type is a game or VR to simulate actual experiences. Knack is making considerable headway in this area. Another type is to collect data/content from your everyday experiences (big data) and then crunch out the analytics. A teenager using FitBit devices might identify behaviors or tendencies worth developing. Or a teenager might analyze their posts in social media to identify personality traits (FiveLabs).

Gallup identifies six ways to keep kids excited about school: create hope; foster talent; care a lot; recognize creative teachers and teaching; have fun; and model engagement. Self-discovery is one step forward. Personalized, adaptive learning is another step forward. Competency based learning removes a ‘seat time’ contingency and allows for underperforming students to get more help, average students choose how much time to spend learning, and overachieving students to move on when ready.  Games, VR, and experiential learning is a leap forward. This is what is going to make learning fun. (Skills Label™ is a display to express learning expectations and outcome for any discrete task. Teachers can create labels for each of these learning types.)

These poor engagement numbers bother me as I feel lifelong learning is the best way to achieve (career) happiness. High school is one time in a person’s life dedicated to learning, exploration, and personal and social growth. With such an investment, seems wasteful to have two-thirds of students not engaged at school. Skills Culture is a mindset where students are motivated to learn and apply skills, perhaps one lens to help improve these low engagement numbers. With a Skills Culture:

  • A Growth Mindset. Students are motivated. Most students feel they can learn skills if they put in the necessary time and effort.
  • Personalized. There is required learning. But otherwise, students work on their own evolving skill set. Students learn their own way.
  • Experiential Learning. Learn to practice and apply skills. Students get motivated on actually applying their knowledge.

Join the online community:

Why (How) to Think in Skills…

I have always had a broad perspective of skills, often depicting them as the foundation of learning and verb of knowledge (phases I have used over the years). I understand my perspective is not shared by everyone (yet), though it is gaining momentum. Thought it might be useful to make a case for my all-in investment with skills, competencies, and related methods and applications.

Skill Types
Skill Types

A few years back, I searched and got my hands on an unscrubbed database of skills. It had about 4,500 skills. Since then, I have been slowly rebuilding the database to add definitions, categories, and incorporating them into a search. The benefit is I have a single database feeding each of the Skills applications: Skills Based Approach℠, Skills Label™, and Skill Syllabi℠; practitioners and learners work with the same set of skills. It is a never-ending process as skills are being added all the time.

Often when a new technology is introduced, there are also new associated skill(s). A great example is mobile internet and cloud computing and all the skills associated with using this technology. According to Future of Jobs survey “mobile internet, cloud technology” (22%) is the top technologic drivers already impacting employees’ skills. Big data, processing power, new energy supplies and technologies, internet of things and sharing economy are other drivers mentioned in the survey.

A great resource to understand the demand for new skills is the Future Work Skills 2020, which identified some of the emerging transferable skills (such as transdisciplinary, cognitive load management, cross cultural competency, virtual collaboration, design mindset, social intelligence, sense making, and computational thinking).

The chart above shows a sample from the database. There are five skill types, with a total and percent representation in this sample. The chart is meant to show proportion of skills assigned to each type and introduce five skill types.

Technical skills are what most people think of when talking about skills. They are unique to a subject or discipline, which we apply in a career and sometimes work towards mastery in. Of course, this type of skill holds the largest share, has the most new skills added, and has the biggest swings in demand for related skills.

Transferable skills transcend across disciplines and subjects. Theses skills are becoming increasingly important as workers are changing careers more frequently. Building competencies with these skills makes it easier to fill skill gaps when pivoting into another career.

Soft skills are communication and interpersonal skills and behaviors. Like any other skill, we can deliberately practice them in our experiences. Many significant practitioners (leaders and managers too), are saying soft skills will have more of an impact on success than technical skills. (I am a big fan of Travis Bradberry’s work on emotional intelligence.)

Thinking skills are the foundation of learning gained from education and higher education. With proper thinking skills, many of the technical and transferable skill can be learned. Thinking skills also make life more meaningful and allow for persons to interpret arts and the humanities. (In his book) Derrick Bok says: “professors almost unanimously agree teaching students to think critically is the benchmark of higher education”. Finally, these 8 skills do not change much so it is critical is to understand the methods and application behind them.

Art skills are those related to arts and the humanities. There is a lot of skill required to become an expert in these fields. Some is acquired through application and some through natural talent or inspiration. Skills are also needed in the interpretation of arts and humanities. Understand the slight change from STEM to STEAM, a worthy addendum.

Why Skills?

  • Occupations or specialties are changing too fast: “The most in-demand occupations or specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago, and the pace of change is set to accelerate.” The Future of Jobs – World Economic Forum
  • Skills are tangible, something to talk about. They are: Definable, standardized, portable, searchable, measurable, and flexible.
  • Skills are the ‘verb’ in knowledge. It is the action part. Skills define how we think, converse, problem solve, create, engineer, write, debate, play and so on. They are the underlying foundation of all learning.
  • Displacement of jobs due to automation and AI. Need to build skills unique to human capabilities. Identify and acquire skills that complement these new technologies. “Everything that can be automated will be automated.” (Pew Research Digital Life in 2025)

Adopting a Skills Culture

In part, I came up with the name “Skills Culture” as a rip from “Talent Culture” – a website I have been following for years. Talent Culture is an edgy, smart concept (career, leadership, and workplace advice) directed towards sophisticated white collar workers; Megan Brio does a great job. (Still in the early stages, but I might try to build Skills Culture in a similar way – a useful blog.) Whenever I hear the word talent, I find a way to pit talent versus skills – in conflict with each other. This is what got me thinking of a Skills Culture as a philosophy or mindset for much of my work on skills over the years.

Skills Culture
Skills Culture

I got the domain (so I know the concept was somewhat novel). I googled “skills culture”, which returned a Facebook page of an organization in India. Some of our interpretations of a skills culture are similar, though their work focuses on underprivileged students in education. I clearly see the advantages in emphasizing skill acquisition with less structured schools. But I have always had a much broader view, focusing on education and higher education students and young professionals.

Thinking about educational systems, a Skills Culture seems aligned to an apprenticeship model. Once students find a career track, they learn specific skills in the classroom and apply them in experiences; sometimes working towards mastery. There is gaining traction for apprenticeships in the US. These “new age apprenticeships” represent many disciplines (not limited to skilled trades) and do not designate a lifetime career.

In fact, this less strict adherence to careers is a key differentiator of a Skills Culture. With Skills Based Approach (an engine behind Skills Culture), a student or professional works with an evolving skill set and may pivot towards another career instantaneously – assess current and needed skills, identify gaps, and acquire needed skills. So, working in skills makes transitions fluent.

Working with a Skills Culture addresses all skills (not just technical skills). I suggest students build strong foundational thinking skills, which give them a basis for learning technical skills. Thinking skills also make interpreting humanities and arts meaningful. Students learn ‘soft skills’, which becomes more important than technical skills as we experience a rise in automation, some experts argue.

A Skills Culture is about learning new skills ad hoc, whether for personal or professional motivations. It might take 20 hours to learn a skill for a student’s own needs. The whole movement towards micro learning works best with skills and competencies. Personally, I see no reason why a student or professional does not give learning a skill a chance.

Every experience is an opportunity to apply skills, therefore experiential learning is a key component of a Skills Culture.

Here are some other aspects of a “Skills Culture”:

  • Working with talents involves a fixed mindset: “I have these talents, so this is what I should be doing”. Working with skills involves a growth mindset: “I want to try this skill. If I put the time and deliberate practice toward learning the skill, there is a good chance I will be successful”.
  • Put a list of talents next to a list of skills, there is considerable overlap between the actual names. It is all about the connotation. Talents are natural abilities. Skills are acquired through experiences.
  • Dealing with skills and competencies, and underlying methods and applications is more precise than talking about talents.
  • A super talented professional is also a master of related skills. Someone who has talent will gravitate towards learning related skills; it makes sense.
  • Everyone must acquire skills, regardless of your collar: blue, white, or hoody. A Skills Culture (as a mindset) is useful for anyone, regardless of their class or education / career stage.