Skills Based Approach: Employee Engagement

For the last few years, I have been paying attention to Gallup’s survey on ‘employee engagement’. The number of ‘engaged workers’ is around 33 percent this year. But I was astonished to learn that ‘employee engagement’ has been between 26 and 33 percent for the last 16 years (State of the American Workplace).

Engaged Employees
Engaged Employees

There will always be a handful of employees who are not engaged because they choose to sacrifice for: family, leisure time, money, or some other reason. There are also jobs that are impossible to be engaged in. But should disengaged employees represent two thirds of the workforce?

From a purely business point of view, employers should invest time, resources, and funding towards employee engagement; it affects the bottom line. Highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147 percent in earnings per share (another Gallup poll). Of course, it benefits the community too.

What is the cause of disengaged employees? According to Gallup, some of the reasons include: underemployment, lack of career development, and work and/or company has no purpose.

Underemployment happens for many reasons. Many fresh college graduates are required to do grunt work, it can serve as a rite of passage (something I keenly remember). Sometimes there is not an opportunity for progress at a particular time. Skills Based Approach is helpful in two ways. First, users plan to acquire skills (outside of work, if necessary) to guarantee moving forward. The best remedy for underemployment is to make it temporary. Second, users find ways to build skills by volunteering for other tasks. (A basic example: Someone is a barrister at a coffee shop, but is working to be a web developer; volunteer to build and/or manage the coffee shop’s website.)

To address lack of career development, management must understand what an employee has and wants to accomplish and provide tangible investment to help the employee reach his or her goals.  Skills Based Approach is an effective platform for performance reviews and progress reports. A worker’s progress is captured in a series of tasks and stacked credentials, and management takes ‘co-pilot’ to plan upcoming tasks and obtain desired credentials.

One problem mentioned in the Gallup Publication was the ineffectiveness of performance reviews; they are often uninspiring and infrequent. I also think one sided. An employer has a series of evaluations and takes control of the meeting, uses their own metrics, and plans an employee’s upcoming projects. So, an employer taking ‘co-pilot’ is an important distinction of Skills Based Approach. Users – students or professionals – are put in the ‘driver seat’ of their learning; this is the subject of a recent webinar I gave.

Perhaps the best way to address not having purpose in work is to empower individuals to choose their own projects and even become intrapreneurs.  This is something many of the leading software companies (Google and LinkedIn) have adopted. Many of these companies are successful in achieving high ‘employee engagement’ numbers. Another way these companies help employees focus on purposeful work is by removing their unpurposeful work: laundry, shopping, preparing meals, etc.

I believe achieving purpose as a company depends on its culture. A company should be able to provide a clear, concise mission and deliver on it every day. Profit should not be the sole driver of company success.

(I think) another root cause (not mentioned by Gallup) is workers are not in the right career, where they want to be elsewhere doing something else. For many workers, simply changing to another career is not an option. There are too many barriers, such as a stringent requirement tied to a degree, for example. (If you want to be a teacher, there is a good chance you must get a two-year degree and a master’s degree depending on state requirements.)

An answer to this problem is to find ways to help workers pivot into another career in an efficient way. For many careers, if you prove and demonstrate a skill set, you can switch to them (without having to go back to attend a college program). Skills Based Approach is highly effective in this scenario because you deal with an evolving skill set and competencies, so you always assess where you are and want to be and then make a plan to acquire required skills.

An answer to this problem for future generations is to provide better resources to impressionable students in high school and early college. Help students become more self and socially aware to make an optimal decision when they must, such as choosing: a program when they graduate, a degree, and career.

(I feel) for my generation, many of us were not self-aware to make an accurate decision. The reason was lack of tools (technology and applications) and a focus on a ‘social pathway’ – having fun and being connected. But now, there is a plethora of resources for self and social discovery.

Skills Based Approach simplifies something complex – education and career planning. Use any strategy to identify possible careers or interests, take the results (MyerBriggs personality traits, Gallup strengths, Knack talents, etc.) and translate them into skills and an action plan to acquire skill competencies (the primary function of the Planning Stage). Equally important are the objectives while trying to acquire the skills (Building Stage). A student has many options and may pivot instantaneously into another education or career plan. This flexibility with an evolving skill set is a benefit of Skills Based Approach.

One way to tackle the sluggish ‘employee engagement’ number is to put employees in the ‘driver seat’ of their learning. Skills Base Approach is an ideal platform for lifelong learning.

(Skills Label) What is the Brand Name?


Skills Label™ is a standardized display to express learning expectations and outcomes in any task (experience, activity, or resource). It solves a big problem:

There is no way to compare learning from traditional learning media (books, game, course, activities, etc.) with emerging learning media (games, virtual reality, and IoT). This disarray gets worse when comparing media targeting different education, higher education, and career stages.

Skills Label™ is a patent pending process / method to create a standardized display, catalog, and database for learning resources. Skills Label™ differs from what currently exists. There is not a process for game designers, educational publishers, providers of online learning platform, practitioners of traditional high school and college programs, and other producers of educational experiences to publish the learning expectations of their resources.

Been working on coming up with a ‘brand name’ for this concept. Here are four potential names for the brand:

Skills Label™. This is the brand name we have invested all our marketing efforts in. Clearly, the prime space on the label is used to emphasize skills and elements related to skills. (Using the analogy of a nutritional label, skills are like vitamins – the essence, goodness of the resource.) In addition, putting ‘skills’ in the brand name strongly associates it with two other core apps: Skills Based Approach and Skill Syllabi. Finally, it coincides with the Skills Culture mindset.

Skills Emblem. Badging and stacking credentials has gained a significant following in education and professional development. This might emphasize what you get after consuming a label. One part of the process and utility of the label is to assign credentials. This ties skill to learning achievements.

Working with skills, competencies, and their related underlying methods is an ideal medium to express learning expectations. The database of skills is robust, representing technical and transferable skills, soft skills, and behaviors and constantly growing to accept new technologies and applications; an advantage in working in skills is they are evolving. New elements like focus values and context have been added to the label. Standards, like Common Core, are linked to skills and anchor the level of difficulty or required competency.

Education Label. The advantage in this name is it directly links the intent to reach a target audience of students in K-12 education and higher education. The lion’s share of labels might be created by teachers and professors for tasking in their courses.

Learning Label. Summarizing learning is the objective of the labels. It does not matter if the learning takes place in the classroom or out of the classroom. It does not matter if the learning is required or self-directed. The purpose is to capture learning.

Not expecting to get a response to decide on a brand name with this article, so clearly the intent is to put marketing spins on this exciting new concept. But if you have something to say, please share. Join the community: and



Introduction to Skills Based Approach

Three advantages of Skills Based Approach are: simplicity, longevity, and adaptability.

Simplicity refers to ease of use. Everyone knows what they are dealing with: a skill set, competencies and methods, and constantly cycling through four stages. Skill Based Approach also solves the complexity of education and career planning. There are many ways to approach planning a career, so always funnel the results into a skill set to move forward. Students work towards a career five years in the future by acquiring skills in short, discrete tasks. They can pivot to a new learning path anytime. (Teenagers waffle on future careers constantly.)

Longevity refers to the long span of time Skills Based Approach is relevant. It is useful in education, higher education, and early career development. Once someone gets how the methodology and application works, everything makes sense.

Adaptability refers to how the latest technologies and applications plug into Skills Based Approach.

There is going to be tremendous growth in applications related to self-discovery, managing behaviors, and mapping out learning paths. The drivers are ‘big data’ and data analytics. For example, Knack recently teamed up with IBM to deliver a platform to discover talents and use assessments for education and career planning. (I linked Knack’s application to the Skills Based Approach Planning Stage objectives in a 2015 presentation.) Teenagers and young adults use any self-discovery application, simply plug in the results into the Planning Stage of Skills Based Approach.

There are many Competency Based Learning (CBL) initiatives taking place in higher education. The number of CBL programs increased from 50 in 2015 to 500 in 2016, and continues to grow. Teams of professors from Southern New Hampshire, Governors, Purdue , etc. are working to come up with standard assessments based on skills competencies rather than credit hours. Regardless of the source, users essentially plugin the new age assessments into the Building Stage of Skills Based Approach.

I still believe a personal website is the best way to present and validate skills. (Truth is, I first came up with the methodology while building a personal website platform.) There are many new applications in this space.

A buzz theme is ‘stacking credentials’ where users continue to add credentials. Badgeville has an interesting concept. Whatever the source or type of credential, users plug them in the Validating Stage of Skills-Based Approach.

What do you get from the core Skills Based Approach application? A methodology, framework to approach many complexities. Some of the functionality includes:

  • Basis for lifelong learning. Tracks all learning (as tasks).
  • Way to practice adaptive and personalized learning. Users work with an evolving skill set and competencies.
  • Set goals, target methods, and communicate with and find mentors.
  • Create learning plans for later career options.
  • Widget to share a skill set with an expanded audience.
  • Accumulate all types of credentials (badges, certification, awards, etc.).
  • Cross integration functionality with Skills Label™ and Skill Syllabi.

Create Skills Based Approach account … Get book A Skills Based Approach to Developing A Career FREE.

Skills Label With Standards (Common Core)

Group of happy young people at university Photo Credit: DepositPhoto C Goodluz

Recently, I added an interface for Skills Label™ to work with Common Core – both in the assignment and on the display. From its inception, I have been a big proponent of the standards. I see them as a way to get all students’ advocates – teachers, counselors, parents, game creators, publishers of education resources, etc. – on the same page.

The benefits of the standards are: 1) having transparent and easily accessible standards; 2) building ‘core’ foundational skills – critical thinking, problem solving, and analytic skills; and 3) representing a nation-wide audience of students. They are online, accessible to anyone: students and their parents, teachers, educators, community planners, and third-party organizations.

Here are my responses to the naysayers:

  • Students are dejected after underperforming on the tests. Understandable argument, though the tests are relatively new. Students will perform better in the future. There is so much upside with the standards, I suggest decoupling the testing and standards.
  • Teachers are losing their jobs because students are not performing up to expectations. Teachers are getting better. According to a recent survey, thirty-nine percent of teachers feel “very prepared” to teach the standards (up 20 percentage points from 2002).
  • Not enough learning resources based on Common Core. Per same survey, only 18% of teachers strongly agree that their resources were aligned with the standards (up from 9% in 2002). Of course, this only improves over time.
  • Education needs to be less standardized. Take standards for what they are, building “core” basic skills. The standards are clear and concise, leaving considerable leeway to create a wide range of experiences. Schools can and should differentiate in the programs they offer their students. Publishers should find creative ways to build upon the standards.

I think we are going to see a significant rise in the number of learning resource tied to Common Core. More institutions (all ultra-large software companies, education publishers, game creators, etc.) are creating resources aligned to the standards. Furthermore, I think it is more reasonable to consider an equitable distribution of learning resources (free and online), than distribution of education in schools (often based on demographics). Skills Label™ is the ideal platform for students to make comparisons of Common Core learning resources.

For all other standards (even non-accredited ones), Skills Label™ accepts a ‘dynamic set of standards’ for any level of education. Institutions or a cadre of professors or teachers create their own set of standards, aligns them to related skills, and uploads them to Skills Label™. Then, they have access to them and choose to have them appear on the labels for their students. These dynamic standards are shareable, so credibility is established by the number of institutions applying the standards in their labels.

Peer review, dynamic standards are advantageous by making the standards dexterous to rapid changes of demand for new age skills. It takes many years for an accreditation framework to appear. It takes time for a new program to be reviewed and become accredited. The dynamic standards can be created and gain acceptance almost instantaneously.

Standards provide an anchor for expressing learn expectations and outcomes to skills. They are useful for capturing the slippery ‘level of difficulty’ assessment – a challenge because learning a skill might span as much as ten years and traverse across education, higher education, and early career learning. Skills Label™ is an ideal platform to work with accepted and dynamic standards.

Summarize Learning in Skills


In coming up with Skills Based Approach a few years ago, I always had a wide lens for talking about skills (never exclusively worked with a technical view of skills). I see skills as the underpinning in everything we do; in every experience, we apply skills. They define how we think, play, converse, engineer, create, build, design, analyze, solve problems, etc. Types of skills include: foundational thinking and soft skills, transferable, technical, and behavioral skills. Here are some of the advantages in working with skills:

  • Definable – every skill can be defined and has related underlying methods and applications. Much of learning (traditional and new age) translate best to skills, including: gamification, badges, and adaptive and personalized learning.
  • Standardized – skill sets are concrete. Skills summarize education and employment needs. Educators, recruiters, and employers understand skill sets.
  • Portable – most social media platforms (LinkedIn, Google +, Facebook), job boards, and personal websites include skill sets.
  • Searchable – skill sets are highly effective as tags to content.
  • Flexible – new skills are created all the time. Many skills today did not exist five years ago.
  • Longevity – skills connect education, higher education, and career learning expectations.

Skills Label™ is an effective, standardized display for learning resources. Much of the display is dedicated to skills and skill competencies. (Once again, drawing on the nutritional label example, skills take the place of vitamins in the layout.)

I agree with educators who stress the importance of helping learners develop lens, perspectives to properly evaluate their circumstances – essentially drive their growth as a person. To some extent, this involves memorizing relevant facts and information. There are places on a Skills Label™ to capture this ‘other side’ of knowledge. First, for each skill line item, a teacher can add ‘skill context’ to describe what is learned for that skill in the experience. Second, below the skills section, there is descriptive ‘knowledge gain’ section to summarize an overall learning objective.

Skills act as the ‘verb’ in knowledge; it is the action part of knowledge. Arguably, this becomes the biggest factor because we are already seeing technology augmenting our ability to retrieve facts and information.

Learn more about Skills-Based Approach and Skills Label™ .

Photo Credit © Camrocker, DmitryPoch, diego_cervo, Wavebreakme

New Age Skill Assessments

I have been working on skills and skill competencies for the past six years (published A Skills Based Approach to Developing a Career in 2013). My work with Skills Based Approach has gained a significant audience and following around the world. Recently, I have focused on a new innovative concept: Skills Label™ – one standardized display for learning in any task – online game, virtual reality, courses, videos, activities, etc.

knowledge31When I talk to professors about assessing skills in Competency Based Learning (CBL) programs, they tell me “there are institutions working on developing competencies but there are no clear standards already in place”. (I guess I am looking for something like Common Core in standard education.) Some professors seem perplexed and ask: “Where would you even start to create a standard for addressing skills?”. Some professors are not convinced in the necessity of teaching and tracking learning at such a discrete level.

The challenge is trying to develop a one-size fits all approach to assess skills. I argue, in our every experience, we apply skill. Skills work laterally across subject and disciplines. There are thousands of defined skills (I reviewed a LinkedIn database of 4,500 skills). The list only keeps growing with new technologies being defined every day. Addressing the breadth of skill assessments is a challenge.

Skills work vertically across education, higher education and career stages. For many of the foundational thinking and soft skills, we use them throughout much of our life. Critical thinking is considered a pinnacle skill, one we start learning in high school and is the benchmark of higher education. To learn a skill for our “own needs”, it takes twenty hours. To become a master, it takes ten thousand hours (according to one commonly referenced yardstick). Creating a measurement that works across what could be an eight to ten-year stretch is difficult. Addressing the depth of skill assessments is a challenge.

Skills Label is an early iteration to represent lifelong learning expectations with skill competencies. There are five elements:

·        Focus Value. For an experience, this value represents the intensity in learning a skill. (Represented as a percentage of total focus values multiplied by the time to complete the experience.)

·        Level of Difficulty. A one in five value representing how difficult the application of the skills. (A scale based on middle school, high school, college, graduate and professional stages.)

·        Standards. A way to anchor Level of Difficulty to actual standards, either universally accepted ones (like Common Core) or dynamic ones (created by a group of practitioners). For example, Common Core standards are linked to a grade level.

·        Underlying Methods and Application. Measure the intensity and frequency the underlying methods of a skill are applied. This is thinking one level deeper than skills.

·        Skill Points. An algorithm calculates this measurement of learning based on the other elements and time spent.

Perhaps the most difficult element to quantify is: Level of Difficulty. Applying standards helps to anchor a level of difficulty to an education or career stage. But, I think the most compelling process to assess skills is to work with their methods and applications. Count the number of times the method is applied, measure the difficulty in applying it.

For example, there are perhaps 20 to 50 methods behind applying the skill of Critical Thinking. It is easier to evaluate Critical Thinking by working with these methods as a framework.

Ideally, (I believe) accurate, new age assessments based purely on the application of skill (as opposed to being rooted in grades, age, demographics) become a gold standard in learning.

Learn more about this exciting new concept on the website: