Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs) is the three pronged approach to evaluating job prospects; at least this is a standard in government. We ask employees what they know, what they are capable of doing, and if they have the skills to execute.
I have no personal problem with this conceptualization of how to find workers; it’s straight forward, easy to understand, and a fair evaluation technique. I believe the disconnect between my generation and the current batch of employers (mostly made up of Boomers and Gen Xers) is that while Millennials are probably the most knowledgeable generation, the perception is that we lack skills.
I’m going to explain why I believe employers should re-evaluate how they are weighing these three concepts. But first I must explain my working definitions of these terms.
I don’t think it’s all that disputable that we’re an extremely knowledgeable bunch, Millennials have grown up in the information age afterall. We are bombarded by information constantly; and not only that, but we’ve pursued higher education in record numbers to learn how to sift through this information and make sense of it. We’re intellectually curious, which is a gift and a curse. To me the level of intellectual curiosity someone has is incredibly important. This attribute tells me that a person cares about the world around them, that they respect the process of learning, that they think before they leap, and that they have varied interests. To me, having varied interests is more of a strength than a weakness, but it appears that for many employers there is an extreme distaste for the jack of all trades, master of none. I personally like to say that I’m a jack of all trades, master of one since I’ve almost completed my Master’s degree.
In the professional world, knowledge will only get you so far. And the “jack of all trades” mentality is frowned upon. I argue employers don’t really care about this first prong of the evaluation process of job candidates. That is why educational experience is not as highly regarded as it once was. Knowledge is not sufficient, and in some cases, not even necessary.
This seems to be the single most important attribute employers look for in job candidates. That’s fine on its’ face, of course employers want to hire a skilled person. The problem is that many of the skills employers want nowadays are in very specific areas – see STEM fields. It’s not that Millennials lack skills, it’s that many of us lack STEM skills. Some have called this a failure of our education system, and to a certain extent that’s true. We do lag behind other industrialized nations in math and science, fair enough. But this is also a failure of businesses of not being clear in what types of skills they want, and not being open to other skills prospective employees can bring.
This third and final prong of the evaluation of prospective employees I view as the middle ground between Millennials and employers. If Millennials and businesses were in a negotiating room and Millennials argued that knowledge was the most important attribute of being a successful employee (as I argued above), and businesses argued that skills were the most important, then abilities would be the negotiated happy medium between the two sides.
Abilities are things a prospective employee is capable of doing to help the business/organization succeed. Abilities are less tangible than knowledge or skills; they are hard to measure because they are based on potential, not demonstrable results. For example, I have the ability to fly a jet, meaning the potential to learn and execute, but I possess neither the knowledge nor skills to do so at this moment. A more relevant example: I have the ability to oversee a project from the conceptual phase to its’ conclusion, but I don’t currently possess the experience to prove I can do this.
If you’re going into a white collar career, you most likely possess certain abilities that are useful in the workplace just from years upon years of experience of collaborating with peers in higher education. Presumably most people that apply for white collar work know how to communicate effectively in writing, in person, or over the phone. These are abilities, not skills, as these don’t take formal and intense training to learn, they are just cues and capabilities we acquire along the way. Certain types of writing does, in fact, require training to perfect, but writing is more of an ability in my view.
Things like project management I also view as an ability, not a skill. For example, I have the ability to manage projects, even multiply projects, but I lack experience in doing so in a professional environment. I would have to learn some of the nuances of the job but I certainly possess the ability to do the job.
To me, we gain abilities to move into multiple professional roles through the process of education many of us have gone through. We don’t go to school from kindergarten through college/graduate school without picking up on abilities needed in the professional world that lie outside of our formal education.
Do you agree that we need to rethink KSAs in how job candidates are chosen? Which aspect of the three pronged approached should be emphasized the most? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.