Further reading on "Skills"
UNESCO-UNEVOC has compiled a short selection of academic or professional articles that might help to clarify the signification and the use of the term "skills". It goes thus beyond the definitions stored in TVETipedia while not pretending to offer an exhaustive bibliography on the topic.
A European skills framework? – but what are skills ? Anglo-Saxon versus German concepts. By Linda Clarke; Christopher Winch.
This academic article, written 2 years before the implementation of the European Qualifications framework, highlights how crucial the definition of skill is for projects demanding global cooperation: In order to assess skill differential between European countries, the term "skill" has to be defined and translated. But can "skill" be translated ?
In the selected quote, the authors presents the "conceptual structure of skill" and its connotations in English, ending-up concluding on its ambiguity.
"...What then, is meant by ‘skill’? Different commentators attribute different, albeit related, meanings to the same term. Ashton and Green, for example, refer to skills in terms of social attributes, general education, training, qualifications, and technical skills (Ashton and Green 1996). Grugulis et al. differentiate between Becker’s notion of skill as human capital, Braverman’s concept of skill in the job, and skills socially constructed through negotiation (Grugulis et al. 2004, Becker 1964; Braverman 1974). And Buchanan et al. refer to the constituent components of skill as: ‘technical’, associated with the exercise of labour power; ‘behavioural’ reflecting the personal qualities of labour; and ‘cognitive’, related to education and training (Buchanan et al. 2004). The central question of what ‘skill’ is and whether a comparable concept exists in countries such as Germany remains unaddressed.
Ashton and Green’s definition, for example, includes practical and propositional knowledge, virtues and character attributes, social abilities and formal educational outcomes. Arguably, this encompasses far more than the everyday English usage of ‘skill’ and raises the problems of the overall coherence of the concept in academic contexts and of ‘conceptual inflation’ whereby a term with a relatively narrow range of application is progressively expanded with consequent problems of ambiguity and comprehension (Hanfling 1998, Ch. 5)." Linda Clarke; Christopher Winch, p4
"A European skills framework? – but what are skills? Anglo-Saxon versus German concepts", Linda Clarke, Christopher Winch, Journal of Education and Work, 19(3).pp. 255-269, July 2006
The Meaning of Skills in Global Reports,By Peliwe Lolwana
Global reports offer excellent illustrations of the ambiguity of 'skill'. This recent paper (2013) presents striking examples from EFA, OECD and Mckinsey transcripted through the 3 selected quotes.
“...Taking, the 2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report on Skills (UNESCO, 2012), the OECD Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Lives report (OECD, 2012) as well as the McKinsey World at Work report (McKinsey Global Institute, 2012), one can easily see that there is no unanimity in the way the term ‘skills’ is used in these three documents. The Global Monitoring Report (GMR) of 2012, for example, pays a lot of attention on the matter of skills – development and acquisition. In its report on ‘Youth and Skills’, the GMR considers general education skills as the primary skills needed by young people to succeed in the labour market. The GMR puts forward the case of how poor acquisition of foundational skills which are obtained in formal education further discriminates the disadvantaged students. …
The second report reviewed here is the OECD (2012) Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Lives. This report underscores the fact that benefits of skills go beyond just the labour market, but affect the individual’s health, civic and social behaviour of individuals as well as democratic engagement and business relationships, tackling of inequality and their appropriateness in employment. … In this report the emphasis is on adult skills, which include literacy, numeracy, problem-solving in technology-rich environments and skills used in workplaces. This brings together skills from general education and the ‘soft and hard’ skills in this broad definition. …
The last report reviewed is the McKinsey Global Institute (2012) World at Work. In this report, the notion of skills is tied very closely to jobs and the economy. In fact this report presents a strong case on trends in different economies resulting in patterns on the type of skills that support different economies. The report suggests a stratification of skills from low to high, by education levels and economy levels. In other words, the lower the education levels acquired, the lower the skills and the lower the income levels of the country. … ”Peliwe Lolwana
"The meaning of skills in global reports", Peliwe Lolwana in "2012: The Year of Global Reports on TVET, Skills & Jobs - Consensus or Diversity?", NorragNews 48, April 2013.
What Skills are we Talking About? Comparing the Global Monitoring Report 2012 and South African Skills Development By Lesley Powell
Global reports' definition of skills might appear irrelevant when brought to the national scale. This paper gives an interesting (and critical) insight through the case of South Africa.
In the selected quote, the author highlights the limits of "foundation skills" as defined by the GMR, when confronted to the reality of the south African labour market.
"...The GMR adopts a global discourse on the benefits of skills development which includes the contribution to economic development, to unemployment reduction (particularly youth unemployment) and to the creation of social and community cohesion. However, when confronted with the problem of the variety of social, political, economic and cultural settings in which skills are to be interpreted and applied, the report reduces skills development to that provided at primary and lower secondary schooling. The report’s argument that “foundation skills provided at primary and lower secondary schooling” deliver the skills that can offer young people a chance of a better job (UNESCO, 2012) has proven untrue in the South African context. While access to schooling exists as a basic human right, improving human well-being and providing the foundation for further, higher and life-long learning, it has proved insufficient for employability. The reality is that in South Africa, as in many countries of the world, millions of young people who have completed both their primary and secondary schooling are facing a future of poverty and destitution should employment and education and training opportunities not be provided” Lesley Powel
"What skills are we talking about ? Comparing the Global Monitoring report 2012 and South African Skills Development", Peliwe Lolwana in "2012: The Year of Global Reports on TVET, Skills & Jobs - Consensus or Diversity?", NorragNews 48, April 2013.
Can we avoid another vague skills goal, By Robert Palmer
"The immense difficulty in crafting wording around a skill goal" is well explained by this blog article(Norrag), as well as what is at stakes here: The post-2015 discussions have started, raising strong interest among stakeholders. But "where is this apparent interest heading in terms of a technical and vocational skills goal or target?" asks the author.
In the selected quotes, he mentions the example of "life skills" before suggesting paths of improvement.
"We also know full well that the EFA ‘skills’ goal never got any traction: no one could even agree on what ‘life-skills’ meant, let alone how it should be measured or tracked. In fact, the term ‘life skills’ ultimately blocked progress on this goal notes the Director of the EFA Global Monitoring Report. (Perhaps worryingly, ‘life-skills’ as a term is alive and well in the UN Secretary General’s report of 2013! – see p.14).
So can we do things better this time around? How do we avoid ending up with another vague skills goal that may result in yet more years of confusion?
…First, we are still not clear on the meaning. Major organisations still do not have their story straight on what ‘skills’ they are talking about …Second, we are still not clear on measuring… and there is a lot more to measure. Even if there were to be agreement on a single target related to technical and vocational skills, we are not clear on what we are measuring. …Third, we are still not clear on the data sources… and our TVSD data is still very unbalanced. The stock of knowledge on TVSD at country level – especially in low- and middle-income countries – is usually low, mostly found in ministries of education related to technical and vocational education, and mostly focused on inputs. …Lastly, the political and policy timing is right, but the convergence is off. There is significant policy and political interest in technical and vocational skills – at both the international and national levels. However, we do not have convergence and a lot of these actors appear to be talking past each other, rather than talking with each other.” Palmer
"What skills are we talking about ? Comparing the Global Monitoring report 2012 and South African Skills Development", Robert Palmer in Norrag, Entry of February 17,2014
This article is an element of the TVETipedia Glossary.
Back to top