How can we keep up with ever-changing technology skills?

Skill Standards Help Define Workplace Skills, Knowledge and Performance Expectations
For decades we have been hearing industry’s anxious refrain: “The workforce has not acquired the skills we need to compete in an ever-changing world.” The irony is that employers have not been particularly effective at communicating to students and job seekers a set of guidelines that clearly states the essential skills and competencies that are crucial to their industry. Job seekers, on the other hand, mostly rely on those imperfect proxies — the resume and the college degree — to communicate their ability to perform in the workplace. This persistent communication gulf between employer and job candidate has fueled the skills gap problem. In the technology industry in particular, new skills and tools are constantly emerging. It seems an intermediary is needed. Skill standards may be an important part of the solution.

[View the latest IT Skill Standards in software development, technical support, data analytics, and more.]

Defining Skill Standards
The Texas Skill Standards Board defines skill standards as “performance specifications that identify the knowledge and competencies an individual needs to succeed in the workplace. They document the skills, knowledge, and performance standards that employers require from their workers, and serve as a vehicle to communicate that information to education and training providers.”

According to the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (opens in a new window) (SBCTC), “Skill Standards answers two critical questions:

  1. What do workers need to know and be able to do to succeed in today’s workplace?
  2. And how do we know when workers are performing well?”

Without this fundamental information, “employers do not know whom to hire or where to focus their limited training dollars; employees and new entrants to the workforce do not know what they need to do to improve their performance; and educators do not know how to prepare students for the challenges of the workplace,” according to SBCTC.

The Origins of Skill Standards
Skill standards originated with the passage of The National Skill Standards Act of 1994, which established “a National Skill Standards Board (NSSB) to serve as a catalyst in stimulating the development and adoption of a voluntary national system of skill standards and of assessment and certification of attainment of skill standards.” According to the NSSB, the Board is “a coalition of community, business, labor, education, and civil rights leaders. It was tasked with building a national voluntary system of skill standards, assessment, and certification to enhance the ability of the United States workforce to compete effectively in the global economy.”

Advocates of the movement assert that skill standards can strengthen the educational system by aligning it more closely to the emerging needs of the workplace. This is possible, they say, because skill standards are an ideal source of the industry-driven skills, knowledge and outcomes required for competency-based curricula within community and technical colleges.

Who Develops Skill Standards?
The effort to develop skill standards is typically led by industry groups such as a professional or trade association. In many cases, frontline workers collaborate with their immediate supervisors, who define the skill standards and report those findings to the organizing body. Additionally, many education interest groups have established nationally recognized, industry-validated skill standards.

The National Convergence Technology Center’s (CTC) IT Skill Standards 2020 and Beyond Project (opens in a new window) is developing employer-led, up-to-date skill standards and model curriculum outlines with the goal of expanding the pipeline of right-skilled individuals to fill the many open IT jobs across the nation over the next several years. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the CTC was established to meet the workforce need for skilled specialists in convergence technology, information technology and cybersecurity.

How Skill Standards Create Benefits for Employers and Educators

  • Skill standards help employers communicate their skill requirements to community and technical colleges, enabling schools to design and deliver the competency-based curricula programs that provide learners in both for-credit and not-for-credit programs with the skills employers need.
  • Skill standards enable community and technical colleges to create a consistent pipeline of well-trained and qualified candidates for regional businesses, which helps close the skills gap for a wide range of industries.
  • Skill standards help community colleges realize their economic and workforce development mission of collaborating with local and regional employers to develop a high-performance workforce that contributes to building strong regional economies.

Forces Accelerating the Need for Skill Standards
Digital transformation, as defined by CIO magazine, is “a catchall term for describing the implementation of new technologies, talent, and processes to improve business operations and satisfy customers.” In an article for the Harvard Business Review titled “The Essential Components of Digital Transformation (opens in a new window) ,” Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic writes, “the essence of digital transformation is to become a data-driven organization, ensuring that key decisions, actions, and processes are strongly influenced by data-driven insights, rather than by human intuition.”

The result of organizations pursuing digital transformation coupled with the dramatic shifts in how we work and survive during the COVID-19 pandemic has, according to Vala Afshar, chief digital evangelist,, “dramatically accelerated this migration to digital, pushing companies of every size around the world to digitize at record speed.” These two factors are exacerbating the skills gap problem, creating what some feel is a near-crisis situation. Skill standards can play an important role in alleviating the problem.

Skill Standards Are Not a Quick Fix
While skill standards can play an important role in creating a job-ready workforce, businesses must take the lead in creating a culture of learning. Community and technical colleges can help provide a pipeline of job-ready candidates, but businesses, especially those that rely heavily on technology, must provide employees with opportunities to enhance and update their skills. In this era of hyper-fast innovation and technology-related market disruptions, a competitive organization is defined by its ability to quickly acquire knowledge that enables it to innovate and meet the challenges of a rapidly changing environment. Organizations must be committed to creating and sustaining a culture that encourages and supports continuous employee learning. For their part, community and technical colleges must be agile in responding to the immediate continuous learning needs of businesses.

[View the latest IT Skill Standards in software development, technical support, data analytics, and more.]



For more information on technical degree programs, continuing education classes and IT certificates at the 34 Washington State Community Colleges, please contact:

Brianna Rockenstire
Center of Excellence for Information & Computing Technology | 425.564.4229

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