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Changing skill needs: what makes people employable?

Sally Dench (Research Fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK)

Industrial and Commercial Training

ISSN: 0019-7858

Article publication date: 1 November 1997



Many of the skills needed to make people employable are specific to particular occupations. However, increasingly employers are defining a set of “generic”, usually personal, skills which they seek when recruiting new employees. These “generic skills” include, for example, communication skills, the ability to apply basic literacy and numeracy in a work situation, being a “team player”, the ability to relate to customers and clients, taking initiative (for one’s own work and personal and career development), taking responsibility and making decisions. Occupational skills may be seen as necessary but not enough, or as “easily trained in”. Although these “generic skills” are not new needs in many workplaces, they do appear to be receiving greater emphasis as organizations change and adjust to meet new competitive pressures and develop new working practices. There is some debate about the extent to which these types of skill can be developed in people, or whether certain characteristics or predisposition are necessary for their development. Many organizations are adapting their recruitment processes and internal appraisal systems to explore more fully the abilities of potential recruits in these areas. Discusses the nature of these “skills” and their relevance in different workplaces and jobs, and in relation to occupation‐specific skills. Also looks at why they are currently receiving emphasis and likely current trends. Finally, explores how these “skills” are examined in the recruitment process. Draws on the findings from a series of projects conducted by the Institute for Employment Studies on employers’ skill needs in different occupations and how and why these are changing.



Dench, S. (1997), "Changing skill needs: what makes people employable?", Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 29 No. 6, pp. 190-193.




Copyright © 1997, MCB UP Limited

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