Transversal Skills

Employability Skills in the future – McKinsey

by Chris Heron Vivagogy

If you have not heard of Transversal Skills or Competencies you need to get up to date quickly.

They are defined by the Education Glossary quite accurately as follows:

’The term 21st century skills refers to a broad set of knowledge, skills, work habits, and character traits that are believed—by educators, school reformers, college professors, employers, and others—to be critically important to success in today’s world, particularly in collegiate programs and contemporary careers and workplaces.’ 

They are, however, out of date!

On May 2 2018 the EU Government published a ‘Decision’ which was passed earlier on April 18 2018.


on a common framework for the provision of better services for skills and qualifications (Europass) and repealing Decision No 2241/2004/EC’ 

In summary, it says: 

‘Individuals, when looking for a job, or making decisions on learning, studying or working, need access to information and guidance on what opportunities are available, on how to assess their skills and on ways to present information about their skills and qualifications.’

It goes on: 

‘Clear and widely disseminated information, a shared understanding and improved transparency of skills and qualifications are important in order to address those challenges.’

Then it says that all governments should have measurements for formal and informal learning of this type by 2018.

Clearly, for those who understand the nature of this task apart, from any ensuing debate delaying progress, the dates are clearly unrealistic.

Given the size of the EU, this is an important step to recognising that the measurement of these competencies is necessary to solve the Skills Gap losing economies billions a year, companies millions and causing untold stress and waste to individuals.

Large parts of Asia and China are accepting the challenge and moving faster to try to put systems in place in what is becoming an economic battle of competencies.

The measurement of these competencies is not just pertinent to new waves of employees leaving formal learning for the workplace.

McKinsey says that: 

’50% of the global workforce needs retraining’

 …and these competencies will form a large corpus of the competencies they will need t to acquire.

As the workforce globally is 2 billion people you can see the size of the problem.

Additionally, the speed of change within business and economies worldwide is accelerating due to the adoption of artificially intelligent systems and robots who now do the repetitive tasks whether they are physical or information system based.

There is simply no need for humans to do this any more and increasingly in all areas from medicine and law to agriculture and manufacturing they are not.

The resultant changes in employment need radical and fast retraining systems so as not to lead to mass unemployment and economic disaster.

So what are these skills or competencies?

Skills or competencies? Well, many refer to them inaccurately as skills. We define skills as:

‘Skills focus on the ability of the learner to apply knowledge, practice, training or aptitude to complete a task, solve problems or answer questions.  

Whilst problem solving is central to the skills application domain, its emphasis is on familiar and routine tasks.’

Whereas competencies are

‘ Competence relates to the ability to do something efficiently, effectively or proficiently. You might say it is a skill in a context’

For example, there may be many people that can perform a task is given a lot of time and no pressure but there are fewer people who can perform the same task under extreme pressure.

There are and have been many names for these competencies, emotional skills, 21c skills, employability skills , etc.

Whatever the term it is generally agreed they are portable and cross over the specific job or work-related knowledge or competencies and make people function better in any job role.

It is clear that as we necessarily change jobs more often and as the rote tasks become more automated these higher cognitive abilities and human traits become more essential because computers cannot perform them.

The irony which is recognised by the above legislation is that they are not usually taught, learned or measured in formal learning.

There are many who argue that they cannot be taught but they have to be learned through real-life experiences which are sadly mostly omitted from formal learning.

  • Critical Thinking
  • Innovative Thinking
  • Reflective Thinking
  • Reasoned Decision Making
  • Communication Skills
  • Collaboration
  • Self Motivation 
  • Grit
  • Diversity
  • Intercultural Understanding
  • Respect for the Environment

Of course underneath each main heading are many other competencies but the UNESCO survey seems to gather these as a common list across most countries contributing to the subject.

Will formal education be able to teach and measure Transversal Competencies? 

There is a great difficulty in trying to measure these competencies formally because they are not acquired in a formal context but more usually in an informal or incidental way.

So, there is going to be a great divergence of opinion about how this is done.

My own preference is that this measurement is not done by formal learning but by business organisations who have the biggest vested interest in people acquiring them.

McKinsey said a long time ago that the all the stakeholders in the process of learning to employment should be connected to the benefit of all.

This is not the case now as there are so many divisive factions.

Formal learning either charges for its services directly or indirectly and therefore wants to protect its model even to the detriment of the process.

The measurement of learning is protected and allocated through government organisations who will fight to maintain this model and the control it provides to a restricted and lucrative market.

Business thinks it needs to turn to education to measure competencies though they cannot do it and show little interest in doing so. 

People have no clear indication of what competencies they have yet this is what they need for a job application!

It is madness.

Now we have a situation where there is recognition of what we need to do but again we are turning the wrong way to try to achieve it. Formal learning cannot assess informal learning without changing its whole process.

Yet Transversal Competencies cannot be learned or assessed by formal learning so how are we going to do this!

Well, there are indications that business has lost its patience with this and it will take over to ensure in one way or another that this happens.

But where does that leave formal learning?

Maybe in a different place and with less relevance?