Bridging the Gap with Employability Skills

How can employers boost employee success and a more productive work environment?

By David Cox, SHRM-SCP | September 25, 2018

The late actor Harry Morgan, in his role as Col. Sherman Potter on the TV series M*A*S*H, opened one episode dictating a letter to his unit’s supply headquarters in which he said, “I realize supply requisitions in this area are difficult to fill, but the situation has been getting steadily worse. We order rectal thermometers; we get spark plugs. Both useful articles, but hardly interchangeable.”

The same is true of occupational and employability skills. Occupational skills are the technical skills employees need for a specific occupation, while employability skills are necessary for the same employees to work effectively and efficiently with managers, co-workers, and customers. These are two distinct skill sets, each with a different purpose, but both are useful to employee success and a productive work environment.

What are “Employability Skills?”

Employability skills enable employees to get along with their co-workers, act decisively, solve problems, exhibit a positive attitude, demonstrate respect for others, develop good work practices, and ultimately become the type of employees trusted to represent the employer and the organization.

Employability skills include, but are not limited to, the following:

    1. Interpersonal Skills
      These are the skills necessary for interacting well with others. Strong interpersonal skills enable employees to participate effectively as members of a team. They’re also helpful in knowing how to satisfy customers’ and clients’ expectations, negotiate, make better decisions, manage time more efficiently, take responsibility, and work effectively with other employees.
    2. Critical thinking
      Critical thinking refers to the ability to evaluate information to solve problems and make decisions. It also strengthens one’s ability to plan and organize more effectively for the best possible results.
    3. Communication skills
      Employees with excellent verbal and written communication skills get their message across with less chance of misunderstanding. The development of active listening skills can further prevent costly mistakes and enable employees to better understand the needs of customers, co-workers, and employers.
    4. Personal development
      Personal development is concerned with how individuals evolve in their practices and attitudes toward work. It might include developing self-motivation, confidence, self-management skills, the ability to minimize potentially negative emotions (such as anger and stress), time management skills, greater assertiveness, and better negotiation skills.
    5. Presentation skills
      Sharing information is not just about making formal presentations. Employees need to know how to present notes, reports, research findings, proposals, organizational planning, risk assessments, and strategic documents.
    6. Leadership
      Leadership author and speaker John Maxwell once wrote, “Leadership is the ability to influence others toward the achievement of a goal.”
      Employees who develop leadership skills practice and inspire self-confidence. They are team players, working in groups to achieve the best results for their employer. They demonstrate social skills by respecting the thoughts, opinions, and ideas of others. Moreover, they gain the respect of others, and thereby earn credibility.


Throughout my career, I’ve watched employers screen and interview candidates to assess their competence in the occupational skills required for a job. Unfortunately, too many employers “assume” if the candidate has the necessary technical skills, their employability skills will automatically be sufficient. It’s an assumption that has proven costly to organizations and disruptive in many workplaces.

It’s time to embrace reality: Occupational competency alone does not guarantee employee success.

If an employer has an employee lacking in employability skills – ignoring the problem will not solve it. Training in both occupational and employability skills represents a strategic approach to developing employees (and the organization) for greater success and a more productive work environment.

David Cox


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