The development of skills

Guest contribution by | 21.10.2019

Recently I attended a workshop at the #ZP19 in Cologne: “HR in Transition: Digital Skills, Continuous Learning and Development – DGFP Study on Digital Skills in Personnel Development”. The workshop included the competencies that human resource developers need in the age of digitisation. It was only one of many information events that referred to competencies in the world of work 4.0. In the social media, in the literature and in studies the future skills are examined, described and discussed in detail.

In almost all private and public enterprises, organisations and institutions, skills play an increasingly decisive role. Of course, technical and methodological competences continue to play an important role, but they are considered to be given or taken for granted, especially in the personnel selection process or in promotions. Accordingly, the focus is increasingly on personal, activity-related and social-communicative capabilities. But in addition to the discussion about the importance and direction of skills, knowledge about the development of skills also plays an important role in my opinion.

Starting from the beginning: What are skills?

What exactly do we understand by skills, without now examining all word definitions exactly? As skills we understand self-organisation capabilities, i.e. the ability to organise oneself. They include all the talents, capabilities and conditions required by people, teams or an organisation “to adapt to changing conditions in certain situations, to change their own behavioural strategies and to implement them successfully”. (Heyse & Erpenbeck, 2009)

How does skill development work?

According to Heyse & Erpenbeck, skills that are necessary for certain activities and functions

  1. are trained and stimulated within limits and
  2. are only trained and stimulated within limits.

First of all, it is important to note that one cannot learn competences in the conventional sense, such as our knowledge of information at school or university.

In contrast to specialist knowledge, competences and the rules, values and norms associated with them must be experienced and internalised – i.e. experienced, felt and tested, so that we speak of a learning process that activates emotions and motivates.

Skills cannot just be built up at short notice, but must be (further) developed over a longer period of time.

Ergo:Situations must be created in which employees can (further) develop their own skills through their mental and physical actions!

If, for example, I would like my employee Paul Pattern to develop his conflict skills, I assign him the task of working out a holiday or late shift for a team with predominantly part-time staff.

However, employees can only develop those skills that the situation or in general their qualification profile also offer! It can therefore not be expected that, for example, customer consultants develop management skills at their workplace if their requirement profile or the situations they have created do not match. And yet they can still have leadership skills at their disposal – through other places of learning, such as voluntary work.

In principle this means – and I think this is astonishing – that we always develop skills when we act! Usually rather unconsciously. Some of them we can use well for our life, others are rather obstructive, e.g. fearful behaviour.

Skills never emerge alone

Through our experience, whether in the work context or at private learning locations, we acquire and internalise much more than “just” skills: We own and internalise values, norms and rules.

Whenever we experience a problem situation that we do not yet know and therefore cannot fall back on, it will cause stress, tension and anxiety in us.

We then take on known values, rules and norms in order to decide and act. If we were successful with our decision and action, it is now emotionally anchored in us and is available for the next similar situation. Only then is one competent and able to “act competently”.

The emotional experience – also called emotional stabilisation – is therefore a basic prerequisite for the development of skills.

Learning formats

We therefore state that skills can only be (further) developed through experience. This contradicts many common further training courses.

The development of skills therefore needs its own teaching.

In order to determine the “right” type of skill transfer, a few questions should be clarified in advance:

Which skills should be developed? Are they basic skills, such as personal, activity-related, technical-methodical or social-communicative skills, or are they overarching skills that affect all individual skills, such as intercultural competencies or leadership skills? Is there an organisational strategy from which the relevant current and future demands on employees have been defined?

Who should develop these skills? Is it all employees or only a certain circle?

Why should the skills be developed? What is the goal of skill development?

Where should the skills be developed? Does skill development relate to a specific area, e.g. customer service or a specific project?

How should the skills be developed? Here we consider three basic levels of skill development:

  • The practical level: Employees face new problem situations in a self-intended way, in which they can anchor their experiences emotionally and develop competences, or the company organises the systemic confrontation with new challenges (e.g. job rotation) externally-intended.
  • The coaching level: “Coaching can be understood as a methodically sound procedure for self- and externally-intended individual skill development, sometimes also for team-related or organisational skill development”. (Heyse & Erpenbeck, 2009).
  • The training level: The training level is a special type of self- and externally-intended skill development; it is a largely reinterpreted or re-functionalised reality.

Thus, skill development can take place through different forms of learning. These forms of learning differ in terms of the degree of intentionality and formalisation with regard to the structure and organisation of the place, time and content of learning.

We therefore distinguish between formal, non-formal and informal learning.

Formal learning is planned, structured and organised with a clear learning objective. This includes, for example, training-off-the-job. However, it is necessary to ensure the transfer to the workplace, otherwise no skills can be developed.

Informal learning, on the other hand, is neither organised nor conscious. However, informal learning, e.g. through parental leave, care of relatives or voluntary work, can be taken into account in competence management.

Non-formal learning is an intermediate between formal and informal learning. It takes place directly in the work process, such as training-on-the-job or training-near-the-job. Non-formal learning is goal-oriented, i.e. the measures are based on a competence-learning goal. The employees gain their experience, reflect on it and receive feedback.

Sustainable skill development is achieved if all three forms of learning – formal, informal and non-formal – are combined.

Bottom line

The development or further development of skills is crucial for the world of work 4.0. We consider this to mean self-organisation skills that are not acquired through pure knowledge transfer. Rather, it is necessary that skills and the associated rules, values and norms are experienced and internalised in new situations. If we have been successful in these new situations with our decision and action, it will be emotionally anchored and will be available for the next similar situation. We are now talking about “skills”.

For competence development it is important to know which goals we want to achieve, how, where and with whom. On the basis of the answers, mediation strategies can be developed from a mix of formal, non-formal and informal learning.

Heike Rosenberg
Heike Rosenberg

Heike Rosenberg studied linguistics and economics at the Free University of Berlin. During this time, she completed internships in journalism and spent a semester in Houston, Texas, USA as an intern in the human resources department. She has been working full-time at IKK Südwest since 2006. Initially as a project and team leader for office communications and since 2008 as a personnel officer. Ms. Rosenberg heads the specialist group “IKK, my family & me” and the project “Introduction of the digital personnel file and workflow”. She is a qualified trainer, systemic management coach, nursing guide and ProfilPASS consultant. Since December 2018 she has been working as a part-time consultant, speaker and trainer. Ms. Rosenberg is involved in BPW Saarbrücken on an honorary basis, has two children and now lives in St. Ingbert, Saarland.