Training: Cost or Investment?

IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN “skill” and “competency?” In day-to-day discussions, most people treat them as synonyms. But in technical or scholarly contexts, they have precise meanings. Those meanings are useful for practical applications, too, so it makes sense to understand the difference between the two.

A skill is something that can be learned and then applied. Typing, writing algorithms in C++, archery, active listening, and diagramming sentences are all skills. A competency, on the other hand, is the effective application of skills via knowledge and behavior. So the skill of active listening is necessary for the competency of interviewing. The skill of archery may be necessary for the competency of hunting.

Why is this distinction useful? It tells you what to measure when you are trying to determine the capacity for achieving a goal. Practically speaking, you can measure skills only at the level of the individual, but you can measure competencies at the level of the individual, team, department, or organization. In fact, much of the discussion of competencies in business has to do with organizational competencies. An organization’s core competencies, for example, are those activities that distinguish it from other organizations.

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