Workplace Basics: The Competencies Employers Want

A new report from Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce explores how 120 knowledge areas, skills, and abilities are demanded across the workforce and within specific occupations—and how the intensity with which workers use these competencies, along with their education level, can affect their earnings.

Workers need more than just their educational credentials to qualify for jobs that pay well, keep those jobs, secure promotions, and boost their earnings on the job. Workplace Basics: The Competencies Employers Want reveals the five most in-demand competencies across the labor market.

Competencies that are in high demand across the workforce are associated with higher earnings in jobs in which they are used most intensively. Workers receive an average earnings boost of about 20 percent when they use communication more intensively on the job. Similarly, an increase in the intensity with which workers use problem solving and complex thinking is associated with an average earnings premium of 19 percent.

The five competencies:

  1. Communication
  2. Teamwork
  3. Sales and customer service
  4. Leadership
  5. Problem solving and complex thinking

The researchers identify four trends that hold across the workforce: 

  • Over the past 50 years, structural changes in the economy have caused demand for cognitive competencies to rise and demand for physical competencies to fall. 
  • In the modern labor market, five cognitive competencies are in high demand across all occupational groups: (1) communication, (2) teamwork, (3) sales and customer service, (4) leadership, and (5) problem solving and complex thinking. 
  • Among the five competencies with generally high demand, communication is dominant: it has the highest demand across occupations, is in the top three most-demanded competencies within every occupational group, and is associated with the highest earnings boosts across the labor market. 
  • To succeed in their jobs and earn optimal compensation, workers need a balanced mix of competencies that are generally valued across the workforce and competencies that have high value within specific occupational contexts.

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