As defined by the international group of stakeholders involved in the OECD Future of Education and Skills 2030 project, skills are the ability and capacity to carry out processes and to be able to use one’s knowledge in a responsible way to achieve a goal.
Skills are part of a holistic concept of competency, involving the mobilisation of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values to meet complex demands. The OECD Learning Compass 2030 distinguishes between three different types of skills. Cognitive and meta-cognitive skills, which include critical thinking, creative thinking, learning-to-learn and self-regulation, social and emotional skills, which include empathy, self-efficacy, responsibility and collaboration, practical and physical skills, which include using new information and communication technology devices Cognitive skills are a set of thinking strategies that enable the use of language, numbers, reasoning and acquired knowledge. They comprise verbal, nonverbal and higher-order thinking skills. Metacognitive skills include learning-to-learn skills and the ability to recognise one’s knowledge, skills, attitudes and values. Social and emotional skills are a set of individual capacities that can be manifested in consistent patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that enable people to develop themselves, cultivate their relationships at home, school, work and in the community, and exercise their civic responsibilities. Physical skills are a set of abilities to use physical tools, operations and functions. They include manual skills, such as the ability to use information and communication technology devices and new machines, play musical instruments, craft artworks, play sports; life skills, such as the ability to dress oneself, prepare food and drink, keep oneself clean; and the ability to mobilise one’s capacities, including strength, muscular flexibility and stamina. Practical skills are those required to use and manipulate materials, tools, equipment and artefacts to achieve particular outcomes. Cognitive skills, such as creative thinking and self-regulation, and social skills, such as taking responsibility, require the capacity to consider the consequences of one’s actions, evaluate risk and reward, and accept accountability for the products of one’s work. This suggests moral and intellectual maturity, with which a person reflects upon and evaluates his or her actions in light of his or her experiences, personal and societal goals, what he or she has been taught and told, and what is right or wrong. While good decision making and ethical judgement are encompassed in the concept of skills, these competencies are addressed in the concept note on Attitudes and Values.
As populations age, the demand for healthcare will continue to rise. This is reflected in the wide range of new and emerging healthcare-related occupations, which require both scientific skills, and social and emotional skills, such as caring, sociability and respect. For example, acute care nurses and hospital staff require a high degree of social perceptiveness to understand emotional patterns and interact with patients. In addition, social and emotional skills, such as empathy, self-awareness, respect for others and the ability to communicate, are becoming essential as classrooms and workplaces become more ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse. To acknowledge and respond to these global connections, education may promote certain social and emotional skills that are considered to be related to cognitive skills. For example, social emotional skills such as “empathy” would require cognitive skills such as “perspective-taking”. Education may also foster the types of attitudes and values, such as openness and respect for others as individuals, that students need in order to be more inclusive and reflective of more diverse societies. In this context, this particular set of skills has come to be known as global competence.
Another example comes from jobs that require social and emotional skills. They are unlikely to be replaced by technology. Artificial Intelligence is unlikely to replace workers whose jobs require creativity; similarly, AI is unlikely to replace workers who jobs require complex social interactions. Thus, in order to adapt to advances in technology, workers will also have to acquire social skills, including persuasion and negotiation.