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Skills Library Initiative

The C4EO Skills Library is a continuously updated database of descriptive statements about what workers need to know and be able to do in their jobs. Expressed in a common skills-based language, the statements are meaningful to business and industry, education and training providers, policy makers and the taxpayers they represent. The descriptive statements are intended to improve transparency in the talent pipeline from career exploration and training to job placement and career advancement.

Software applications are in various stages of development around the competency library to facilitate data-driven operational planning and individual decision-making at several points where talent supply and employment demand intersect.

Major features include:

    • More than competency statements developed by qualified industrial occupational psychologists
    • More than occupational profiles validated by industry subject matter experts
    • Consistent semantic syntax based on established Department of Labor ONet data structures (SOC, GWA, IWA, DWA, etc.)
    • Planned: API for integration with third party applications

Possible SaaS-based Data Applications

The Common Skills Language Platform and the C4EO Skills Library are the heart of the initiatives programs. But the greatest value add comes from the mass deployment of applications that increase employability of students and build curriculum around results and job performance.

    • Curriculum Alignment
    • identify gaps between learning outcomes in current education programs and ever-evolving job skill requirements
    • optimize instructional modules for greater efficiency and shorter degree programs
    • develop new learning outcomes to address emerging high demand employment opportunities


    • Career Exploration
    • providing higher resolution to career exploration and informed choice in selecting training options as historic relationships between fields of study and traditional occupations are eroded by converging technologies, workplace innovations and reblending of skill requirements to spawn hybrid and emerging occupations;


    • Enhancing the signal strength of credentials by demonstrably vetting employer-identified competencies and assessing proficiencies normed to job performance requirements;
    • Improving the fidelity of job search and placement by profiling applicants and employment opportunities in a common skills-based language; and
    • Facilitating individual career progressions and firm-level succession planning through competency-based inventories of human capital coupled with transferable skills and skill gap analyses.

C4EO Skills Library Details

While widely used in both educational circles and in the world of work, the term “competency” does not yet have a settled operational definition. Some use the term interchangeably with skills and tasks while other use competencies in reference to mastery of a particular knowledge domain or proficiency in the use of a particular tool or technology. No single syntax or format has been established for expressing competencies. That makes it difficult to compare tools and applications built notionally on the competency concept, integrate or articulate them into extensible and interoperable cross-domain applications, or to synchronize efforts among professionals to address common problems.

A Detailed Work Activity (DWA) statement describes how major units of a worker’s time are organized productively. Every DWA theoretically has distinctive starting and ending points. Each is observable and produces results susceptible to being measured. To facilitate comparisons among DWAs, descriptive statements are framed in a standard syntax: an action verb (required), an object (required) plus at least a modifier of the action or object and/or additional information about the context in which the object is acted upon. Example: “Solve engineering problem in a manufacturing process.”

DWAs in the library used by C4EO initially were sourced from the Department of Labor’s O*NET. Additionally, extensive validation done by subject matter experts from Texas business and industry through the Common Language Project. DWA statements in the O*NET were developed by Industrial & Organizational Psychologists and Labor Market Economists based on: a) desktop reviews of predecessor occupational taxonomies (e.g., the Dictionary of Occupational Titles and operational definitions used in the Occupational Employment Survey); and b) widely used job classifications, position descriptions and performance measures (e.g., federal civil service under the Office of Personnel and Management and major employers). Because the nature of work changes over time, DWA statements are reviewed and updated periodically based on observations of occupational worker samples’ on-the-job actions coupled with analyses of human resource documents and interviews with incumbent workers and their supervisors.

Researchers from many disciplines focus on DWAs as the key unit of analysis at a variety of intersections between talent supply and employment demand. In the O*NET data structure, they are more granular than highly abstract General Work Activities and Intermediate Work Activities. On the other hand, they are not as specific as: a) tasks/subtasks which exhibit wider variation in establish-level daily assignments; or b) tools and technologies where diffusion and uptake are disrupted by a dominant vendor’s releases of a new version or rival brands’ sudden market penetration.

DWAs provide a high resolution picture of workplace operations. They are sufficiently abstract to apply to more than one occupation in a job family – even if related jobs cut across several industries. That breadth facilitates analysis of transferable skills and career progressions – whether laterally into adjacent occupations or upwardly along an empirically definable pathway. That level of abstraction also gives DWAs a sufficiently long shelf-life to facilitate longitudinal analysis of patterns in: a) skill obsolescence or market value decay/depreciation (separate from fads and fluctuations in specific tool adoptions); b) the blending and mixing of skills as hybrid jobs evolve in the face of automation, offshoring, “leaner” management; and c) the emergence of new skill requirements as disruptive technologies or market conditions create new occupations.

Currently there are more than 2,700 DWAs in the working copy used in various analyses being done by the C4EO and affiliates. However, the world of work is not static. Disruptive technologies and new business models change the way workers’ time and effort are organized for optimum productivity and competitive advantage. Some DWAs can be “deactivated” (although preserved rather than purged from the library for continuity in longitudinal analysis). Others can be reworded for more precise, transparent meaning or as they are repurposed in evolving and hybrid contexts. And the need to draft and validate new DWAs accelerates with the pace of innovation and diffusion.

A wide variety of source materials can be tapped to spot commonalities in workplace behaviors that can be grouped inductively and expressed as new DWAs that strike a balance between abstraction and granularity. The Department of Labor underwrites ongoing development of the O*NET database on cycle which regularly rotates through industries and occupations as well as when prompted by special circumstances necessitating urgent off-cycle case studies.