Portability of Technical Skills Across Occupations

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Virginia Tech


In the literature, much has been reported about skill shortages in the labor market and many solutions have been suggested but most of them do not appear to work well for developing countries. This study investigated the place of portable technical skills as an option for addressing skill shortages, particularly in developing countries. The objective of the study was to determine whether different occupations have portable technical skills, which graduates of workforce development programs can carry with them as they transfer from one occupation to another. Although in the literature the importance of portable skills has been recognized, research has tended to focus on the portability of soft skills such as communication and problem-solving. This study is unique in that in addition to soft skills, it explores the existence and usefulness of portable technical skills such as maintenance of equipment and use of hand tools.

The study methodology comprised analysis of documents followed by focus group discussions with instructors and employers. The researcher examined competency lists drawn from three different occupational clusters, taking three occupations in each cluster. Analysis of correlation between pairs of occupations in each cluster revealed the existence of portable technical skills within occupational clusters. For example, within the Mechanical Engineering cluster, there were 504 technical skills that Fitting and Machining had in common. Furthermore, the study discovered 152 technical skills that were portable across all the occupations in the sample.

According to an instructors' focus group, one of the pedagogical implications of the findings of this study was that training institutions could promote inter-disciplinary collaboration through joint preparation of syllabi and team-teaching.

An employers' focus group confirmed that portable technical skills have long been used effectively and efficiently in the Informal Micro-Enterprise sector and training providers should, therefore, promote the teaching of portable technical skills with special emphases on entrepreneurship development to make students more flexible in their career development.

In addition to policy recommendations for the promotion of portable technical skills, the study recommends that further studies should be done to determine the full extent of portable technical skills across a wider range of occupations.



Portable skills, Technical and vocational education and training, Multiskilling, Apprenticeship, Competence