< Lessons

Basic work competencies

Basic work competencies ie., the person's characteristic ways of working, processing information and viewing the world guide all educational, occupational and job specific competencies. They develop earlier and are more stable in time. They also provide a roadmap to new competencies evolving from the disruption of work.

Competency pyramid

Individuals can be viewed with three levels of competencies arranged in a pyramid-like form. At the peak are JOB SPECIFIC competencies developing from work experience, eg., the planning of bridges in urban environments. Job specific competencies are built upon EDUCATIONAL-OCCUPATIONAL competencies deriving from formal education. In the engineer's case this would be the general skill of planning bridge structures. The pyramid's base, providing a guiding thread to the "upper" competencies, is composed of BASIC COMPETENCIES, the individual's characteristic ways of working, processing information and viewing the world. They develop earlier, are more stable in time and thus guide all educational, occupational and job specific.

If the engineer would move to planning bridges in rural environments, he/she probably continues to work according to his/her basic competencies. The engineer's competence may be phrased as a "quality oriented way (basic competency) of planning bridges (educational-occupational) to urban and rural environments" (job specific).

But where do the basic competencies then come from? They derive from individual motivations, ways of thinking and attitudes which develop earlier in life and are slower to change. They fuel and give direction to all current and new educational, occupational and job specific competencies. As descriptors of characteristic ways of working and handling information basic competencies also guide people less aware of the formers' contents (eg., young people) toward personally suitable directions.


Competency pyramid
The steering quality of basic competencies becomes more important as the disruption of competency requirements at work gains in speed. Occupations and jobs change and the pyramid's upper parts have to be renovated or rebuilt from time to time. However, basic competencies change more slowly. They provide direction both to occupational and job specific competencies throughout one's work career. The engineer can make use of his/her basic competencies in learning a new or changed job. The relative stability and transferability of basic competencies makes them a platform for lifelong learning.

Different meta-skills eg., learning to learn, problem solving, critical thinking, "emotional intelligence", etc., are often offered as cures to the current disruption of occupations and jobs. However, as solutions such buzzwords so favored by policy planners remain overly round, abstract and academic. Instead, basic competencies deployed in real-world recruitment offer a tangible and to the lay person understandable set of concepts. What is more, by virtue of their deriving from personal motivations, ways of thinking and attitudes, basic competencies create a sense of ownership necessary for initiating self-performed career planning.

Basic competencies at work

Basic competencies are fourteen competent ways of performing independent action, leadership, collaboration, information processing and viewing the world and oneself, see figure below. In career guidance they are expressed in form of 20 easily relatable "competency figures", see Self-performed career planning. Basic work competencies are driven, fueled and given direction by the individual's motivations, ways of thinking and attitudes.

Basic competencies serve at the same time as descriptors of people and jobs. All jobs can be profiled according to the same basic competencies. A job may be appraised for its emphasis on high quality vs. sizeable results. People are in turn matched to the job by determining whether he/she tends to eg., seek for high quality vs. "big" results.

Basic competencies

Basic competencies

Teams and occupational groups

In addition to individuals and jobs, basic competencies can also be used in describing teams or occupational groups. Teams can be examined as collective competence units by calculating the average of all team members’ competency drivers. They can be described by broad competencies such as quality vs. results seeking units or, as units capitalizing on existing processes vs. creating of new processes. Teams can also be described with more detailed, narrower competencies such as units with poor-strong communication or service provision. In our studies we have collected driver averages of occupational groups from used car salesmen to classical ballet dancers. Occupational competency profiles coincide astonishingly well with existing stereotypes.

Psychological drivers

What then is the ultimate powerhouse and direction giver for the basic competencies ? Basic competencies are guided by very slowly changing psychological structures and processes. Extensive longitudinal research has indicated remarkable stability for personality factors from early childhood to old age (Roberts & DelVecchio, 2000). The psychological drivers are also age-old processes slow to change even along evolution. Human motivations, ways of thinking and attitudes have indeed remained unchanged throughout societal and technological changes. The exact same drivers have steered competence subscribed by societies in different times.

David McClelland dares to explain the economic performance of whole societies from their levels of achievement motivation (McClelland, 1961). The undeniably bold and controversial studies were not limited to modern industrial societies but were extended to Pre-Incan civilizations, even to the Minoan culture dating back to the Bronze age (Davies, 1969). Therefore, one might argue that the competency drivers of hunters, gatherers and shamans of Stone age are the same motivations, ways of thinking and attitudes that drive behavior and competence of people today.

Motivations - drivers of goal-oriented action

Achievement, leadership and interaction motivations are the drivers of independent action, leadership and collaboration at work. The picture of the individual becomes more specified with attention to the underlying single motives. Single motives indicate for example whether the person wants to excel in independent activities (achievement motivation) primarily by seeking high quality vs. sizeable results. Whether the person wants to lead (leadership motivation) others' behavior vs. thoughts and whether the individual wants to collaborate with others (interaction motivation) by communicating, advising or listening to others.

Ways of thinking - drivers of information processing

Individual ways of thinking in turn function as drivers of information processing, ie., planning and problem solving. The processing of information is quickly growing in importance as robots and algoritms take over the "doing" of things. Planning and problem solving involves capitalizing on existing, proven processes or creating new processes. People tend to tilt toward either process both of which are of equal value, depending on each specific job. The picture of planning and problem solving becomes more specified with attention to its four consecutive steps from approaching the plan or problem to implementing solutions.

Attitudes - drivers of viewing

Attitudes serve as drivers of viewing things. Most important is the person's attitude toward the environmental ambiguity and change. This indicates whether the person feels more at home in Stable, consistency providing work environments or in Mobile, variety and novelty providing work environments. Other important viewings include success expectancies driven by optimism and reflection upon one's own ethical and moral conduct.

Ownership of competence

The most important value of basic competencies is in the self direction that they create in people. They are not fashionable, externally offered superqualities but are based on peoples personal motivations, ways of thinking and attitudes. Therefore, they create a sense of ownership which is necessary for kicking off personified and self-performed competence development. Everyone can begin developing his/her competence based on one's "own appetite".

Davies, E. (1969). This is the way Crete went - not with a bang but a simper. Psychology Today, 3: Jun-Nov, 43-47.
McClelland, D. C. (1961/2010). The Achieving Society. Van Nostrand/Free Press: NY.
McClelland, D.C. (1973). Testing for competence rather than for intelligence. American Psychologist, 28, 1-14.
Roberts, B.W. & DelVecchio, W.F. (2000). The rank-order consistency of personality traits from childhood to old age: A quantitative review of longitudinal studies. Psychological Bulletin, 126(1):3-25.


Helsinki (HQ)

Competence Dimensions Ltd


GMT +3:00 - ± 1:00