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Skills Culture SM
Introduction .................................................................................................................................................. 2
Skills Culture.............................................................................................................................................. 2
Skills Are the Verb of Knowledge .............................................................................................................. 3
How Long Does It Take to Learn a Skill? ................................................................................................... 5
Why Think Skills ........................................................................................................................................ 7
Get Ahead with a Mentor ......................................................................................................................... 9
Why Skills Culture ....................................................................................................................................... 11
Skills Culture is a Growth Mindset .......................................................................................................... 11
Skills Culture Could Help with High School Engagement ........................................................................ 12
Skills Matter Why We Need to Build Higher Level Basic Skills................................................................ 14
How You Learn A Skill Does Not Matter ................................................................................................. 17
Hire Character Hire Skill Train Skill.......................................................................................................... 19
Track Skills and Their Methods and Applications ................................................................................... 20
Application .................................................................................................................................................. 21
Forecast Hire and Train Based on Skills .................................................................................................. 21
How We Respond to High Demand Skills................................................................................................ 23
Should We Drill Through Foundational Thinking and Social Skills? ........................................................ 26
Root Causes of the Skills Gap .................................................................................................................. 27
Education ............................................................................................................................................ 27
Alternatives to Higher Education ........................................................................................................ 28
Higher Education................................................................................................................................. 28
Professional ......................................................................................................................................... 29
Project Based Learning ........................................................................................................................... 30
Where Superintendents Stand on Key Issues ......................................................................................... 32
Workforce Strategy Focuses on Skills ..................................................................................................... 33
Appendix 1 – Join Skills Culture Community ............................................................................................... 35
Appendix 2- Skills Quotes ........................................................................................................................... 36
Appendix 3 – Skills Applications Working Together ................................................................................... 37

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Skills Culture

In part, I thought of Skills Culture as a rip from Talent Culture – a website I have been following
for years. Talent Culture is an edgy, smart concept based on career, leadership, and workplace
advice directed towards sophisticated white-collar workers. But whenever I hear the word
talent, I find a way to pit talent versus skills – in conflict with each other. Rationally, I
understand they tend to work together. But this got me thinking of a Skills Culture as a growth
mindset to learning, something to rally practitioners and learners around and a philosophy to
support the skills applications I have been working on for the past eight years.

To understand Skills Culture, you must agree to three premises: 1) consider a broad
interpretation of skills not limited to technical ones; 2) agree it is possible to define all learning
in skills, their underlying methods and applications, and competencies; and 3) acquiring skills is
for not only job or career preparedness, but also to make life more meaningful. So, a person
builds a strong foundation in thinking skills and other transferable skills which serves as the
basis for learning technical skills. And tracks soft skills like any other skill; their importance
cannot be understated as they are applied in our every interaction and cannot be easily

So, a Skills Culture is about learning new skills for personal or professional motivations. With a
Skills Culture, there is no reason why you do not give learning a skill a chance.

Here are some other key aspects of a “Skills Culture”:

• Working with talents involves a fixed mindset: “I have these talents, so this is what I
should be doing”. Working with skills involves a growth mindset: “I want to try this skill.
If I put the time and deliberate practice toward learning the skill, there is a good chance
I will be successful”.
• Put a list of talents next to a list of skills, there is considerable overlap between the
actual names. It is all about the connotation. Talents are natural abilities. Skills are
acquired through experiences.

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• Dealing with skills and competencies, and underlying methods and applications is more
precise than talking about talents.
• A talented professional is also a master of related skills. Someone who has talent
gravitates towards learning related skills; it makes sense.
• Everyone acquires skills regardless of their education, job or profession. A Skills Culture
(as a mindset) is useful for anyone, regardless of their class or education / career stage.

Skills Are the Verb of Knowledge

Looking up the definition of knowledge in Google returns the following:

“skills and facts and information acquired through experiences; a practical
understanding of a subject matter”.

Let’s concentrate on the first clause and the last word: experiences. We learn through
experiences; this is where we apply skills and practice their underlying methods and
applications. Experiences happen all the time, while we work, learn, and play. Skills define how
we think, converse, listen, write, solve problems, debate, create, design, engineer, play, etc.

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Skills are the foundation of learning and more broadly intersects all aspects of life. In all
circumstances there is an opportunity to apply skills. To illustrate, here are a few examples
where a professional learns new skills not in their discipline:

Say you are asked to create a graphic for a website and you have no graphic design experience.
To get the graphic, you might: rip or buy a stock graphic off the internet – spend 10 minutes,
hack your way through creating one quickly – spend 30 minutes, or learn the skill of using
Adobe Photoshop by watching a few tutorials and practicing methods – spend 3 to 5 hours. If
you choose the last option, you produce something authentic, might discover interest in a
technical skill (graphic design), and build transferrable skills (‘attention to detail’ and ‘following

Say you are asked to take the lead on an upcoming project. You can respond by simply
accepting the project and essentially ‘do your best’ or proactively take the time to learn the
required skills: project management, teamwork, verbal presentation, supervision and
leadership. There also might be a project management technology. Taking the investment in
building the skills increases the chance of success, which means being asked for future lead

Say you designed and created an application and are asked to pitch it to a potential client. You
could go to the meeting and try to make the deal based on your personality. You could also
spend time learning the skills behind sales: negotiation, persuasion, and presenting. Take a
MOOC, watch a YouTube video, or buy a book on the art of negotiation. The investment pays
off by increasing your chances of success at the pitch and gives you some skill expertise to
continue building on in the future.

Skills act as the ‘verb’ in knowledge; it is the action part. Arguably, this becomes the biggest
factor because we are already seeing technology augmenting our ability to retrieve facts and

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How Long Does It Take to Learn a Skill?

A Skills Culture is about committing to learn and apply skills properly. As I rally practitioners and
learners around this mindset, important questions someone might ask are: How long does it
take to learn a skill? How long is the commitment? These are good questions for someone who
is expected to spend time and resources towards learning a skill.

Before getting into the details, it is worth defining the commitment - a central premise behind
Skills Culture:

You commit to learning a skill each step of the way. This could be on a project or even a task
level. You might learn a skill for your own personal needs or wants, what’s needed for a project
or job, or what’s needed for a career. Regardless, you do not have to become a master of the
skill. (If it is not required learning) pivot into learning other skills if you are unsuccessful or do
not want to continue.

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In this way, a Skills Culture is a growth mindset. Someone learning a new skill is not hampered
with a preconception that they must become an expert, but rather remains in control of their
learning experience. And that initial motivation is there. Most people believe they can learn a
new skill if they put in the necessary time and effort.

The biggest factor in the time it takes to learn a skill is a desired level of expertise. Do you want
to become a master? One benchmark is 10,000 hours to master a skill. This translates to about
9 years (consider 5 days a week, spending 4 hours a day).

Do you need it for a project? Do you want to explore a personal interest? One article says it can
take 20 hours to learn a skill “to perform well enough for your own purposes.” I think this 20-
hour threshold for acquiring skills fits well with a Skills Culture. Josh Kaufman sums the
sentiment well, “The idea of ‘mastering’ a skill when you’re just getting started is
counterproductive: it can be a significant barrier to exploring a new skill in the first place.”

But basing a skill competency solely on time has problems. Someone with abilities or talents
seemingly masters skills faster than someone without them and should also be able to
complete more difficult tasks. Skills Label is ideal system to track the development of skills. Skill
Points measure learning gains in tasks. They are calculated by a proprietary algorithm within
the Skills Label framework. Over a period, the sum of Skill Points determines how far along a
person is in developing a skill. If a person gets 1,000,000 points, then he or she has mastered
the skill; but of course, this still takes a long time to accomplish.

Skill Points is based on several factors, including time. So, someone with more ability or talent
can skip to more challenging tasks and get credit for them – essentially moving up on the
learning curve.

Skills Label is also a great way for learners to choose what tasks they want to work on. Each
learning label is shown on a tiled dashboard where all the information is present to make a ROI
decision to consume a resource. The investment values are time and cost. The return value is
Skill Points.

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Why Think Skills

In a recent article, LinkedIn disclosed they had a database of 45,000 skills. A few years back, I
searched and got my hands on an unscrubbed database of skills. It had about 4,500 skills. Since
then, I have been rebuilding the database to add definitions and categories and build a search.
The database feeds each of the skills applications: Skills Based Approach℠, Skills Label™, Skill
Syllabi℠ and Skills CultureSM. Building the database of skills is a never-ending process as new
skills are added all the time. These are the different types of skills:

Technical skills are what most people think of when talking about skills. They are unique to a
subject or discipline, which we apply in a career and sometimes work towards mastery in. Of
course, this type of skill holds the largest share, has the newest skills added, and has the biggest
swings in demand for related skills.

Transferable skills transcend across disciplines and subjects. These skills are becoming
increasingly important as workers are changing careers more frequently. Building competencies
with these skills makes it easier to fill skill gaps when pivoting into another career.

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Soft skills are communication and interpersonal skills and behaviors. Like any other skill, we
deliberately practice them in our experiences. Many significant practitioners (leaders and
managers too), are saying soft skills have more of an impact on success than technical skills. (I
am a big fan of Travis Bradberry’s work on emotional intelligence.)

Thinking skills are the foundation of learning gained from education and higher education.
With proper thinking skills, many of the technical and transferable skills can be learned. Some
thinking skills include: critical, computational, creative (novel), rational, analytical, convergent,
and divergent. Thinking skills also make life more meaningful and allow for persons to interpret
arts and the humanities. (In his book) Derrick Bok says: “professors almost unanimously agree
teaching students to think critically is the benchmark of higher education”. Finally, thinking
skills do not change much so it is critical is to understand the methods and application behind

Art skills are those related to arts and the humanities. There is a lot of skill required to become
an expert in these fields. Some is acquired through application and some through natural talent
or inspiration. Skills are also needed in the interpretation of arts and humanities. I understand
the slight change from STEM to STEAM, a worthy addendum.

Why should we be thinking in skills for lifelong learning and preparing our future workforce?

• Occupations or specialties are changing too fast: “The most in-demand occupations or
specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago, and the pace of change is set to
accelerate.” The Future of Jobs – World Economic Forum
• Skills are tangible, something to talk about. They are: definable, standardized, portable,
searchable, measurable, and flexible.
• Skills are the ‘verb’ in knowledge – the action part. They are the underlying foundation
of all learning.
• Displacement of jobs due to automation and AI. We need to build skills unique to
human capabilities and identify and acquire skills that complement these new

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technologies. “Everything that can be automated will be automated.” (Pew Research
Digital Life in 2025)

Get Ahead with a Mentor

Fortunate to have had two tremendous mentors in my life, I feel compelled to share my stories
and promote mentorships.

I believe all students and professionals benefit from a mentor, regardless of their field or
discipline. When I first conceived Skills Based Approach (in 2011), I put mentorships squarely in
the building stage. In A Skills Based Approach to Developing a Career, I dedicate a section to
discuss how mentorships work with acquiring skills. I am convinced for many technical skills,
learning from a mentor is the quickest, most effective way. You learn from a master who shares
their methods and applications.

I performed well my senior year in college but lacked vision of what I wanted to do with my
career. All I knew is that I wanted to design software applications. From a small country liberal
arts college, I landed a job in DC with a culturally sophisticated company. Initially, I reviewed
financials, did data entry, and completed other tedious tasks – not uncommon for first and
second year workers; still it was drudgery. After a few months, I got a mentor – someone I have
always had tremendous respect for. Together, we worked on an exciting new, innovative

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software application. In the end, we were successful – our client was extremely satisfied with
our product for many years.

In this situation, I was empowered. I still use many of the same methods (coding style, file
management, etc.) passed on to me from this experience. He was true; I appreciated clear,
honest, and candid conversations. Personally, I met a chief advocate. In return, I worked
extremely hard, made suggestions, and offered my friendship. I accelerated my software
application skills by a couple of years and my soft skills improved; I became confident working
with brilliant people.

In another mentorship, I had a job-sharing role with someone diagnosed with terminal cancer.
This was a challenge personally and professionally. He was a gifted, late career software
developer who built an application from scratch and constructed a process to distribute it on
CDs across the country. In about a year, he taught me the process, step by step until I could do
it on my own.

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I learned coding skills from a master and how to mass distribute a software application. But,
more importantly, I learned to work with someone dealt with unfortunate circumstances,
someone who invested much of his limited time working on this application. I learned respect.

Why Skills Culture
Skills Culture is a Growth Mindset

Most people believe they can learn a skill if they put in the necessary time and effort (according
to a survey in A Skills Based Approach to Developing a Career). And this is apparent in everyday
life; people are willing to give learning a skill a try.

One example is learning skills in sports. Players are willing to build their skills in practice for
their own growth and for the team. Some improve marginally, others improve immensely;
some play just for the season, others for the rest of their lives. Regardless, over a specified
period, all players commit to learning skills.

Passions may influence what skills a person samples and works on. Within the context of a Skills
Culture, an HBR article sums this up well: “They (passions) can be developed with involvement
and persistence”. Again, this alludes to the premise people inherently believe they can learn
skills. If a person is unsuccessful developing skills behind a passion, they pivot into something
else with an evolving skill set.

I say over emphasizing abilities, talents, and passions fosters a fixed mindset. People feel they
must identify these elements, and rigidly plan and build a career around them. The problems
are: what if a person does not have one; what if a person has no interest in a talent or ability; or
what if outside influences or environmental factors do not let a person develop them.

On the other hand, thinking in skills is a growth mindset. People develop skills where they learn
what they need for personal, work, or career purposes. And this is an important distinction of a
Skills Culture: people do not have to become a master to learn a new skill, but rather go as far
as they want or need to.

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Part of a Skills Culture is an inherent responsibility to learn any new skill on an ad hoc basis
(what I call the ‘Agile Worker’). Many positions require the application of multidisciplinary skills.
For example, an accountant might be asked to do programming, or a teacher might be asked to
do graphic design. Adding breadth to a skill set expands a person’s perspectives. According the
same HBR article mentioned above: “(A growth mindset) may expand people’s interest
repertoire, which perhaps can be helpful for making connections across areas and generating
novel ideas”.

Finally, a Skills Culture is a determination to apply skills properly in every experience (work,
learn, and play). This is a ‘can do’ attitude.

Skills Culture Could Help with High School Engagement

Student engagement dramatically falls from middle school to high school. According to a
massive survey of US and Canadian students, Gallup found almost ‘three quarters of all
surveyed fifth-grade students’ are engaged, while only ‘one-third of surveyed students in 10th,
11th and 12th grades are engaged”.

High schoolers are growing outside of the classroom, participating in sports, making friendships,
and exploring interests, so school seems unappealing, too structured. But shouldn’t the
percentage of engaged students remain somewhat stable from middle school to high school?

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I understand the high school model does not work for all students and does not have to. Some
students have already started to align themselves with a skilled trade and might never get
engaged in high school. For example, a programmer/ hacker who does a lot of coding in his or
her free time still secures a future career (moreover, the standard high school program still lags
what is offered in extracurricular activities related to programming).

Why are students become so disengaged when learning becomes so critical to their future
success, when they must make mature decisions of what skills they need and how to acquire
and them?

Something I have been proposing for years: teenage students get self and socially aware. They
are impressionable and after high school make one of the biggest decisions of their life. (In the
context of Skills Based Approach, during the planning stage, students identify an evolving set of
skills and an action plan to acquire them.)

There is considerable growth in resources to identify personal learning and career tracks. One
type is a game or VR to simulate actual experiences. Knack is making considerable headway in
this area. Another type is to collect data/content from your everyday experiences (big data) and
then crunch out the analytics. A teenager using FitBit devices might identify behaviors or
tendencies worth developing. Or a teenager might analyze their posts in social media to identify
personality traits (FiveLabs).

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Gallup identifies six ways to keep kids excited about school: create hope; foster talent; care a
lot; recognize creative teachers and teaching; have fun; and model engagement. Self-discovery
is one step forward. Personalized, adaptive learning is another step forward. Competency
based learning removes a ‘seat time’ contingency and allows for underperforming students to
get more help, average students choose how much time to spend learning, and overachieving
students move on when ready. Games, VR, and experiential learning is a leap forward. This is
what is going to make learning fun.

These poor engagement numbers bother me as I feel lifelong learning is the best way to
achieve (career) happiness. High school is one time in a person’s life dedicated to learning,
exploration, and personal and social growth. With such an investment, seems wasteful to have
two-thirds of students not engaged at school. Skills Culture is a mindset where students are
motivated to learn and apply skills, perhaps one lens to help improve these low engagement

Skills Matter Why We Need to Build Higher Level Basic Skills

In a recent survey, The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD)
asked the question: “Time for the U.S. to Reskill?” and the answer was a resounding:
“Yes”. Basic skills (literacy, numeracy, and problem solving) matter and we need to invest in an
infrastructure that transcends across high school, higher education, and professional and career
development to achieve higher level competencies. Using skills as a language to bridge learning
expectations across education and career stages has been something I have proposed for a
while now and one of the central premises behind Skills-Based Approach.

The survey has many interesting distinctions regarding reskilling our workforce. Here are a few
of them.

“Sixty-three percent of low-skilled adults in the U.S. are employed”. So, job training and
learning is possible and there are proper incentives to do so (reward for basic skills is higher in
the US than other countries) and “an intervention should yield lifetime returns”.

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Whenever possible, employers must invest in learning and career development programs for
their workers; employers have the resources (funding), captive audience (workers), and applied
knowledge (mentors) to do so. In addition, employers should take preemptive action with
education institutions and the community to support building skills needed for their future

U.S. lags on both tails of basics skills measurement – a higher rate for low basic skills and lower
rate for high basic skills. For example, on the low end, ‘one in three adults have weak numeracy
skills’ in this U.S. compared to ‘one in five’ for the cross-country average. And, on the high end,
‘8 percent of adults scored the highest level’ in the U.S. compared to a ’13 percent cross-
country’ average.

The U.S. has a large, diverse population. Immigrants represent a large portion of the low basic
skill adults, so low literacy rates are expected. But still, with such varying results across
countries, education systems and learning cultures do influence the outcome of acquiring basic
skills. There are reasons why Finland, Japan, and Germany score higher on standardized tests
like PISA. Perhaps the applied learning and apprenticeships Europe has fostered for the past
hundreds of years makes sense. Here in the U.S., we are now seeing growth in this type of
learning as an alternative to higher education programs.

Seven policy recommendations from the survey include:

• A concerted effort is needed to address the skills challenge because ‘skills matter’ and
US ‘will progressively fall behind other countries’.
• ‘Substantial improvements’ are needed in initial schooling, with ‘adequate standards’.
The US has a young population, there is evidence from PISA of gaps in current schooling,
and interventions have been proven to be successful.
• Effective ‘learning pathways’ are needed for young adults leaving high school. US
already has an extensive higher education system, but there can be improvements. In
addition, we are experiencing growth in micro-credential and certification paths.

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• Programs to address basic skills must be linked to ‘employability’. If you take an
assessment and demonstrate a competency, then you will be employed doing this type
of work.
• Adult learning programs should be adapted to ‘diverse needs’, and ‘effectively
• Awareness of basic skill challenges must increase. Educators need to find gaps in the
system. Employers and community organizations need to forecast and plan for future
skill demand and competency requirements.
• Actions should be well-supported with evidence.

Skills-Based Approach is a methodology and platform to address many of these
recommendations. In the Skills-Based Approach application, users track their skill set and move
through stages constantly throughout their lifetime. It suggests personalized, adaptive, and

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lifelong learning. Users tap into employability and career pathways as they mature. They may
plan for careers five years in advance while working in short discrete tasks throughout their
education. Users can pivot or respond to external (changing demand for skills) and internal
(success, progress, or failure in acquiring skills) factors. With a Skills Culture, students and
practitioners directly target acquiring and applying skills.

How You Learn A Skill Does Not Matter

There was a recent NY Times article with a story about how someone without a formal
education who got hired by IBM as a technician. This illustrates something I have been
advocating for years: for most jobs, it does not matter how you acquire the necessary skills so
“if you can prove your skill levels with an assessment and / or demonstration, then you deserve
to get hired for a job”.

Here is a list of top skills for 2017 (according to LinkedIn):

• Cloud and distributed computing
• Statistical analysis and data mining
• Mobile development
• Storage systems and management
• User interface design
• Network information security
• Middleware and integration software
• Web architecture and development
• Algorithm design
• Java development

These are the most in demand skills, yet each of them can be learned through self-guided
learning or alternatives to a four-year college degree. Moreover, these skills can be learned for
free, in a series of Coursera MOOCs called ‘specializations’ (courses are free with a nominal fee
for the certificate).

(From my personal experiences) I think many of these skills can be learned through reading
books, watching videos, and downloading examples, and then tinkering with applying the

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concepts. For example, I learned the skill of ‘web architecture and development’ through this
process. (I have over ten years of experience developing web applications.)

I think an apprenticeship / mentorship program is an ideal way to learn many of these technical
skills. If you are lucky (like I have been twice in my career), you land a mentor who is a master
of his skills and wants to pass them onto you. For computer and network technicians, an
apprenticeship is optimal; for a java, mobile or web developer, a short bootcamp and then
applied learning with a mentor is ideal.

A Skills Culture is a growth mindset to be motivated and acting to learn and apply skills. It does
not always matter how you learn the skills; though, it does matter how you apply them – the
underlying methods. To conclude, from the above-mentioned article:

“Elevating skills over pedigree creates new pathways”

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Hire Character Hire Skill Train Skill

When I first heard the phrase: “Hire Character. Train Skill.” I protested, not because of the
character statement but rather the skill statement. The intention is to emphasize character over
skill in hiring. But I think someone who has mastered his or her skills deserves commendation
(getting hired). Skills have a human element, especially when you start to talk about ‘soft skills’
and behaviors and analytical thinking skills, both of which are extremely hard to automate.

I got in a social quagmire trying to express my point of view as many argued hiring is all about
character. So, I thought it was worth further exploration.

Hire Character. I understand you hire someone based on character. You always evaluate
someone for sound character. The evaluation differs based on the type of role this person plays
in your organization. A leader, manager, or someone in HR must have exceptional character.
They are interfacing with your workers and lead by example. The bar for programmers might be
lower – it is a highly technical skilled job with less interface with the team. (If an employee does
not lie, cheat, or steal and has the skills, then they perform well and do not hurt the company.)

The type of company matters too; perhaps this is where the promotion versus prevention
relationship comes into play. If a company is in marketing, branding, or hospitality, character is
measured not only internally, but also externally by clients and the public in general; in a way, a
company promotes the character of its employees. A software company hires engineers based
on whether they can immediately start contributing; a company wants to prevent poor
character from harming the normal flow of business.

Hire Skill. I think you hire based on skills. These candidates have already put the time, expense,
and dedication to properly learn a set of skills. You have candidates prove they have the skills
by demonstration and /or assessments. Furthermore, in applying, candidates signal they know
what it takes to apply the skills and they want to move forward in learning them. In addition,
you should assess the soft skills (non-technical, and subtle skills) that represent your company

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Train Skill. I believe in a growth mindset, where a student or professional feels motivated to
acquire skills if they put in the necessary time and effort; part of a skills culture. Therefore, if a
company is willing to pick up the expense (time, money, and resources), then they should be
able to teach the necessary skills. However, there will be variances in the expenses and
motivation levels of new hires. There is no guarantee a new hire sticks through the process.

So, all I did was insert “hire skill” into the phrase ahead of “train skill”.

Track Skills and Their Methods and Applications

I have been working on tracking skills in applications for eight years now, and I am convinced
we need to get a level deeper by tracking the imparting of methods (represented as a
framework) and applications (technology or specific use) in applying skills. Much of this is done
implicitly (as teacher’s and experts know the methods they are teaching), but let’s make it
explicit by tracking what methods students and young professionals are learning.

Four big reasons why:

1. Basis to understand a competency. There is not much value in saying: “I have been
applying critical thinking for ten years.” But if you can say: “I induce, deduce, verify and
summarize when I solve a problem. Give me one and I will show you.” Then,
demonstrate. There is context.
2. Move forward in learning a skill. Some skills, like ones related to communication, you
learn throughout your life. The methods you apply gradually become more
3. Signal chosen methods and applications. Some technical skills are extremely broad and
do not mean much on their own. For example, someone applies the skill of ‘Economic
Analysis’ in many ways. Or a web designer chooses a scripting language ASP .Net, Java,
or PHP.
4. Situational application of skill. Different situations require different applications of skill.

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I have started to integrate ‘methods and applications’ into my suite of applications: Skills Based
Approach, Skill Syllabi, Skills Label and Skills Culture. These applications share a common
database and search engine.

Forecast Hire and Train Based on Skills

I think companies should forecast their future workforce on skills, hire based on skills, and
adopt a learning culture based on skills. Why think in skills?

• Occupation or specialties are changing too fast: “The most in-demand occupations or
specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago, and the pace of change is set to
accelerate.” The Future of Jobs – World Economic Forum
• Skills are tangible, something to talk about. They are definable, standardized,
portable, searchable, measurable, and flexible.

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• Displacement of jobs due to automation and AI. Need to build skills unique to human
capabilities. Identify and acquire skills that complement these new technologies.
“Everything that can be automated will be automated.” (Pew Research Digital Life in
• Evaluating resumes is outdated and does not make sense with the technologies
accessible to us. Here is how you should hire based on skills:
o Measure precisely with assessments. Create your own problem sets, based on
your own set of rubrics.
o Use third-party solutions. CLA + to measure critical thinking and problem-
solving skills of a college graduate. Knack provides online games to measure
o Draw your own conclusions on demonstrable results (projects or coursework).
o Role play. Create a script or project. Use bars to measure specific behaviors
and skills.
o Create your own online or video game. Simulate actual experiences.

Much of the discussion in The Future of Jobs Report published by the World Economic Forum
backs up my assertion that we should be thinking in skill for workforce development.

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How We Respond to High Demand Skills

I find it interesting how we respond to publications related to top in-demand skills needed to be
successful. I immediately think: Should we target acquiring the necessary skill competencies
directly? Should we simply assume going to college gets me the skills? No, I think we should
create ‘learning plans’ where learning is defined in skills and their underlying methods and

A pair of Gallup surveys published in 2014 identified employers as saying: (1) college graduates
do not have the skills businesses need; (2) and applied skill and knowledge are more important
than a college degree and its pedigree. And perhaps in response, per the World Economic
Forum ‘The Future of Jobs Report’, twenty-five percent of the respondents (senior talent and
strategy executive) say they will ‘collaborate (with) education institutions’ as part of their future
workforce strategy.

I think skills should be one big aspect of ‘learning paths’. These paths might be part of or a
complete four-year degree. Some colleges are moving in this direction by implementing
Competency Based Learning (“CBL”) programs; a TechCrunch article says colleges offering CBL
has grown from 50 to 500 programs this year. Generally, the concept behind a CBL program is
to allow students to work at their own pace and replace credit hours (seat time) with
competency levels. So, when they pass a test or project, they get credit and move on.

Learning paths might include micro-credentialism, fast, efficient, and direct paths to acquire
employability skills. Some types of these programs include: bootcamps, apprenticeships,
credential or license programs, etc.

Learning paths should be: self-directed, personalized and adaptive, linked to employability,
sequential for continued growth, and based on skills and underlying methods and applications.

There should be a stage when a student takes on the responsibility for their learning. I do not
suggest changing required courses in high school or a college degree. And I also think parents,
mentors, teachers, and counselors should have varying roles in providing necessary guidance.

pg. 23
But I think students should keep track of their learning more precisely, know their own
competencies, choose learning resources whenever possible, and supplement required learning
their own way. (Therefore, I think the Skills-Based Approach application should be in the hands
of every high school and college student.)

In a Pew Research survey, seventy-two percent of American adult workers say “a lot” of
responsibility falls on individuals to make sure that they have the right skills and education. So,
the question becomes at what age should a person take ‘driver’s education’ and later the
‘driver’s seat’ of their learning.

Applying personalized and adaptive learning helps students at all spectrums of capability:

• Underperforming students find other learning resources, perhaps in other media to
reach a desired competency. They might also get a more intense learning experience for
needed skills.
• Students in the ‘middle of the curve’ get the standard learning plan and then modify it
to accommodate their needs. The real value in this category is with the motivated
students. They choose how much time to dedicate to learning. An average student who
spends significant time learning a skill set gets employed faster and competes with less
focused students who have more ability.
• High performing students need to keep moving forward with their learning. A seat time
model makes less sense for these students. They become bored and distracted in the
classroom. For these students, it is about finding and putting them on their career track,
so they can start contributing with their brilliance. Making contributions in higher order
skilled professions take years of preparation.

Learning paths should link to employability. Students want contingencies after completing their
learning plan. They can think: ‘If I take these courses or pass this certification, I will be
employed with this career making a salary in this range’.

pg. 24
Lifelong learning is a requirement for most professions. According to Pew Research’s survey
The State of American Jobs, fifty-four and thirty-three percent of worker say ‘training/ skill
development throughout their work’ will be ‘essential’ and ‘important, but not essential’
respectively. Learning plans should have continuity, so students and professionals are always
working on their skills throughout their lifetime. This might involve working on the ‘depth of
their skills’, where you take a few skills and keep getting better at them – become a master.
This might involve working on the ‘breadth of their skills’, where you keep adding new skills to
your skill set.

Working with underlying methods and applications of a skill is one level deeper than what is
typically in practice. (My interpretation of the relationship is: skills are like atoms and the
methods and applications are like sub-atomic particles.) Anyways, I think with ‘learning paths’ it
is worth understanding the methods behind applying the skill.

Many of the foundational thinking skills are broad in scope. For example, with critical thinking,
there are many methods (Critical Thinking Techniques):

Proper use of evidence.

1. Organization of thoughts.
2. Use logic for appropriate inferences.
3. Hear, and process conflicting ideas.
4. Socratic/inquiry questioning.
5. Case-Based Reasoning.
6. Debate.
7. Cost-Benefit Analyses.
8. Summarizing a concept.

Thinking precisely with methods and techniques makes acquiring skills adaptive to rapidly
changing technologies. For example, with the technical skill of ‘Database Design’, I might use
the entrenched SQL relational database design or the upcoming NOSQL flat, ‘big data’

pg. 25
structure. There are ways users can create their own ‘learning plans’ within the Skills Based
Approach application.

Should We Drill Through Foundational Thinking and Social Skills?

I started to think about how drilling of skills in sports compares to how we drill skills on a
professional level. Should we be doing thinking and problem-solving drills and exercises
repeatedly to stay sharp? Should be so well versed in these skills they are ingrained into every
experience? This might be like on a soccer field, where you think of and then do a move on an
opponent almost instantaneously.

(Reflecting on my experience in soccer, I could usually think of one move, pull it off, and be
psyched. Or I would react to my opponents’ maneuvers. But I wish my moves were quicker,
sequential, and proactive.)

There are also all the social skills related to emotional intelligence (“EI”). According to Travis
Bradberry, the preeminent writer on EI, a person improves their EI with practice. Likewise,
should we learn skills like ‘active listening’ and ‘social perceptiveness’ through training and
preparation so it is ingrained in us? Applying skills becomes part of our behaviors.

The answers to these questions are rhetorical. Acquiring skills is the most important aspect of
education and learning programs for career success. It is just a matter of how much. One
example in comparing practicing sports and professional skills is the necessity of experiential
learning. Every experience is an opportunity to apply skills.

I usually separate talent and skills. Put them in competition with each other: talent versus skill.
Talent, to me, connotes an innate ability – something you are born with and cannot change
much. There is no denying someone who has talents and creates something; it seems like
magic. But thinking about talents can be discouraging: many of us fear trying something
because of our pre-conceived talents or feeling we must become a master to be successful.

pg. 26
Skill, on the other hand, is acquired. If you put the time and effort to practice a skill properly,
most people feel they can learn it. I do not disagree with a naysayer saying you may need some
talent to acquire skills. Still, I think it is like comparing a growth mindset (skills) with a fixed
mindset (talents).

The author of Think Better: An Innovator’s Guide to Productive Thinking came up with similar
conclusions about acquiring foundation thinking skills (a similar way we acquire skills in sports).
He sums up his philosophy in a catchy phrase: will, skill, and drill. You need to have the will – a
growth mindset. This is one critical element of my Skills Culture. Practice underlying methods
and applications to acquire skill. Finally, conscientiously drill through your thinking and social
skills in every experience.

Root Causes of the Skills Gap

I am going to share statistics and observations to illuminate the ‘Skills Gap’ problem, then
present why I think a Skills Culture is the mindset and Skills Based Approach the methodology /
application to tackle this and other problems related to lifelong learning.


In standard education, US students are behind in basic skills. U.S. lags on both tails of basics
skills measurement – higher rate for low basic skills and lower rate for high basic skills. – The
Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD): “Time for the U.S. to

There are improvements in Common Core; there will be more improvements. Only 18% of
teachers strongly agree that their resources were aligned with the standards (up from 9% in
2002). – thirty-nine percent of teachers feel “very prepared” to teach the standards (up 20
percentage points from 2002). -EdWeek article

pg. 27
Students in high school are not engaged. Almost ‘three quarters of all surveyed fifth-grade
students’ are engaged, while only ‘one-third of surveyed students in 10th, 11th and 12th grades
are engaged”. - Gallup Survey

Skills Based Approach is effective in track learning in skill in education; Common Core is largely
skills based. Skills Label is a resource to communicate and display what is being learned for any
task. Skills Culture might be a way to improve poor engagement in high schools as students play
a more active role and apply what they are learning.

Alternatives to Higher Education

The ‘other Skills Gap’ is about filling jobs not requiring a four-year degree. Over the next
couple of years, there will be a resurgence of ‘the new blue collar’ with over 2.5 million good-
paying jobs being added to the economy (representing nearly 40% of all job growth). - USA
News article

Skills Based Approach is useful for tracking learning in all these new age programs for learning –
bootcamps, micro credentials/nanodegrees, and traditional and emerging apprenticeships.

Higher Education

Employers are looking for applied skill when hiring. 84% ‘knowledge’ and 79% ‘applied skill’
are ‘very important’ in hiring decisions (compared to only 28% for ‘degree’ and 9% for ‘college
attended’) - Gallup Poll.

Employers say students do not have required skills. 33% disagree and 34% are neutral to the
statement higher education graduates have the skills my ‘business needs’ – Gallup Poll

Critical thinking is perhaps the single most important skill across disciplines and subjects. In
his book Underachieving Colleges, Derek Bok says: “It is impressive to find faculty members
agreeing almost unanimously that teaching students to think critically is the principal aim of
undergraduate education.”

pg. 28
Higher education institutions are not doing an adequate job getting students to improve
critical thinking. No statistically significant gain in critical thinking, complex reasoning, or
writing skills for at least 45 percent of students. – Academically Adrift

I refer to this disconnect: Squeeze on Higher Education . Skills Based Approach suggests
working with skills and competencies in higher education (applied learning) and tracking all the
learning that takes place in and out of the classroom. For skills like Critical Thinking, we need to
get a level deeper and understand the imparting of underlying methods and applications.


Employees lack the skills needed to do their job. In a survey of senior talent and strategy
executives around the work, the most important future workplace strategy of its respondents
(65%) is to ‘invest in reskilling current employers’. - Future of Jobs Survey conducted by World
Economic Forum

Workers existing skill sets are expiring faster.

From the perspective of the executives. The top two technologic drivers already
impacting employees’ skills. “mobile internet, cloud technology” (22%), “processing
power, Big data” (13%). - Future of Jobs

From the perspective of the workers. Fifty-four percent and thirty-three percent of
workers say training / skills development throughout their work will be “essential “and
“important, but not essential”. - Pew Research The State of American Jobs

Employers have a captive audience and incentive to train employees. “Sixty-three percent of
low-skilled adults in the U.S. are employed” and “an intervention should yield lifetime returns”.
- Future of Jobs

Occupation or specialties are changing too fast, require thinking in skills. “The most in-
demand occupations or specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago, and the pace of
change is set to accelerate.” The Future of Jobs

pg. 29
Workers are required to makes sure they are adequately prepared with skills. Seventy-two
percent of American adult workers say “a lot” of responsibility falls on individuals to make sure
that they have the right skills and education. - Pew Research

Skills Based Approach suggests working with an evolving skill set, so students and professional
constantly hone a skill set and remain relevant. It also suggests putting workers in the ‘driver seat’
of their learning. Finally, it is a platform for management and workers to negotiate training,
demonstrated competencies, and plan future growth (onboarding and performance reviews).

Project Based Learning

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion of project-based learning (PBL). I started to think
how project-based learning might work with Skills Based Approach and came up with a concept
shown in the diagram above. Essentially, it is a series of tasks with a decision tree.

pg. 30
Two disclaimers: 1) decision tree could (and should) be more substantive than two options (yes
or no); perhaps a scale with five options (1 – 5); 2) the tasking should be more personalized and
adaptive. This functionality is built into the Skills Label interface.

In this example, a professional is an entry to mid-level graphic designer starting a new position
with a company. From the view point of the company, the most important skill is creativity.
Though a self-learner with attention to detail also moves forward. A professional completes the
tasks and depending on the result moves along the tree.

There are two exit points (where the professional might consider mastering another skill): a
professional who is not: creative or a self-learner; and attentive to detail and adaptable (able
to receive feedback). In all other outcomes, a professional takes assessments and the company
assigns (and invests) in ways to improve skills.

I have been working with graphic designers for about ten years now, and I have completed
many of these tasks personally. The interpretation is grounded for this highly competitive,
creative discipline.

My understanding of project-based learning is to invest in a student or professional for a long
term, maybe two years or more. This involves identifying specific goals and outcomes and
working to achieve them over an extended period. A decision tree is an effective way to work
through planning and building skills (two of the stages of Skills Based Approach).

There should be an exit strategy (as shown in the example), and “room to groom” (extra time to
learn required skills). Overall, a competency-based learning (CBL) program is ideal; basing
results on reaching desired skill competencies (rather than seat time) saves on time and
expense. Also, with CBL, a participant who faces an exit pivots into something else based on
demonstrated skills.

pg. 31
Where Superintendents Stand on Key Issues

I was excited to read Gallup’s national survey of superintendents and how they are aligned on
key issues in K-12 education. Here are some insights from this Gallup report (Leadership
Perspectives on Public Education the Gallup 2018 Survey of K-12 School District

Like in higher education, high schools are increasingly playing an active role in ‘workforce
development’. A primary goal remains preparing students for higher education: two- and four-
year degrees. Although there is a recognition of alternatives: apprenticeships, boot camps,
micro credentials, and training programs. According to the survey, thirty-five percent of school
districts are partnering with employers who ‘recruit students directly out of high school into
full-time jobs’ and seventy-three percent of school districts are ‘partnering with area businesses
or institutions to help promote career and vocational training’.

There is an emphasis on experiential and applied learning, which serves two objectives:
students acquire important skills through experiences and sample possible future careers.
According to the survey, ninety-one percent of superintendents are in favor of ‘relaxing state
and federal education requirements to give high school students more opportunity for
internship, apprenticeship or job shadowing opportunities’.

As far as success metrics for school districts, slightly over fifty percent of superintendents
strongly agree high school graduates are well prepared for success in college and forty percent
agree they are well prepared for success in the workforce. It is interesting to note that many
superintendents do not lean either way (agree or disagree). There could be many reasons for
this, like the school district’s demographics and access to resources and funding.

What does a superintendent think about their own success? Almost all (ninety-nine percent) of
superintendents think the effectiveness of their schools depends on ‘how engaged’ students
are with school and ‘how hopeful students are about their future’. While only nine percent and

pg. 32
fifty-two percent of them think ‘scores that students receive on standardized tests’ as ‘very
important’ and ‘somewhat important’ respectively.

A valuable resource for many of these new trends is a suite of applications based on acquiring

According to the survey, getting students to learn through applying skills (experiences) and
building foundational, life, and social skills are extremely important issues (see graphic). Skills
Based Approach is an ideal solution; it is a methodology centered on the development of an
evolving skill set throughout an education and career by constantly cycling through four stages.

Skills Culture is a growth mindset that might improve ‘how engaged’ students are with school.
Most people (students and adults alike) believe they can learn skills if they put in the time and
effort. With a Skills Culture, there is a focus on learning through experiences which is much
more enriching than taking tests and rote memorization.

Skills Label is a system for tracking the development of skills. Directly referencing skills (and
standards) in education projects and activities directly links to skills needed to be successful in
higher education and a career – two objectives of K-12 education.

Workforce Strategy Focuses on Skills

The World Economic Forum released their 2018 Future of Jobs report. It is a survey of business
executives representing many of the multinational companies around the world to get a pulse
on their workforce strategies for the upcoming period 2018 to 2022. An overarching theme of
the report is how technology – particularly ubiquitous high-speed internet, AI, adoption of big
data analytics, and cloud technology – is pervasive and impacting every facet of a company’s
workforce strategy; according to the report, there are “complex feedback loops between new
technology, jobs, and skills”. Some of the key points from the report are:

• Companies are forced to consider adopting new technology to remain competitive.
Their most decisive metric is productivity.

pg. 33
• Companies ‘geography of production, distribution and value chains’ are changing.
Seventy-four percent of respondents prioritize ‘the availability of skilled local talent’ as
their biggest concern.
• Changing employment types. Automation is creating an ominous cloud of uncertainty:
how is automation going to impact workers.
• Growing skills instability. The average skills stability is fifty-eight percent from the 2018
to 2022 period. This means the shelf life of forty-two percent of required skills expires in
less than five years. The top in-demand skills of 2022 are foundational thinking and soft
• Reskilling is imperative. By 2022, fifty-four percent of all employees will require
significant re- and upskilling.

There is significant commentary about how fundamental changes in technology is impacting the
skills of the current and future workforce. Companies will have to decide whether to ‘prioritize
automation’ or ‘augmentation’ and whether to ‘invest in workforce reskilling’.

As noted, the survey is directed at large multinational employers so does not necessarily
capture the perspectives of small and medium sized companies. Furthermore, it does not
consider ‘employment sectors’. With a smaller company in IT or health care, (I assume) there is
greater demand on the adaptability of workers to learn new skills.

I recommend a suite of applications based on skills – Skills Culture, Skills Based Approach, and
Skills Label – as part of the solution for your organization:

Skills Based Approach has both micro and macro benefits, meaning it is useful to both
individuals and organizations and communities. Applying the methodology is an ideal way to
address ‘growing skills instability’, ‘reskilling imperative’, and the ‘skills gap’ because of its
flexibility and adaptiveness to the changing demands in skills. Companies signal their current
and future demands for skills; individuals target the skills and cycle through the four stages to
acquire them.

pg. 34
Skills Label is a system to track the development of skills. This is precisely what is needed to
prepare new hires and structure the learning in re- and upskilling programs. There is a direct
one to one translation between the learning expectations (in skills and their underlying
methods and applications) and the demand for those skills; this communication can occur
between education institutions and the companies themselves. According to the survey:
“Tangible collaboration opportunities include partnering with educators to reshape school and
college curricula, intra- and inter-industry collaboration on building talent pipelines, and
partnerships with labor unions to enhance cross-industry talent mobility.”

With Skills Culture, I have talked in-depth about having an Agile Worker – someone who is
willing to step in and learn skills as they are needed. This was a conclusion made in the survey:
“the success of any workforce augmentation strategy is the buy-in of a motivated and agile
workforce, equipped with futureproof skills to take advantage of new opportunities through
continuous retraining and upskilling”. Skill Culture is the growth mindset to accomplish these

Appendix 1 – Join Skills Culture Community
Skills Culture is a resource of content and media to cultivate this mindset, here I wanted to
introduce basic functionality.

First, the website is a blog. So far, I have authored 50 blogs with over 20,000 views. I expect to
keep adding fresh, new content. I am also looking for guest bloggers to share insights. Is your
institution starting a Competency Based Learning (CBL) program? Do you think we need more
applied learning in education? If you have something to say, feel free to contact me at: .

Second, the website is a repository of links to other resources – ways to apply a Skills Culture
mindset. This includes links for skills-based apps (Skills Based Approach, Skills Label, and Skill
Syllabi) and each app’s presence in social media.

pg. 35
Third, the website has the beginnings of a search engine. Search on just about anything and the
same expected results, a SERP of skills and a platform to work with them. In addition, (if you are
a practitioner) create an account then start participating in adding content to the results.

Together let’s build a community of learners (students and young professionals) and teachers
(professors and practitioners) who champion the development of skills.

Appendix 2- Skills Quotes
Skills are the verb of knowledge – Ryan Frischmann

The definition of knowledge is ‘the skills and facts and information acquired through
experiences; the practical understanding of a subject or discipline”. Skills represent the action

Skills are the language of learning - Ryan Frischmann

Skills work laterally across subjects and disciplines, and vertically across education, higher
education, and career stages. Working with skills and competencies is ideal for lifelong learning.

“Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems, wish for more skills. Don’t
wish for less challenge, wish for more wisdom.” – Jim Rohn

Skills do solve problems. They are fundamental in everything we do.

Will, skill, drill – Tim Hurson

Like with physical skills and sports, it’s possible to continually practice skills for actual (game
time) experiences. This is especially relevant with soft skills and foundational thinking.

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." - Aristotle

This perfectly applies to a Skill Culture where you are motivated to learn and apply skills
properly. As you practice skills, you learn to apply them instantaneously. This is critical with

pg. 36
social and thinking skills as we must apply them (on the spot) in conversing, making decisions,
and becoming productive.

"Education is not the learning of facts but training the mind to think." - Einstein

Should move away from rote memorization towards experiential and applied learning,
especially as technology and applications become more pervasive in our everyday interactions.
Thinking skills (analytical, critical, computational, conceptual, creative/novel, convergent,
divergent, rational, etc.) provide a foundation for all learning.

“A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills,
and uses these skills to accomplish his goals.” – Larry Bird

Usually pit talent and skill against each other. But when you do have talent, do what you can to
translate the talent into skills.

“One of the bigger misconceptions of learning is that many skills take a lifetime to get world-class at, or
10,000 hours to become world-class at.” – Timothy Ferris

Learning a new skill can take anywhere from 20 hours (for personal needs) to 10,000 hours
(becoming a master). Feeling you must become a master is an unnecessary demotivator.

“The willingness to learn new skills is high” – Angela Merkel

Most people feel they can learn a skill if they put the time and effort into the process. This is a
key premise of a Skills Culture, which is very much a growth mindset.

Appendix 3 – Skills Applications Working Together
Thought of the Skills Based Approach SM (“SBA”) methodology in 2011 as I was creating a
platform for personal websites. Early on, I recognized skills as a critical element of a personal
website. In an abstract way, I see much of the content behind a personal website as presenting
and validating skills (two stages of SBA). There are other elements. (For them, there is a

pg. 37
framework – Online Personal Brand: Skill Set, Aura, and Identity.) I still feel strongly that most
individuals should have a personal website for credentials and signaling skills.

SBA is a methodology centered on constantly cycling through four stages with an evolving skill
set. Over the years, SBA has garnered a worldwide audience. I have developed SBA as a basic
website application. (And I have been waiting patiently to get this up and running as a mobile
application. Ideally, students manage learning tasks on their mobile phones using the SBA

Skills Label TM is a standardized display of learning expectations for any task. The inspiration
behind this patent pending technology was to reduce typing in the SBA application. A learning
label is a sophisticated, interactive, scalable vector graphic. There is an advanced, stable web
application (with a supporting Web API) to create and manage learning labels.

Skill Syllabi SM is an application to create and distribute a syllabus for a course. It includes not
only the standard sections of a syllabus, but also ones for skills. There is a built-in interface to
manage and view a collection of learning labels.

Skills Culture is a growth mindset to learn and apply skills properly – something to motivate and
inspire the use of these skills applications. Most people feel they can learn a skill if they put in
the necessary time and effort; they learn a skill as much as needed or wanted and there is no
requirement to master a skill. A Skills Culture is about being an Agile Worker, someone who is
willing to acquire skills on an as needed basis – an effective frame of mind for constant
reskilling and upskilling and lifelong learning.

pg. 38