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June 25th • 3 min read
#Global Talent #People #Engineering #Employment #Workforce solutions #People power

Exploring the Difference Between Knowledge and Skills

Even when you’re a music afficionado, does it mean you can step on stage and become the next rockstar? Sadly no. And this is the difference between gaining knowledge and learning skills. Knowledge is relatively easily to obtain. There are many sources of information from academic institutions and even good old Google – if you trust what you find that is.
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Knowledge is about awareness. Being aware of something. Once committed to memory, these facts can be recited. From memorising the playbook for a sports team to memorising sheet music, these are essential components on the road to mastery. But no matter how much information you can recall, it doesn’t mean you can hit a homerun or belt out Mozart from the piano.

 

Gaining skills is about improving capabilities and the ability to do something. In the case of our example, this means logging hours in the batting cage or rehearsing music on the piano. When we practice our skills, we can be considered training. By definition, the concept of training is really preparation for a test of skill. The goals of both practicing and training are to improve performance. Athletes go through rigorous training to compete professionally.

 

The world of work, especially in advanced industries follows the same philosophy. Teams are comprised of many individuals with different sets of skills. Every role also requires job-specific knowledge in order to perform the requirements of the role. For example, a mechanical engineer designing buildings might need to be an expert in HVAC or structural engineering.

As positions increase in the degree of specialisation and also seniority, capabilities and skills – what individuals can actually do – become more valuable than knowledge. Over time, as professionals just like athletes practice their knowledge on or in the field, they master skills and know-how. As know-how increases, this adds to the unique value of the particular role and the individual holding it.

The world of work has only become increasingly complex. Between innovation and digital acceleration, change is the new normal. The best way to keep up with change quickly and efficiently is not waiting for educational institutions to create the right learning courses, but to figure it out and learn by doing. This increases the on-the-job expertise of these employees and often this new knowledge is not well documented in corporate training programs initially.

 

Given the large volume of on-the-job expertise required inside organisations, it’s easy to understand why companies rely heavily on knowledge and skills transfer among employees. Even when an employee knows how to perform a specific task already, there is always a learning curve to understand exactly how this organisation requires the task to be performed. In a knowledge economy, we rely heavily on senior staff to train new or junior staff by sharing practical specialized knowledge and teaching skills.

 

When it comes to the world of engineering, this knowledge transfer is critical. There’s a serious skills gap in Australia across STEM professions and it’s a dual-pronged issue. We don’t have enough new emerging engineers to meet the growing demand from Defence and an aging engineering population that’s nearing retirement. The fact that this isn’t a new issue, means we’re seeing it’s created a gap in the market for mid-level engineers.

 

As seasoned engineers begin to reduce working capacities or retire, the informal mentoring that upskills younger engineers will cease to exist. The major risk is slowing progress and innovation, but also lowering the bar temporarily on the level of expertise within the profession as the experienced members exit the workforce.

 

Some good news is that there are many exciting initiatives underway to boost enrollment and even gender diversity. The tough news is that new initiatives still require time before we will see the fruits of their labour. New students still need to complete years of study and will only be graduating as well studied, but not well practiced, which is always the case.


The real challenge is that we need to solve the experience gap. The best way to fuel knowledge transfer and accelerate skills development is with a little help from those abroad. Many companies today are multinational and have been embracing cultural diversity for a long time now. And that’s a great thing because international skilled migration is what we need more of.


Temporary foreign engineers called expats within Easy Skill can bring a wealth of knowledge to our projects. By sharing their skills and bringing new approaches to traditional ways of working, we can impact innovation and seasoned skills within our existing engineering’s. This approach enables us to elevate our internal technical capabilities and by mastering and keeping these skills long after our expat colleagues return home, we become more self-sufficient and therefore sovereign!


In fact an influx of knowledge is actually a competitive advantage. When highly-skilled experts arrive, they bring their individual collection of experiences with them. They share new ideas and methodologies. By exposing ourselves to a healthy diversity of ways to approach the same work, it enables us to expand our thinking and form our own unique way of doing the work that blends the best of all approaches together.

 

 

This article was co-authored by Don Bruggeman, director SA, VIC, NT and  Samantha Shah, chief marketing officer from Easy Skill. 

Samantha Shah

Chief Marketing Officer

Our chief value creator with a knack for finding meaning everywhere. She bends words to create clarity while making a lasting impression. She can also make you laugh. An exiled Canadian now living in Australia, she enjoys the heat but misses snowboarding and the apres ski.

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