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Identifying the Most Important 21st Century Workforce Competencies: An Analysis of the Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Burrus, Jeremy; Jackson, Teresa; Xi, Nuo; Steinberg, Jonathan
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Report Number:
ETS Research Report
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Subject/Key Words:
Job Competencies Job Skills Knowledge Skills and Abilities (KSA) Learning Outcomes Noncognitive Skills Occupational Information Network (O*NET) Student Learning Workforce Readiness


To identify the most important competencies for college graduates to succeed in the 21st century workforce, we conducted an analysis of the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) database. O*NET is a large job analysis operated and maintained by the U.S. Department of Labor. We specifically analyzed ratings of the importance of abilities (52 ratings), work styles (16 ratings), skills (35 ratings), and knowledge (33 ratings) to succeed in one’s occupation. First, we conducted descriptive analyses. Next, data were split into 2 sets, according to the theoretical structure proposed by the O*NET content model, and principal component analyses (PCAs) were run on each dataset. The PCAs identified 15 components: problem solving, mechanical skills, service orientation, cultural literacy, business literacy, science literacy, civic literacy, information processing, athleticism, visual acuity, fluid intelligence, communication skills, teamwork, achievement/innovation, and attention to detail/near vision. Components were then ranked in importance using the mean component scores over all occupations. A comparison of this ranking with previous 21st century competencies frameworks suggested that 5 competencies stand out as important for most occupations: problem solving (e.g., complex problem solving), fluid intelligence (e.g., category flexibility), teamwork (e.g., cooperation), achievement/innovation (e.g., persistence), and communication skills (e.g., oral expression). Consistent with this conclusion, a correlation of component scores with wages found that 4 of these 5 competencies were strongly related to wages, with the exception being teamwork.

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