The Importance of Knowledge, Skills and Abilities

Knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) are three important aspects of one person’s career. The fine line between each aspect is very often confused and used interchangeably. And, the more the skills gap is growing, the more important these three aspects become. This is because we need to clearly understand whether it is knowledge, a skill or an ability that needs to be developed. 

What is the difference between each?

Knowledge is both the theoretical and the practical information, facts or skill which we acquire through experience or through learning. Our knowledge increases as we gain more experience.  

A skill is an ability to do something well. A well-developed skill can make us experts in a particular field. Skills can be learnt too. 

An ability is a talent or skill in a particular area. It can be improved or developed to a certain extent, even though it is natural and inbuilt. Its development is a lengthier and complicated process.

What does this all mean?

It means that:

  • we can have the knowledge of how to do something, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we have the ability or skill to do it. This is why knowledge is the ‘simplest’ to develop. An example is: knowledge to use a word processing application.
  • we need to have an ability and knowledge to develop a skill. It is difficult to develop a skill if we don’t have the ability to develop that skill. An example: skill to edit documents on the computer.
  • we can have an ability to do something, but if we don’t improve on this ability, it will remain stagnant and will unlikely turn into a skill. An example: ability to understand and follow instructions.

In today’s tight labour market and skills gaps, employers need to clearly identify what their people’s KSAs are and first and foremost, employers need to understand what KSAs are needed for a job to get done. Understanding someone’s KSAs are just as important during the recruitment and selection process. 

Not being able to identify, understand and develop the KSAs will mean that our employees and the company’s growth will become static. 

If our employee’s knowledge is lacking, we might need to design further training and development techniques on that particular subject. Once skills are lacking, then more practical training may be needed, so as to apply the knowledge on-the-job. If abilities are not tapped into, employers should provide opportunities for such abilities to be refined. 

About the author

Maria Bartolo Zahra is Managing Director and HR Advisor at SurgeAdvisory. She has over sixteen years of human resources and business advisory experience.