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Transferable Skills: Definition of the Concept

As is the case for a wide-ranging concept of competency, there is also no consensus as to the concept of transferable skills. Various typologies have been proposed, and designations for the concept have been put forward. Tien et al. [32] have presented some examples of these designations and have situated them geographically, namely “employability skills” (National Skills Standard Board, USA); “core skills” (United Nations); “key competencies’’ (Australia); “core skills/key skills’’ (Great Britain); “employability skills” (Canada); and “basic competencies” (Taiwan). Other designations for the concept are, for example, “Transferable Skills” (Training Agency, UK) and “Common Skills” (Business and Technology Education Council, UK).

According to Mansfield [5], transferable skills are all the competencies which are not technical, specific, or occupational. For Assiter [2], transferable skills are the generic capacities which allow individuals to attain success in a wide variety of tasks and occupations. The Department for Education and Employment (DfEE), in the UK, considers transferable skills to be those competencies which are essential for performance in all sectors and at all levels [3]. Drummond et al. [4] mention these as skills which can be transferred to contexts outside the academic field of study, and Gibbons-Wood and Lange [33] describe them as being those which support competent behaviour in all areas.

Harvey et al. [12] suggest two categories of transferable skills: (i) personal attributes, which comprise knowledge, continuous learning, flexibility and adaptability, self-regulation, self-motivation, and self-confidence and (ii) interactive attributes, which encompass communication, relationships, group work, and the ability to influence.

At Luton University in the UK, the study carried out by Atlay and Harris [34], which was the result of the communication established among this university, its employer partners, and the community, subscribes to a competency model that is divided into four large areas: data collection and processing, communication and presentation, planning and problem-solving, as well as social development and interaction.

In Australia, a study undertaken by Kearns [35] separates transferable skills into four large groups: (i) preparation for employment and working habits; (ii) interpersonal skills (supported by personal attributes and values, such as emotional intelligence and the understanding of oneself); (iii) entrepreneurship, innovation, and creativity; and (iv) skills related to learning, thinking, and adaptability. This study also emphasizes the competency model adopted by the United Nations, which contemplates three categories: core skills (communication, teamwork, planning and organization, responsibility, creativity, customer orientation, commitment to continuous learning, and technological awareness); core values (integrity, professionalism, and respect for diversity); and management skills (leadership, vision, the development of others, confidence building, performance management, decision-making, and judgement).

In the context of the European project Tuning, whose objective was to establish an exchange of information and collaboration in the development of quality, efficiency, and transparency in more than 100 European universities, both generic and specific skills were analysed and associated to different areas of study. In the report for the first phase of this project, the authors Gonzalez and Wagenaar [36] classified general skills into 3 groups: (i) instrumental skills (cognitive, methodological, technological, and linguistic abilities); (ii) interpersonal skills (social interaction and cooperation, and critical and ethical consciousness); and (iii) systemic skills (the ability to analyse the whole and understand how the parts work together, as well as how to combine and apply skills and knowledge to different situations), with the last of these groups requiring the prior acquisition of skills from the first two. This project highlights the most important skills as being: the ability to analyse and synthesize; the ability to learn, solve problems, and apply knowledge to practice; the ability to plan and organize, to work autonomously, and to adapt to new situations; the ability to establish interpersonal relationships and work in a team, to communicate orally and in writing (in a native language and in a second language); and the ability to manage information and, finally, the concern with quality.

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