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Which competence is labour market waiting for?

For about a decade the importance of competence in the process of searching for employment has been increasing. We have to give Richard Boyatzis credit for popularizing competence, who on the basis of the results of his numerous research proved that success of a given person is determined a group of factors such as: personality traits, motives for action, experience or behavioural traits . He also made a distinction between the threshold competence, which is a basic competence required on a given position, and differentiating competence, which enables to distinguish persons achieving good results from the ones achieving worse ones . The first group includes: knowledge and skills, and the second one – attitudes, motives and values . Hence, competence may be characterised as the ability to make use of the resources as well as attributes of a given individual in order to achieve better results in their activity.

Bob Mansfield, defining competence as: ‘a set of personality traits which determine whether a person achieves good or above-average results at work’[1], classified these traits by their application as[2]:

  • results (as a form of professional standards which specify what a given person should be able to do on a given position);
  • activities performed by people are carrying out (described in the categories what is currently going on);
  • personality traits/attributes (describing what people are).

Employees, by using their competence, build and improve the organization applying different management techniques. Hence, the initial stage of building every institution should be defining and then improving the adequate competence among employees. Their appropriate level enables solving complex problems and may turn out to be the factor determining competitiveness of companies.

The competences used in a given organization create the structure of competence. Neil Rankin, in his research on the structure of competence conducted amongst the group of 40 employers, made a ranking of the most popular competences[3], as presented in table 1. 

Table 1. Twenty two most popular competences.

1.       Team-oriented work (78%)

2.       Communication (65%)

3.       Concentration on the customer (65%)

4.       HR management (58%)

5.       Result orientation (58%)

6.       Problem solving skills (55%)

7.       Business awareness (38%)

8.       Decision making (35%)

9.       Technical skills (35%)

10.    Stimulating other people’s development (33%)

11.    Initiative (33%)

12.    Creativity (30%)

13.    Persuasion skills (30%)

14.    Quality orientation (30%)

15.    Ability to establish relations (30%)

16.    Change orientation (28%)

17.    Information management (25%)

18.    Interpersonal skills (25%)

19.    Strategic orientation (25%)

20.    Self-improvement (23%)

21.    Commitment (20%)

22.    Assertiveness and faith in own abilities (20%)

Source: M. Armstrong, Zarządzanie zasobami ludzkimi, III ed. extended, Economical Annexe, Cracow 2005, p. 155.

European Union plays a significant role in promoting competence on the European continent. Its achievement, worth remembering in this respect, is for instance the Copenhagen Declaration of 2002, which initiated actions aimed at supporting development of qualification and competence at the European level. The last ones the European Commission defines as: ‘a dynamic combination of knowledge, skills and attitudes of a graduate[4]. The key competences are understood as ‘basic and newly acquired skills which an individual functioning in the knowledge-based society should have’. These are as follows[5]:

  • communication skills in native language;
  • communication skills in foreign languages;
  • math, technical and biological science skills;
  • computer literacy;
  • independent learning  skills;
  • interpersonal, cross-cultural, social, civil skills;
  • entrepreneurship;
  • cultural awareness and expression.

It is beyond all doubt that a graduate should be well prepared in order to compete on the global market in the dynamically evolving environment. Hence, a vital part is played by the didactic offer of the educational institutions, which put emphasis on developing competence and improving the already existing ones. The last ones are the tool giving a possibility to increase the students’ employability rate, and as a consequence they contribute to a dynamic economic and social development. Research conducted on competence amongst students of Bachelor’s studies in Economics at the Faculty of Management of the University in Primorska (Slovenia) show that school curricula should assume developing analytical, methodological and language skills as well as providing knowledge within a broad range. Employers also complained on graduates’ poor language skills and lack of analytical thinking skills. Moreover, they attracted their attention to lack of abilities of making use of theoretical knowledge in practice and insufficient computer literacy[6].

In Poland the amended ‘Higher Education Act’ puts on universities a duty to carry out their graduates’ employment statistics[7]. For that purpose, the ombudsman for Alumni will be appointed to take care of the analysis of the alumni situation on the labour market and the profession availability. The Careers Centre of the AGH University of Science and Technology in Cracow[8] carried out amongst all companies, which cooperate with the university (267), the research on  skills and competence which attract the employer’s attention most when hiring a new employee (cf. fig. 1) [9].

Fig. 1. Employee’s competence highly valued by employers.

expected competences

Source: own research based on Motywacja ważniejsza od doświadczenia (Motivation more important than experience), „Dziennik Polski’, 08.02.2011, p. C1.

The presented data show that professional experience does not play as big role as it would be expected (43.10%). Apart from degree in higher education and foreign language skills, also the very motivation (77.50%), attitude of the future employees, their readiness to respond to a challenge, taking initiative are important.

One can see that employers’ requirements towards their future employees constantly increase. At present, it is not sufficient to be a holder of a higher education diploma. Skills possessed by graduates and readiness to improve them constantly are of great importance. More and more people are becoming aware that the present technological progress imposes permanent adaptability to the new conditions and forms of employment.

dr Anna Marszałek



Armstrong M., Zarządzanie zasobami ludzkimi (Human Resources Management), III ed. corrected, Oficyna Ekonomiczna, Kraków 2005.

Key Competences for Lifelong Learning, European Reference Framework, Education and Culture DG, European Communities, Belgium 2007.

Mansfield B., Competence in Transition, ‘Journal of European Industrial Training’ 2004, Vol. 28, No. 2/3/4.

Motywacja ważniejsza od doświadczenia, „Dziennik Polski’ of 8 February 2011

Ośrodek Monitorowania Kadry Zawodowej AGH, http://www.ck.agh.edu.pl/omkz/index.php?option=com_content&view=frontpage&Itemid=55

Pocztowski A., Zarządzanie zasobami ludzkimi, PWE, Warszawa 2007.

Trunk Sirca N., Nastav B., Lesjak D., Sulčič V., The Labour Market, Graduate Competences and Study Programme Development: A Case Study, ‘Higher Education in Europe’, Vol. 31, No. 1, April 2006.


[1] Por. M. Armstrong, op. cit., p. 151.

[2] Por. B. Mansfield, Competence in Transition, “Journal of European Industrial Training” 2004, Vol. 28, No. 2/3/4, p. 304.

[3] They are ranked according to their frequency of appearance.

[4] Por. Key Competences for Lifelong Learning, European Reference Framework, Education and Culture DG, European Communities, Belgium 2007, p. 3.

[5] Ibidem, p. 3.

[6] Cf. N. Trunk Sirca, B. Nastav, D. Lesjak, V. Sulčič, The Labour Market, Graduate Competences and Study Programme Development: A Case Study, “Higher Education in Europe”, Vol. 31, No. 1, April 2006, p. 61.

[7] The act will come into effect on the day of 1 October 2011

[8] Professional Staff Monitoring Centre researches professional history of graduates of AGH University of Science and Technology. Cf. http://www.ck.agh.edu.pl/omkz/index.php?option=com_content&view=frontpage&Itemid=55

[9] Cf. Motywacja ważniejsza od doświadczenia, „Dziennik Polski” of 8 February 2011, p. C1.