What are Non Technical Skills?

10 min

You often can’t spend more than five minutes on the Internet without running into an article talking about automation, robots taking over the world, and humans becoming forcefully obsolete. Coupled with these articles are bold declarations as to how humans can plan to survive, thrive, and remain intellectually relevant in an “AI driven world”.

The most prominent suggested course of action tends to lean towards humans learning how to be more “human”, maintaining that humans should get really good at things that robots aren’t yet good at. This includes, among other things, focusing more deeply on skills like critical thinking, creativity, problem solving, decision making, and a whole host of similar skills. This is all well and good, and has even been validated by some of the world’s largest organizations like The World Economic Forum, Deloitte, and LinkedIn.

The subsequent challenge then becomes: What exactly are these skills and how do you know if someone has them or not? This is usually the point where the articles disappointingly end, leaving the reader confused, questioning their professional existence, and with an overwhelmingly pessimistic outlook regarding their skills and capabilities.

Human skills, explained

Human skills? Soft skills? Power skills? These are terms often used interchangeably that encompass an ambiguous grouping of important skills for the future of work. The challenge is that each of these classifiers lacks a clear cut theoretical foundation that can serve as the central interpretive framework for practitioners. Recognizing the confusion, we’ve decided to use another, more definitive classifier for these skills and capabilities in a work context: Non technical skills.

What are Non technical skills?

Non technical skills are the learned skills that augment an individual’s performance within a specific job. The keyword in our definition of non technical skills is “learned”, because non technical skills, just like technical skills, are learned, they develop gradually over time and are a product of focused and intentional practice. Non technical skills are observable human outputs that manifest in a wide array of situations throughout our work, no matter the work you do.

We’ve synthesized our definition of non technical skills into six skill categories. Each of these skill categories are composed of a unique constellation of attributes that contribute to performance at work in distinct ways, and are the core focus of Hexient Assessments.

In practice, you can dig a lot deeper as to what it truly means to excel with these skills within specific domains. In articles, that’s kind of boring, so we’ll leave it at that.

Domain Specificity

These skills are not domain specific, meaning that they are usually critical to almost all jobs. However, within a domain, they’re pretty specific in terms of how they’re used. For example, communication is often a critical skill across most jobs, but it’s a skill that you use differently depending on the job in question: a nurse needs good communication skills, a salesperson needs good communication skills, but they need it in different ways. And so while the common assumption is that a person is generally a good decision maker in one area is going to be a good decision maker in another area is widely held, that often falls short in reality. To actually excel at this list of skills in practice, you often also need a lot of expertise in a particular domain.

How is this different?

Non technical skills are fundamentally distinct from “soft skills”. We think of soft skills as things such as time management, looking someone in the eye while talking, how to properly shake someone's hand, and so on. These are obviously contributors to career success in many ways and they are cultivable, meaning that someone can go from not knowing it to knowing it and doing it. The key difference is that soft skills are far more habitual, meaning that it’s more so a product of habit rather than intentional and focused practice and they can almost always be applied immediately.

You also have some of these things that are in a bit of a grey area in terms of how you would categorize them on this model, so this includes things like negotiation, teamwork, management, innovation etc. You can teach people the surface level skills, but as soon as you get into a formula or framework or anything like that you’re in a dangerous area. Oftentimes these things are dynamic, and you need to be able to adapt based on the context of the situation. People are different. Every situation is different. Rules that apply in one area won’t apply elsewhere. So what do you do? Our approach is to dig deeper, below the surface into non technical competencies. What makes a good negotiator? They often have highly developed non technical skills.

Why are non technical skills important?

Thinking about those apocalyptically sounding articles written about automation and the future of work, there’s often the claim that because technology is getting more and more important, these skills are now becoming incredibly important as far as maintaining relevance at work and that technical skills aren’t nearly as important. Getting into the conversation of what’s more important in the digital world, technical skills or non technical skills, seems like a false choice.

In reality, non technical skills have always been important levers of performance at work, and people with strong non technical skills are often those who enjoy success within their careers. So have technical skills. Moving forward, the world is going to value specific types of talent with a unique combination of skills. Technical skills are critical for building and enabling technology, while non technical skills complement and augment technology. It’s not about one or the other, it’s about the combination and the ability for people to continuously integrate new skills into the mix.

As far as non technical skills go:


As companies begin to recognize the importance of non technical skills in the digital world, these are skills that companies value immensely for the future of work, but struggle bringing into their organization. And in a world where a premium is placed on talent with strong non technical skills, an organization's inability to cultivate those skills is highly costly. There’s rightfully been an increasing interest in non technical skills and individual performance at work, and we hope to lead the charge in helping companies cultivate that type of high performing talent for the digital world.

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