Knowledge, Skills and Abilities: Everything you need to know

By: Kudzai Derera | Posted On: 2021-10-27 02:59:52 | Updated On: 2021-11-25 06:27:28 | Views: 35


Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities are popularly known as the KSAs in the corporate world. The KSAs are a group of individual attributes and qualifications needed to perform job duties effectively. KSAs are mostly used to specify the requirements of a job and make a final selection of the candidates by the Human Resource departments. In this article, we will be exploring what KSAs are, comparing them to understand how different they are, and highlighting their importance.

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Most people tend to use the knowledge, skills, and abilities terms interchangeably. CONFESSION, I also had such a tendency when it came to KSAs. However, these terms are different even though their difference is elusive. Bundled together, the KSAs give a holistic picture of a candidate's attributes. For example, when relating to a new open role, they help determine whether the candidate fits the new role.


Globalization, new kinds of work organization, and improvements in automation and artificial intelligence (AI) all have significant ramifications for the workplace. Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities development is everyone's business: governments, businesses, and employees all have a stake in it. In this new competitive era, it is prudent to ensure both the employees and employers are aware of the rapid changes in the KSAs needed to ensure jobs are performed effectively. But what exactly are KSAs?


KSA definition

A KSA is a statement of qualifications that summarises their knowledge, skills, and abilities about an open role. The KSA model was adopted by the government as a hiring tool. However, it is gradually being phased out by the personnel department. It assists organizations in quickly identifying the most qualified individuals for each position.


Knowledge, skills and abilities


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Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities are a set of specific qualifications and personal characteristics that are required for a specific job. These are the specific requirements that the employing agency is looking for in the person chosen to fill a specific position. One of the main goals of KSAs is to identify the characteristics that will set one candidate apart from the rest. KSAs are described as the qualities that identify the best candidates from a group of people who are all qualified for a job. If an applicant can demonstrate that they meet the job's established KSAs, that individual will be seriously evaluated for the post.


Other terms used by employers are Professional Technical Qualification and Quality Ranking Factors. Other government agencies still employ a written essay or narrative assessment as part of the hiring process. Some businesses require a full-form KSA to find the top candidates for open roles. The KSA is frequently used to supplement a job application and requires candidates to write one-page essays in response to work-specific questions. Each response is rated on a scale of one to one hundred for how well it fulfills the job requirements.


KSA Example

You can think of knowledge, skills, and abilities as increasing in difficulty. The challenge increases from being aware of something or comprehending a concept to using that information as a skill to combining skills into a capacity to perform tasks, activities, or work. For example, when you think about driving a car;

  1. You need to be fully aware and know the road rules and what each control in the car does.
  2. You need first to practice your driving skills in a controlled environment
  3. Lastly, you need to be certified by getting your license to demonstrate your abilities – thus combining the knowledge and skills to drive safely in an uncontrolled environment


Below is an infographic showing example of knowledge, skills, and behaviors.


Knowledge, skills and abilities example infographic


What is Knowledge?

The theoretical or practical understanding of a subject is referred to as knowledge. It focuses on conceptual comprehension. The term "knowledge" refers to a collection of information that is usually factual or procedural. A person may have a basic comprehension of a topic or tool and some textbook knowledge but no practical experience. For example, just because someone has read hundreds of papers on health and nutrition does not mean they are equipped to give nutritional advice.


Additional knowledge or understanding can be gained by applying what one already knows and learning from that experience. But, it is important to note that knowing something does not mean the individual can implement it effectively and efficiently. Some typical examples of knowledge include:

  • Steps in a process
  • Workplace safety rules
  • In the event of an emergency, what should you do?
  • Engineering practices
  • Document preparation practices



What are Skills?

The capacities or proficiencies acquired through training or hands-on experience are referred to as skills. They relate to the skilled manipulation of data or objects using manual, verbal, or mental means. Skills are the actual application of knowledge. They are easily quantified by a performance test, which assesses both quantity and quality of performance, usually within a certain time limit.


Skill in typing or driving a car are two examples of skilled manipulation of things. Competence in decimal computation, skill in editing for transposed numbers, and so on are examples of proficient data manipulation. Skills can be further developed through training or with hands-on experience. They can either be hard skills or soft skills. Typical examples of skills are:

  • Typing
  • Operating machinery
  • Programming software programs
  • Public speaking
  • Leadership
  • Carpentry



What are abilities?

The ability to accomplish an activity or task is defined as the power or capacity to do so. Although they are frequently confused with skills, there is a minor but significant difference. The intrinsic features or talents that a person brings to work or situation are referred to as abilities. Many people can learn to negotiate well by gaining knowledge and exercising the necessary skills. Because they have the innate talent to persuade, a select few are excellent negotiators.


Abilities are natural characteristics that a person possesses without being taught, and they include things like talent and emotional intelligence. When compared to knowledge skills, they are more difficult to teach, test, and even measure. Typical examples of abilities include:


What is the difference between skills and abilities?


As discussed in the first paragraphs, many people tend to use skills and abilities interchangeably even though there is a difference between them. Below is a table showing the comparison between skills and abilities:






Efficient and effective use of a person's knowledge and abilities in performance.

A person's innate characteristics or talents.


The ability to do something very well.

General ability to do something.


Scele is a late Old English word that comes from the Old Norse word skill, which means "discernment, knowledge."

Late Middle English: from Old French ablete, which comes from Latin habilitas, which comes from habilis 'ability.'


Can be measured and quantified.

Very difficult to measure or quantify.


Developed through experience and training.

Developed without formal training or instructions.


Can be taught and tested.

Difficult to teach or test.


The behaviour is learned or acquired.

The behaviour is natural or innate.


Less stable.

More stable.


The ability to solve a math problem.

Develop a theory of physics on your own.

To be great at singing, running, dancing, and drawing.

Having the ability to sketch, sing, dance, and run.

To be able to operate a vehicle.

To be able to process information fast and react to other drivers.

To be able to cut hair.

To be able to keep the hand steady.



Advantages and disadvantages of KSAs


Advantages of KSAs

For the following reasons, a KSA is still necessary for applicants:

  • Some of the talents and qualifications that may not be adequately highlighted on the resume might be solidified using the narrative or essay format.
  • A KSA that closely resembles the job requirements might help you stand out from the crowd and increase your chances of being chosen for an interview.
  • Clarity: By considering the job requirements, one can evaluate which are the most significant and which to highlight in job interviews, cover letters, and resumes. To explain the talents needed for the job, KSAs can be divided into desirable and essential skills.
  • Insight: They are detailed and give one a good idea of the candidate's entire skillset. Whereas some businesses focus solely on candidates' credentials and job experience, the KSA model takes a broader approach.
  • Results: This approach is primarily concerned with outcomes and how a candidate's past experiences have led to their current position.



Disadvantages of KSAs

For a variety of reasons, the KSA model has been criticised as an evaluation metric, including:

  • It is a long document with some redundancy.
  • It adds to the application process's aggravation and complexity, which should be streamlined.
  • The names are frequently used interchangeably, making it difficult to distinguish between them.




Training activities that combine theoretical learning and hands-on application of essential concepts and technologies are the most effective way to build knowledge, skills, and abilities. A person who wishes to be a project manager, for example, must comprehend not only the role's core principles, such as scope, work breakdown structure, and critical path but also get experience applying such concepts to real projects.


It is never a good idea to let things get stagnant or static, which is why businesses must give continual training for their employees and opt for life-long learning for the employees. People can benefit from training to extend their knowledge, learn new skills, or improve their current ones. Keep in mind that an employer may more easily influence and increase an employee's skills and knowledge, but one cannot build skills without ability.



Kudzai Derera is the Business Systems Manager at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a management and human resources consulting firm.


Phone: +263 242 481946-48/481950

Mobile: +263 773 523 084


Main Website:

Kudzai Derera
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