Generic skills

Generic skills : a definition

In this website, the concept of soft skill we refer to was much inspired by the work of the Institut de coopération pour l’éducation des adultes (ICÉA ) on the identification and recognition of generic skills, particularly through their tool called Nos compétences fortes (NCF). This is why we use the following definition to present what a generic skill is :

“Generic skills are abilities that are part of the personality of an individual
and are useful in all life settings . These skills can be developed
in everyday life or work, and transfer in another life or work context.”*

Why “generic” ? First, according to dictionaries , generic is the opposite of specific. In this spirit , a generic skill should be considered as the opposite of a specific skill ; the latter refers to a very precise aspect of an activity, such as a single work function , or even just a part of a task.

In contrast, a generic skill is common to various kinds of activities ; this is why it is defined as transferable, too.

As is the case with essential skills, generic skills act as common threads between people’s experiences at work, in their family life or their personal projects. They are not related to a specific function, contrary to specialized skills, but they grow in a variety of learning situations and they show in action. This is why they are considered as basic skills*. The concept of generic skill used by ICÉA builds around the following ideas:

  • a generic skill comprises a number of abilities;
  • a generic skill develops through action;
  • a generic skill changes during the course of a person’s life ;
  • a generic skill forms in all kinds of experiences of life and work situations ;
  • there are several generic skills ;
  • one person may develop several generic skills ;
  • generic skills are the result of learning made through action;
  • generic skills are useful in all life settings ( home, work, school or other ) ;
  • generic skills are transferable, which means they can be used in various fields of application, contexts of action and family situations.

Generic skills in minority settings

Generic skills are fundamental to identity development. We believe that the state of development of these skills among adults in minority communities can influence their linguistic and cultural behaviors, in their families, at work and in the communities.

Several generic skills play a decisive role in professional integration, and in social and family commitment.

These skills are mainly based on life skills, or self-management skills. They have an intra- personal dimension – self-confidence and ability to trust others, leadership, ability to adapt … – and an interpersonal dimension – ability to communicate, persuasion … – ; both dimensions greatly influence our relation to ourselves (cultural identity and confidence when choosing their speaking language) and our relations to the others (being in a collaborative or subordinate relationship).

Recognition at stake

The socio-economic changes of recent decades in Canada have had strong impact in the world of work, as well as in in the private sphere of the family or in the community.
The workplace, family and community life are changing rapidly and continuously.
These changes greatly affect the nature of the growing or decining sectors and impact on families and community life. Accordingly, these changes also affect the specific needs of skills development of the workforce and citizens.
In this context, citizens experience significant pressure to adapt quickly and continuously to these socio-economic changes, whether to adapt to the new jobs available, or to new challenges in their family and community lives.

In an increasingly knowledge-based society, the risk of exclusion and marginalization of these people is higher. However, we must admit that a movement has emerged in recent years that calls for a better recognition of the diversity of methods and ways of training. In a world where the idea of ​​lifelong learning is becoming standard, skills recognition devices have emerged as ways to take this diversity into account.

As for the economic inclusion of adults in minority contexts, several benefits arise directly from the recognition of their generic skills: probable increase in income, training opportunities, employability and, consequently, access to jobs, career development and occupational mobility.



Question de compétences : un outil au service des femmes, Montréal, COFFRE, Relais-femmes, ICÉA, 1989.

Reconnaissance des compétences génériques
pour les personnes en démarche d’insertion et peu scolarisées ; Inventaire des outils des organismes communautaires œuvrant au développement de la main-d’œuvre, Coalition des organismes communautaires pour le développement de la main-d’œuvre (COCDMO), octobre 2007.