Learning & Development

What Universal Skills Should All Employees Have?

Employee training programs often focus on company-specific, industry-specific, or role-specific skills and knowledge. For example, a bank might regularly train employees on new banking regulations; a warehouse might train workers on the company’s process for storing certain types of products or materials; and a marketing department might train its staff on new social media trends.


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It makes sense, of course, to train employees on the specifics of their field, position, or organization. However, many employees lack basic foundational tools that are relevant to any position in any industry. Sometimes, these skills are necessary before building the more specialized skills that will also be needed. Sometimes, they are simply critical to success in any organization.

We solicited input from industry experts to come up with a list of some of the most critical foundational skills, or traits, that employees should have. Their input focused on both hard skills and soft skills.

Hard skills are things like the ability to write well or create formulas in Excel, whereas soft skills are things like conflict resolution or a strong work ethic. Both are important, and you’ll see both throughout our list.


Regardless of the skills we list next, employees must possess this first one. Nobody knows it all, and employees need the humility and curiosity to learn and be taught.

Teachability is also crucial in a dynamic workplace. Tracy Washington is a leadership engagement consultant and president and founder of Zaydon Enterprises Management, LLC, a management and consulting firm in Atlanta, Georgia.

She lists teachability and adaptability as two of the most fundamental skills that are crucial for any employee. “Change happens in today’s business climate rather quickly, whether it’s due to economic conditions, changes in the market or changes in leadership,” she says.

Time Management

Given a single task and unlimited time, most employees in a professional setting could likely turn out a respectable result. But that’s far from the reality workers face day to day.

“In today’s fast-paced work environment, it is almost impossible to find a job where you only have one task,” says Norhanie Pangulima, content marketing executive at Gigworker. “Job descriptions are often long and, in the rare occurrences that they’re short, they often include the words ‘any other task that may be assigned.’ This only means that however long or short an employee’s shift is, it is expected to be divided among the various tasks, which is why time management skills are of great importance.”

Computer Skills

Computers are at the heart of virtually every workplace, and basic skills in common software tools are essential for success in most jobs. These include everything from the ability to type well to the knowledge of corporate e-mail systems and the use of more advanced tools like spreadsheets and presentation software.

Hard Work

This one seems pretty obvious, but most readers can probably think of at least a few past or present colleagues who haven’t exhibited a strong work ethic.

“Even though this might sound cliché, hard work can be hard to find among employees,” says Lindsey Marx, who manages the college and career blog for Best Company. “Many people will work hard towards a job, but then they tend to slack off. In order to get the job you want and be successful, work hard and prove yourself. It will also help you to climb the corporate ladder faster.”

Basic Math Skills

This is, of course, one of those hard skills we mentioned at the outset. With calculators embedded in every smartphone and workplace computer and advanced calculations embedded within programs like Excel, it isn’t necessary for employees to be able to add or multiply large numbers in their heads. But basic math is still important to help problem solve and think analytically.

“At some point in their career, employees would need to use basic math skills in order to perform their jobs accurately,” says Pangulima. “Even those who are involved in the qualitative aspects of the business would require the use of basic math. It may be counting the words of an article, or producing a formula to solve a problem, math skills are imperative for employees. This is the reason why a lot of employers have a math test before one can be offered a position.

Interpersonal Communication Skills

Even the most technically adept can rarely do it all on their own, especially in such a complicated economy. Everyone needs to be able to work on a team and collaborate professionally and effectively. “Simply put, all employees should know how to deal with other people,” says Pangulima.

“Even a remote worker working from home would need to communicate with other people at some point and so the ability to convey your message to another person is an indispensable one,” Pangulima says. “This is why it is alarming to find out that 60% of employers say that applicants are not demonstrating sufficient communication and interpersonal skills to be considered for jobs, resulting in a rise in the prevailing unemployment rate.”

It would be ideal, of course, if employees entered the workforce with the basic skills that are essential for success in any industry. But many of these skills are simply not taught in the K–12 system or even in postsecondary education.

And when they are taught, they may not always be taught well, and students may not understand their direct application to the workplace. Therefore, employers and HR departments can’t take such skills for granted when looking to train and develop their staff.

Which of these skills could your employees benefit from developing more expertise in? How might you incorporate this skill-building into your training and development offerings?

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