2.3: Core competencies — importance of a set of base transferable skills

What is a core competency?

Core competencies are the basic building blocks common across most occupations and industries. They describe a set of non-specialist skills gained in early life and schooling and provide a base to further develop skills and specialties . Popular terms for these include ‘foundation skills’, ‘common skills’, ‘soft skills’, ‘core skills’ and ‘employability skills’.

Understanding the importance of core competencies in jobs is particularly important for young people, who are yet to develop other specialist skills required for different occupations.

As part of the Australian Skills Classification work, the NSC identified 10 core competencies required for every occupation in Australia.

Table 5: Australian Skills Classification core competencies

Teamwork Working effectively with others and personally connecting with others for work and learning.
Initiative and innovation Taking on responsibilities and challenges, being able to start up and carry out projects and generating options to cope with changes.
Planning and organising Developing specific goals and plans to prioritise, organise and complete work and learning.
Oral communication

Talking to others to convey information effectively, giving full attention to what other people are saying and understanding the conversation

Digital literacy Identifying and using technology (including hardware and software) confidently, creatively and critically.
Reading Interpreting, comprehending and interacting with written words.
Writing Communicating effectively in writing as appropriate for the needs of the audience.
Problem solving

Identifying problems and reviewing related information to develop and evaluate options and implement solutions.

Learning Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.
Numeracy Understanding numbers and using mathematics to solve problems.

Source: NSC analysis

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The purpose of identifying core competencies

Core competencies are highly desired by employers. A 2019 survey of employers asked about the importance of personal skills, which are a key component of employability skills. The survey results indicated that 75 per cent of employers considered personal skills to be as important, if not more important, than specialist skills10.

Core competencies developed from previous jobs can also be applied to other jobs. To help inform this understanding, the Australian Skills Classification shows the importance of each core competency across different occupations in the Australian labour market. A rating scale for the importance of each of the core competencies is currently being refined and measure descriptions for the scale are being developed.

Analysis in action: core competencies heat map

Figure 2 shows how important each core competency is in some of the largest employing occupations in Australia11. The colours compare the level of importance of each skill across occupations. The rank (1 to 10) indicates the importance of each core competency within an occupation. For example, for Truck Drivers, planning and organisation is the most important core competency, whereas for Sales Assistants, the most important core competency is teamwork. Registered Nurses have high importance for 70 per cent of the core competencies, whereas core competencies are less important (but still necessary) for Commercial Cleaners.

Figure 2: Importance of core competencies across 10 largest employing occupations

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Source: NSC analysis

Figure 2 – Importance of core competencies across 10 largest employing occupations

This chart shows how important ten core competencies such as reading, writing, and oral communication are across the ten largest employing occupations. It does this by first ranking them out of ten within each occupation and then grouping them into high, medium and low importance categories to compare their importance across all occupations. It shows that some of the larger employing occupations such as Registered Nurse and General Clerks consider the core competencies to be of higher importance than lower employing occupations such Commercial Cleaners and Checkout Operators and Office Cashiers.


10. Department of Education, Skills and Employment, Survey of Employers’ Recruitment Experiences, 2019.

11.Top 10 largest employing occupations based on ABS Labour Force survey, Detailed, Quarterly, February 2020, (Cat. No. 6291.0.55.003).