The Difference between Knowledge Skills and Abilities
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Knowledge, Skills and Abilities

The Difference between Knowledge Skills and Abilities

To understand the primary differences between knowledge, skills, and abilities, try to answer this question: Do you know how to cut meat? It seems to be a rather simple question, doesn’t it? But on reflection, you pretty quickly can distinguish between ‘knowledge’ and ‘skills and abilities’! In other words, it tells us that while most people know how to cut meat, that one action hardly makes them a butcher. That’s the fundamental difference between knowledge , skills and abilities, even though these terms are often used interchangeably.

The difference between Skills and Abilities?

The difference between skills and abilities is relatively less palpable than the difference between ‘knowledge’ and ‘skill and ability’. To put it in very simple terms, abilities are considered to be natural or innate whereas skills are behaviours which have been either learned or acquired. For instance, while cutting hair, you may have the innate ability to keep your hands in a steady position or even cut in a straight manner, but a skill for hair cutting is what you learn by attending a hairdressing course. You can continuously develop and improve your skills over a period of time. You can combine your skill with your knowledge and ability. Like skills, abilities can also be honed and improved to a certain extent. For instance, you may have the skill to run fast, but your ability to run fast comes from possessing strong leg muscles, which you may develop with regular training and exercise. In other words, you can combine ability and knowledge to create skills which you can use.

What is Knowledge?

Knowledge can be termed to be your state of understanding. It can be categorised into mental or theoretical, rather than practical. Knowledge can be gained from multiple sources such as books, online research and the like. However, merely gaining knowledge does not compulsorily mean that you can do it practically, despite knowing the steps to perform and even the possible outcome of performing the given steps.

Why do employers need to know the difference?

If employers understand the difference between knowledge, skills and abilities, it enables them to support the overall development of their employees. In order to develop an employee, it is first of all important to find out which are the areas of improvement. If there is a lack of knowledge in an employee, with further training, it may help them to learn effectively. Also, a lack of knowledge can be filled in by reading books and doing some research along the lines. If an employee lacks any particular skill, practical training may be required to impart the knowledge at a practical level. However, if someone lacks in terms of abilities, it is relatively difficult to train them, because abilities are typically innate. A smart employer should be able to identify an employee’s abilities and should provide opportunities to the employees to use and refine those abilities.

What are some examples of the differences between Knowledge, Skills and Abilities?

Let’s take a look at some of the examples that explain the difference between knowledge, skills, and abilities. Ralph is a professional swimmer with a sound knowledge of the various types of swimming strokes, the best means to train and the diet to follow. However, his ability to swim may be attributed to his sleek body shape, his robust leg and arm muscles, and the ability to hold his breath for a considerable period of time. Speaking of skill, swimming is the skill. It is a combination of the knowledge of swimming and the ability to effectively swim. Similarly, Ruth is a baker. She possesses the knowledge of the ingredients and recipes related to baking, and her ability is to measure the ingredients correctly and carefully. Her skills include baking and decorating the cake which is again a combination of the knowledge of techniques and the abilities to utilise these techniques.

What should an employer look for while hiring someone new?

As an employer, while hiring someone new, it is important that you need to look for candidates with knowledge, skills, and abilities. Look for a candidate who possesses the theoretical understanding and the skills to implement that knowledge practically. Abilities are not easily quantifiable, so you may not want to harp too much on it during the interview process. Ensure that your interviewer is able to frame questions to judge the level of knowledge and skill of the potential candidate. An ideal way to judge this during interviews is to ask for examples when the candidate may have solved a problem effectively or turned a customer grievance into a positive experience. Some employers choose to have trial days for employees before committing to taking them on.

How important is ongoing development?

It is very important for employers to facilitate the ongoing development of its team members by providing ongoing training. Training helps to improve the knowledge of employees and develop and improve their new or existing skills. It is equally important for employees to work towards honing their abilities so that they can enhance their career prospects. You need to understand that while it is relatively easy for an employer to influence the skills and knowledge of employees, it is equally important for employees to improve their skills.


Byron Conway

Content Coordinator at EmployeeConnect