Cooperation, analysis and organization cited as top skills needed for federal work

Below is an article in a recent MSPB publication about separate surveys it has conducted of federal employees regarding the skills their jobs best enable them to work on, and regarding the skills most needed for their jobs, that place cooperation, analysis and organization at the top. .


Having the right skills and abilities to do their job is critical to the success of federal employees. Not only do these skills drive job performance, but they can also influence workplace culture and values. When many agency jobs require analytical ability, for example, that agency will hire and develop that skill within its workforce. Evidence of this focus can be reflected in employees’ interest in solving problems, exploring new technologies, using data and evidence to make decisions, and other activities that appeal to those with analytical skills. Thus, analytical skills will have become part of the agency culture as well as a job-related skill.

The Merit Systems Protection Board’s (MSPB) 2011 report Making the Right Connections: Targeting the Best Competencies for Training examined how agencies acquire job-related skills through the selection, training and development of employees. In the most recent Merit Principles Survey (MPS) in 2021, we extended this research by asking respondents from federal organizations what skills or abilities their agency allows them to best utilize on the job – an indication of the skills that seem most valued in their workplace. Responses to this open-ended question were categorized into eight skill categories. These categories are based on a cross-occupational analysis designed to identify a set of core soft skills that enable an employee to perform related tasks. They include directing and deciding (leadership), supporting and cooperating (cooperation), interacting and presenting (influence), analyzing and interpreting (analysis), creating and conceptualizing (creativity), organizing and executing (organization), adapting and coping (adaptability), enterprising and efficient (ambition).

The dark blue bars in the graph indicate the percentage of respondents describing a skill or ability best used in each skill category. The skills most often identified were cooperation (28%), analysis (24%) and organization (23%). The other five skills were identified less often. Because respondents were asked to identify only one skill or ability, the skill percentages add up to 100%.

The light blue bars show data from an earlier MPS in 2016. They show the percentage of respondents who reported using each skill to a great extent in their most important job tasks. Data from 2016 confirms the relative importance of cooperation, analysis and organization for much federal work and suggests that adaptability and leadership may also be important. Because respondents rated the importance of each skill individually, the percentages for the eight skills do not add up to 100% and are not directly comparable between the two surveys. However, the skill rankings are very similar across these two data sources.

In both surveys, our data suggest that cooperation, analysis and organization are the skills most characteristic of the federal workforce. Given the relationship between skills and workplace culture, and the role of both in attracting candidates, this information could be used to inform recruitment practices. Both agencies and candidates could be well served by realistic job preview statements in job ads that highlight these skills over others.

Another way to use this information is for agencies to compare their results to mission-critical skills. For example, if adaptability is needed to do the job, but employees don’t think it’s an important skill, then the agency needs to figure out if there’s a gap and how to fill it. Agencies can also benchmark their results against the organizational culture they are trying to achieve. If an agency wants to create a culture of creativity and innovation, for example, but its employees feel that those skills are not valued in the workplace, then the agency needs to assess how to change course and integrate those values ​​into the organization.

Organizations could also consider this approach when conducting their own job analyses. Asking questions about the most valued skills can reveal patterns that can help agencies identify their own characteristic skills. The findings can help each agency as it competes with the private sector — and each other — for workforce talent.

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Aubrey L. Morgan