Professional skills

Professional skills (FAHE 13001) is a course (subject) at CQUniversity Australia

Professional skills
The skills that graduates need to succeed in professional practice are 'professional skills'.  These range from highly specific ones related to the graduate's field(s) to more general, transferable ones such as communications and ethical practices. Professional skills develop over time and are refined and continuously improved through working in the professional field.  That is, there is growth from the commencement of work in a professional field as a 'novice' with quality beginning professional skills, to an 'expert'.  It is a bit like a person who has the requisite skills and is a world ranked tennis player.  That person starts off in the low rankings, and then as expertise develops through tough match play, fitness work, coaching, etc. moves progressively to the higher ranks. The range of professional skills within and across professions is considerable.  

Professor Gavin Brown, Vice-Chancellor of Sydney University responded to a question from Diana Simmonds, Editor of the Sydney Alumni Magazine, in the Winter 2008 issue (p. 12): "What if anything, then, is Gavin Brown tipping for the future of Australian higher education?"  Professor Brown responded: "I think the so-called 'soft skills' are going to be recognised as important once again. If you're going to be an engineer, learning more about human relations through the Classics is going to make you a more successful engineer." 

The editors of eSchool News (5 March 2008) in an article 'Creating the 21st-Century classroom' stated: "Skills such as global literacy, computer literacy, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and innovation have become critical in today’s increasingly interconnected workforce and society". In the same journal the editors (April, 2009) in an article 'Measuring 21st-Century skills' begin: "To remain competitive in an increasingly global, knowledge-based economy, today’s employers need graduates who are adept at so-called '21st-century skills' such as using information and communications technology (ICT) to gather and assess information, collaborate, innovate, think critically, and solve problems".

So with professional skills, there are many ways of 'carving up the cake' (i.e. categorising them), but to me there are two broad groupings of skills from undergraduate programs in universities.  These are

1. Generic skills (commion to all undergraduate degrees at that university)
2. Degree specific skills (sometimes called 'hard skills'), such as for teachers or engineers.

When applying for jobs, most employers want to know what professional skills you have already, and how willing you are to learn industry and worksite specific skills.  Employers normally want not just a list of skills (that you can easily get from a book or the internet), but for you to identify your key professional skills and the evidence you have for them by citing examples of how you have used them already in relevant contexts such as at university or workplaces.

Some useful websites on professional skills

  • CQUniversity AUSTRALIA Graduate Attributes  (generic professional skills from all undergraduate degrees at the University)
  • Communication
  • Problem solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Information literacy
  • Team work
  • Information technology
  • Cross cultural competence
  • Ethical practice
There are three categories of these attributes (skills): 1. Generic skills, 2. Intellectual nurturing, 3. Degree specific.  Within these there are three levels or standards as stated on the Graduate Attributes Factsheet: 
Category 1: Generic skills
The generic skills are those that are required of graduates in general.
  • Introductory: Use appropriate language to describe/explain discipline-specific fundamentals/knowledge/ideas;
  • Intermediate: Select and apply an appropriate level/style/means of communication;
  • Graduate: Formulate and communicate views to develop an academic argument in a specific discipline.
Information literacy
  • Introductory: Locate/identify resources appropriate to the discipline;
  • Intermediate: Apply information from various sources to address discipline-specific requirements;
  • Graduate: Interpret and analyse information from various sources to address a discipline-specific task.
Team work
  • Introductory: Act as a co-operative, productive team member, based on an allocated role;
  • Intermediate: Take responsibility for developing/setting/achieving group goals;
  • Graduate: Evaluate own strengths and weaknesses as a leader/team member, and/or autonomously working in a team context.
Information technology competence
  • Introductory: Use general software and the University's learning management system to advance personal learning;
  • Intermediate: Use discipline-specific software (independently) to explore/interpret information;
  • Graduate: Apply appropriate discipline-specific software to provide solutions to questions.
Category 2: Intellectual nurturing
These are more abstract, but are relevant in all areas of work as well as in life, helping to create well-rounded individuals who are analytical, curious and culturally well-informed.

Problem solving
  • Introductory: Manage time and prioritise activities within the University's framework for learning;
  • Intermediate: Make decisions to develop solutions to given situations/questions;
  • Graduate: Formulate strategies to identify, define and solve problems including, as necessary, global perspectives.
Critical thinking
  • Introductory: Explain the basic principles of University-level learning/learning styles/lifelong learning;
  • Intermediate: Analyse own performance and identify gaps in Graduate Attributes and discipline-specific knowledge/understanding;
  • Graduate: Reflectively evaluate and think creatively within the context of a specific discipline.
Cross-cultural competence
  • Introductory: Respect cultural diversity and respond appropriately to the opinions of others;
  • Intermediate: Discuss and debate the relative merits of ideas and actions from different cultural perspectives;
  • Graduate: Operate effectively within a discipline context in a socially diverse global environment.
Ethical practice
  • Introductory: Demonstrate an understanding of the legal/moral fundamentals of ethical practice within a discipline;
  • Intermediate: Make reasoned judgements on the value of particular actions in a discipline-specific context;
  • Graduate: Articulate an appropriate personal value system, in terms of social behaviour and civic responsibility.
Category 3: Discipline specific skills
These are related directly to the content of each degree program, and Faculties will provide input for each program and for each core course. Discipline-specific skills are aligned to professional accreditation, or are areas of knowledge that make a student work-ready in a particular area. Discipline-specific skills complement the other Graduate Attributes.

Some useful sites:

Some videos on professional skills:

Some examples of CQUniversity student responses to assessment tasks of a high standard in the course, Professional Skills: 

Referencing styles - APA & Harvard (author, date)

Page updated January 2016