Is there a Skills Translation Gap?

Alemayehu Bahta
3 min readDec 5, 2019

Think briefly about your current job. What are the top 5 skills you utilize in this position? Are there skills that you transferred from a previous role or educational program? If so, how did you know the skills were transferable and how did you express that to the hiring committee. The odds are you were moving between related roles, so the need for explaining your skillset wasn’t top of mind.

As someone who has had various jobs that appear unrelated, I’ve had my experience in connecting dots for employers. The ability to connect the dots between experiences is arguably a skill in and of itself, however, it isn’t something that I learned in a class. For liberal arts graduates and anyone with nontraditional work experiences, the ability to translate skills across roles and verticals is a valuable asset.

So What Does it Mean to Translate Skills?

Before describing what it means to translate skills. Let’s layout the two simplified paths that people usually took to achieve the same goal, namely moving into a new role and advancing their career. First, some companies provided employees a path towards advancement with different milestones along the journey. Second, employees and students had access to an educator, manager or coach who provided them the necessary cultural capital to understand their skills and the pathway to the next role.

The ability to translate skills demonstrates a deep awareness of how skills are related indicating an ability to connect the dots. It’s easy to describe a past task and transform into a skill. It’s much harder to distill that activity into a generalizable or transferable skill. For example in marketing role one may write, “planned marketing campaigns by defining the targeted message.” How does this now apply to a job that isn’t directly related to marketing? To transfer the skill requires an understanding of the specific sub-skills and how they relate to other activities. For example, what type of project management went into planning a campaign, how was the message targeted, was there research involved? Answers to these questions lead to more generalizable skills that can be applied in various settings. Some may believe this is simply a matter of marketing or terminology, but I’d argue translating skills is more complex because it requires self-reflection and a nuanced understanding of what the employer is looking for.

Why is this Important?

There are three use cases for translating skills:

First: Recent graduates from any kind of non-vocational or technical education will need to explain how their education aligns to their future role

Second: Someone pivoting careers will need to understand how past experiences can be applied to future roles

Third: Moving from a nonprofessional role or non-traditional work experience such the military requires the ability to describe past work in a new language

The Gap in the Technology Ecosystem

The skills translation gap could be solved with more educators, managers and coaches working with students and employees one-on-one, but this is expensive and unlikely to happen. This presents an opportunity for the edtech space. Though there are numerous point solutions working at the intersection of work and learning there are no tools that take a comprehensive view of this problem. This isn’t unique to the skills translation gap problem, but a characteristic of the entire education and work system. There are numerous silos between the two sectors: a lack of common language for job titles or skills and no common way to asses which skills learners actually have. I believe this gap in the market is especially important for employees and learners who don’t have access to mentors who can provide guidance for filling the gap. This applies to low skills workers who are seeking advancement or college graduates who are underemployed.

One organization that has taken a holistic view of this problem is the Strada Education Network, but there is still more work to be done. To fill the skills translation gap we need more collaborative solutions between education providers, employers and other key stakeholders.



Alemayehu Bahta

Education Nerd | Tech for Social Impact | Future of Work | Coffee Enthusiast