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Knowledge , Skills and Competence

Updated on April 3, 2016

Sources of knowledge

Knowledge is available to anyone who seeks
Knowledge is available to anyone who seeks


  • Knowledge – familiarity with facts, information, descriptions
  • “Justified true belief” – Pluto
  • Knowledge resides in a ‘Body of Knowledge’ – books , libraries; no one person is entitled to knowledge!
  • Patents have a limited period before they go into the public domain
  • Knowledge must be shared, managed; knowledge should be traceable to some source
  • Some people say, bookish knowledge is useless – They are wrong
  • We need a starting point in engineering analysis – this can only be from books mainly
  • However, those who just know facts are no better than a book in the library
  • We need to develop intuition, based on our knowledge, reflection, and experience
  • Engineers need to communicate what we know and transfer it into workable designs
  • People can only demonstrate knowledge, they do not own it - we are entitled to our opinion and not to facts.

Use of Knowledge

  • Engineers design and build systems on the basis of scientific knowledge , not on conjecture, luck or divination
  • Importance of college graduates, especially good recent graduates
  • Recent graduates are employed to utilize their acquired knowledge
  • It's all Physics - Space, Time and Matter!
  • Knowledge is absolute (within limits of what can be sensed and measured)

Knowledge Continued...

  • Development of new knowledge based on scientific methods and laid down academic discourse
  • Managing validation, sharing, retrieval, use, referencing
  • Understanding the basics, fundamentals of physics, biology, mathematics, psychology etc
  • Ability to research and organize knowledge relevant to the task at hand is more important than an encyclopedic attitude
  • Engineers should have domain knowledge in their areas but should not end there

Tools of the trade

To be skilled is to actually do something with your own hands
To be skilled is to actually do something with your own hands

Skills , Experience , Expertise

These terms can safely be grouped in a single classification. Skills are the abilities of the practitioner to execute work. As distinct from knowledge, this is the actual hands on the deck, or as some would say, getting your hands dirty.

Skills are acquired actual practice, often under controlled supervision to achieve pre defined outcome. There is no other way to get skills other than through experience. Expertise, skills or know-how usually involves use of hands in coordinated manners to control tools and machinery and produce desired outcome.

Human beings were thought to be distinguished from other animals through their use of tools, this have been disproved when some birds and primates were observed using stones to crush food. However, our flexible hands still distinguish us from other animals. Action necessary to make a difference in our lives. No matter how much we know, action will be required to produce results. Contemplation and imagination are important but one their own they don't get things done.

Some points we need to say about skills

  • Skills are necessary to get things done
  • Skills are learned over time, often through supervision, with repetition and learning through mistakes
  • Skills are invariably associated with motor actions i.e. use of hands ( and feet , etc)
  • Unlike knowledge, skills are not enhanced by reflection, rather through a disciplined mastery of predetermined processes to obtain known results
  • Repairing an induction motor, star-delta wiring, programming in C++, Excel , use of a particular software package to design, CAD , baking a cake , presenting a sales pitch
  • Skills do not necessarily imply knowledge of underlying principles. One does not really need to know all the thermodynamics theory inorder to drive a car.
  • Certain generic skills are a must have for specific professions e.g. speaking clearly, drafting simple sketches, programming in any one language or at least flow charting, use of Office computer packages and office tools
  • Handling an aircraft requires the pilot to be skilled – Licensing and certifications issues, cable jointing, and paving
  • Skills cannot be shared, they are possessed by an individual but can be transferred
  • Skills reflect the state of technology of a particular era – they have a limited validity across time, equipment type, software versions etc
  • Self - mastery is an enduring skill
  • Engineers should develop relevant skills as they progress in their careers


Competence is a quality with many aspects
Competence is a quality with many aspects

Knowledge or Skills

Would be knowledgeable or skilled

See results


  • An appropriate blend of knowledge, experience and motivational factors which enables a person to perform a task successfully ( Euro Guide , 2003 )
  • A competent person performs a task correctly, efficiently and consistently under varying conditions to the satisfaction of the end client
  • Competence demands that positive results be realized without compromise
  • Management of Change and Complexity (Further reading highly encouraged here – Niccollo Machiavelli (The Prince), Sun Tzu (The Art of War), Strategic Management, Operations Research, Economics, Animal Farm, Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, Psychology, Religious Literature
  • Competence is about personal fulfillment as it is about organizational success
  • With competence the end and the means are equally important
  • Doing right projects right!
  • Competence can be achieved at group level – examples are Military and high end consulting firms


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