There is no human resource (HR) management concept that is more important than the KSAO. Graduate students in my field of industrial-organizational psychology encounter KSAOs in many of their classes, and they learn that the first step in most of the things many will do is to figure out the KSAOs. But what does KSAO stand for and why is it so important?
What Does KSAO Stand for?
KSAO is short for knowledge, skill, ability, and other characteristics. These four categories can refer to what is needed to be successful in a job, and they can refer to the talents that individuals possess. Examples of each are:
- Knowledge are things people know about, such as knowledge of drug interactions for a pharmacist or knowledge of local building codes for a carpenter.
- Skill refers to tasks a person is able to perform, such as skill in drawing for a graphic artist or skill in drawing blood for a nurse.
- Ability is the capacity to learn knowledge or skill, such as hand-eye coordination that is important for skilled laborers or logical reasoning for a computer programmer.
- Other refers to characteristics of people that are not KSAs, including interests (enjoys working with computers), personality (is outgoing) and values (holds high ethical standards).
How Are KSAOs Used?
KSAOs are used to match people to jobs. Matching begins by using a job analysis to figure out the KSAO requirements for a particular job. What talents does someone need to do each of the necessary tasks? Once the job requirements are determined, one can design a system to determine if individuals have the KSAOs needed. This might include collecting background information on education and work histories, psychological assessments, and structured interviews. Ideally the measures and questions would be designed to assess the KSAO requirements. For example, to determine if a pharmacist has knowledge of drugs, one could rely on their educational background and that they are licensed. For spreadsheet skill in bookkeepers, one might design an assessment that involves having to complete a particular task in a limited amount of time.
There are two main ways that KSAOs are used. First, KSAOs are important in employee selection as they allow matching job applicant talents to the needs of the jobs they apply for. Individuals with the best matches are chosen. Second, KSAOs can be used for determining skill deficits in current employees to inform where training is needed. Job analysis can identify KSAO requirements and assessments of current employees can identify the gaps.
Advantages of Using KSAOs
Many companies use KSAOs as a foundation for many HR actions because they are helpful in a number of ways.
- Better job performance. The closer the match between job requirements and employee KSAOs, the greater the likelihood of success on the job. This can be achieved at the time of hire by choosing individuals who are well matched, and it can be achieved through training to supplement KSAOs employees do not come in with.
- Better employee engagement. Employees who have the talent for success on a job are likely to be more motivated to perform. They will have greater self-confidence in their ability to perform, and they will enjoy the rewards of success.
- Less bias in hiring and promotion. One of the best ways to combat bias based on age, gender, race, or other personal characteristics is to make HR decisions job relevant. This means that deciding on who to hire is based on KSAOs and not subjective judgments of hiring managers that can be biased, often unconsciously. Hiring those who have the best KSAO match will go a long way to minimizing hiring and other actions based on irrelevant personal characteristics.
- Lower job stress. Employees who have skill gaps are likely to feel under pressure. They have to put in extra effort to perform tasks that can lead to feelings of overload. They likely worry that if they do not perform well, they will be fired.
It requires expertise to conduct job analysis and design HR systems to match people’s talents to job requirements. Many large organizations have such expertise in-house, with smaller organizations often relying on external consultants when in-house expertise is lacking. Making the most of KSAOs requires an investment of resources that given the advantages, are resources well spent.
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