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Career Advancement and Skill Development – What is the Difference

Updated: May 19, 2023

As a career development educator, I am often asked about the difference between the concepts ‘career advancement’ and ‘skill development’. Due to the close similarity between the two concepts, it is easy to confuse them. These two are actually very distinct concepts that require different frameworks and action steps in order for us to achieve move forward and attain career advancement or skill development.

Career Advancement & Skill Development

Typically, people perceive career advancement as ‘moving up the ladder’ in your current organization, or in the 21st Century practice, taking up a higher position role in a different organization. Career advancement usually involve the individual taking up more responsibilities such as leading teams or departments, or even taking up a role as a senior executive or to be a member of the C-suite. Career advancement is typically driven by factors such as job performance, reputation, networking, and leadership skills (DeRue et al., 2011).


On the other hand, skill development refers to acquiring new skills or improving existing ones which are relevant to your current or future desired job. This could involve technical skills, such as learning how to do coding or data analysis, or soft (transferable) skills such as communication, analysis or even problem-solving. Skill development is often achieved through on-the-job training, signing up workshops or continual education courses, or experiential learning (Noe et al., 2010).


While career advancement and skill development are distinct concepts, they are closely intertwined. In order to advance in your career, you need to continually keep your skills updated and keep up with the latest trends and technologies in your field and industry. Interestingly, when you start to develop new skills, you inevitably open up new job and career opportunities that may have been unavailable to you previously (Arthur, 2014).


So, can career advancement and skill development happen at the same time?

Of course! Here are some strategies for us all to consider:


1. Set clear goals:

Identify what you want to achieve in your career pathway and the skills you will need to develop in order to get there. Write and list down your goals but more importantly, break them down into smaller, achievable steps (think about SMART goals, which everyone knows).


2. Seek feedback:

Ask for feedback from your supervisor, colleagues, or mentors on your work performance and areas that need further enhancement or improvement. Such feedback is useful because you can use this to identify areas to consider developing your skills. Another way to seek feedback is to complete a Knowdell Motivated Skills Card sort so that you are able to identify which skills you have that fall under the “developmental skills” quadrant. Using that list, you can then map the ones that you could further develop.


3. Take on new challenges:

Look for opportunities to take on new projects or responsibilities that will stretch your skills and help you grow.


4. Pursue training and education:

Take courses or pursue a formal qualification in an area that will help you develop new skills or improve existing ones (Riggio, 2013).


5. Network:

Build relationships with others in your field or industry to learn about new trends and opportunities for skill development (Hsieh & Lee, 2017). CDAS regularly organises Career Facilitation Circles (CFCs). These are events where members come together to learn about improving our career facilitation skills and also provides opportunities for us to network and learn from each other.


Remember, career advancement and skill development require effort and dedication. By focusing on both, you can achieve your goals and create a fulfilling and successful career.

CDAS is an association based in Singapore that aims to Promote and Professionalize Career Development and Management in Singapore.


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References

Arthur, M. B. (2014). The boundaryless career at 20: Where do we stand, and where can we go? Career Development International, 19(6), 627-640.

DeRue, D. S., Nahrgang, J. D., Wellman, N., & Humphrey, S. E. (2011). Trait and behavioral theories of leadership: An integration and meta-analytic test of their relative validity. Personnel Psychology, 64(1), 7-52.

Hsieh, Y. H., & Lee, C. Y. (2017). Skill development and career advancement: An empirical study of Taiwanese employees. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 100, 130-141.

Noe, R. A., Tews, M. J., & Dachner, A. M. (2010). Learner engagement: A new perspective for enhancing our understanding of learner motivation and workplace learning. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 9(3), 434-452.

Riggio, R. E. (2013). Introduction to industrial/organizational psychology. Pearson Education.

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