The global skills and competency framework for the digital world

Knowledge, skill and competency

SFIA is an experience framework – you have a skill or competency at a particular level because you have experience of practising that skill or competency in a real-world, professional environment.

SFIA reflects industry. Industry uses such terms as knowledge, skill, competence, competency and capability almost interchangeably.

The International Standards Organisation (ISO) has developed standards related to this (ISO/IEC 24773-1:2019 and ISO/IEC 17024:2012) and they also recognise, for example, that the words competency and competencies can be used as synonyms of competence and competences.

From ISO/IEC 24773-1:2019
competence, competency
-  ability to apply knowledge and skills to 
achieve intended results

Note 2 to entry: The word competency and competencies can be used  as synonyms of competence and competences. Competence can be used to refer to general ability(e.g. overall competence), while competency can be used to refer to a specific ability (e.g. competency in design of user interfaces). ...

SFIA has been successful because it broadly adopts the ISO definitions without trying to be overly prescriptive. This is a pragmatic approach focussing more on defining how SFIA can be used to determine whether someone can achieve intended results and less on debating whether a professional skill within the SFIA Framework is a 'skill' or a 'competency'.

As SFIA has experience at the core, it is a competency framework.

  • SFIA also describes the skills, so it is also recognised as a skills framework.
  • SFIA does not provide a body of knowledge for all the skills it defines but instead links to relevant and valued industry bodies of knowledge.
  • Relevant elements from these bodies of knowledge can be mapped to individual SFIA skills and to the generic attributes.

SFIA is used in a great many scenarios and uses the following approach.

  • Knowledge describes facts and information typically acquired through experience or education. An individual can acquire knowledge without applying that knowledge.
  • Skill is applying knowledge and developing proficiency – which could be done in a controlled environment such as an educational institution through, for example, simulation or substantial project work.
  • Competency is applying the necessary knowledge and skill in a real-world environment with full professional responsibility and accountability for one's own actions. Experience in a professional working environment represents the difference between demonstrated skill and demonstrated competency.

This approach can be used to have greater confidence in the ability of someone to achieve intended results, within the workplace, whether in the application of an individual skill or a group of skills necessary to perform a role.

When assessing an individual, knowledge, skill and competency are not necessarily a progression but recognisable states.

  • Knowledge:
    An individual should provide sufficient evidence that they possess the relevant knowledge appropriate to a particular SFIA element. A minimum cognitive level of “can explain” should be demonstrated.
  • Skill:
    An individual should provide sufficient evidence that they have applied the relevant knowledge and performed the activity at the performance level of “proficient in the skill” i.e. they can do what SFIA describes on their own without instruction, possibly in a controlled environment.
  • Competency:
    An individual should provide sufficient evidence that they have applied the relevant knowledge and skills, and have significant professional experience of performing the activities described by SFIA in a professional working environment through the performance of a role, job or function. They must consistently achieve expected objectives and a successful outcome on an ongoing basis, reliably as a professional level.