SCANS 2000: What is SCANS?

In the early 1990s, the United States Department of Labor appointed a commission to study 50 occupations and identify the "know-how" workers need to perform their jobs well.

The commission, called SCANS (Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills), spent 12 months talking to business owners, public employers, managers, union officials, and entry-level to senior workers in a variety of industries. The prevailing message they heard everywhere was this:

Good jobs depend on people who can put knowledge to work. New workers must be creative and responsible problem solvers and have the skills and attitudes on which employers can build. Traditional jobs are changing and new jobs are created everyday. High paying but unskilled jobs are disappearing. Employers and employees share the belief that all workplaces must "work smarter."1

The SCANS commission released its SCANS Report in 1992. The report remains relevant and compelling in the new century. It documents the global and technological forces behind the changing American workplace and challenges American schools to reinvent themselves to make school curricula and teaching methods more relevant to the modern workplace (collaborative learning projects, teacher as facilitator, emphasis on problem solving and critical thinking, and real-world, scenario-based assignments, among others).


1Learning a Living: A Blueprint for High Performance. A SCANS Report for America 2000. U.S. Department of Labor, 1992.

SCANS Skills

The SCANS Report identifies a group specific competencies and foundation skills that are required to succeed in the workplace.

SCANS Competencies

The competencies are functional skills that reflect what people in a wide range of jobs actually do at work, regardless of their field or position. The competencies differ from a person's technical knowledge and skills. For example, an accountant and a manufacturing technician have different technical skills, but they both need to be competent at understanding and communicating information, managing resources, and using technology effectively.

The SCANS Commission identified five general areas of competence:

Resources. The ability to identify, organize, plan, and allocate resources.

Interpersonal. The ability to work well with others

Information. The ability to acquire and use information.

Systems. The ability to understand complex interrelationships.

Technology. The ability to work with a variety of technologies

The list that follows shows some sample tasks for each general competency and lists the specific skills in each area.


Sample tasks:

  • Develop cost estimates and write proposals to justify the expense of replacing kitchen equipment.
  • Develop schedule for equipment delivery to avoid closing restaurant.
  • Read construction blueprints and manufacturers' installation requirements to place and install the equipment.

Manages Time

Selects relevant, goal-related activities, ranks them in order of importance, allocates time to activities, and understands, prepares, and follows schedules.

Manages Money

Uses or prepares budgets, including making cost and revenue forecasts; keeps detailed records to track budget performance; and makes appropriate adjustments.

Manages Material and Facility Resources

Acquires, stores, and distributes materials, supplies, parts, equipment, space, or final products in order to make the best use of them.

Manages Human Resources

Assesses knowledge and skills, distributes work accordingly, evaluates performance, and provides feedback.



Sample tasks:

  • Coordinate with a peer technician to install a point-to-point data circuit in two different cities.
  • Teach a coworker the procedure for preparing and distributing the quarterly sales forecast.
  • Help customers select merchandise and resolve complaints.

Participates as a Member of a Team

Works cooperatively with others and contributes to group efforts with ideas, suggestions, and effort.

Teaches Others

Helps others learn needed knowledge and skills.

Serves Clients/Customers

Works and communicates with clients and customers to satisfy their expectations.

Exercises Leadership

Communicates thoughts, feelings, and ideas to justify a position, encourage, persuade, convince, or otherwise motivate an individual or groups, including responsibly challenging existing procedures, policies, or authority.

Negotiates to Arrive at a Decision

Works towards an agreement that may involve exchanging specific resources or resolving divergent interests.

Works with Cultural Diversity

Works well with men and women and with people from a variety of ethnic, social, or educational backgrounds.



Sample tasks:

  • Analyze statistical control charts to monitor error rate.
  • Record and maintain purchase requests, invoices, and cost information for raw materials.
  • Use a spreadsheet program to estimate the food costs of alternative menus and daily specials.
  • Communicate downtime procedures to line workers.

Acquires and Evaluates Information

Identifies a need for data, obtains the data from existing sources or creates them, and evaluates their relevance and accuracy.

Organizes and Maintains Information

Organizes, processes, and maintains written or computerized records and other forms of information in a systematic fashion.

Interprets and Communicates Information

Selects and analyzes information and communicates the results to others using oral, written, graphic, pictorial, or multimedia methods.

Uses Computers to Process Information

Employs computers to acquire, organize, analyze, and communicate information.



Sample tasks:

  • Analyze painting system and suggest improvements to minimize system downtime and improve paint finish.
  • Analyze the average and maximum wait from the time customers sit down until they receive the appetizer and then the entrée; modify restaurant procedure to reduce time by 20%.
  • Analyze current expenditures against expected needs and revenue.

Understands Systems

Knows how social, organizational, and technological systems work and operates effectively within them.

Monitors and Corrects Performance

Distinguishes trends, predicts impacts of actions on system operations, diagnoses deviations in the functioning of a system/organization, and takes necessary action to correct performance.

Improves and Designs Systems

Makes suggestions to modify existing systems in order to improve the quality of products or services and develops new or alternative systems.


Sample tasks:

  • Evaluate three new paint spray guns from the point of view of costs, health and safety, and speed. Vendors describe performance with charts and written specifications.
  • Use computer and video technology to enhance quality of training videos and reduce production time.
  • Operate a forklift and ensure it is in proper operating condition.

Selects Technology

Judges which sets of procedures, tools, or machines, including computers and their programs, will produce the desired results.

Applies Technology to Task

Understands the overall intents and the proper procedures for setting up and operating machines, including computers and their programming systems.

Maintains and Troubleshoots Technology

Prevents, identifies, or solves problems in machines, computers, and other technologies.


SCANS Foundation Skills

Individuals must have a strong foundation is several basic skills in order to achieve competence in the five SCANS skills areas described above.

The commission identified a three-part foundation of intellectual skills and personal qualities that underlie the SCANS competencies:

Basic skills. Read, write, perform mathematical operations, listen, and speak.

The basic skills are the minimum skills required for even low-skill jobs.

Thinking skills. Think creatively, make decisions, solve problems, visualize, learn and apply new knowledge and skills.

The thinking skills permit workers to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate complexity. They are the true raw materials from which the five competencies are built.

Personal qualities. Responsibility, self-esteem, sociability, self-management, integrity, honesty.

These personal qualities are so important that their absence can quickly disqualify any job seeker at any level of accomplishment.

The list that follows shows some sample tasks for each area and defines the specific skills in each area.




Sample tasks:

  • Write memo to justify additional resources.
  • Prepare instructions for operating simple machines.
  • Explain new schedules to a work team.
  • Question customers to diagnose malfunctions.
  • Reconcile differences between inventory and financial records.
  • Estimate discounts on the spot while negotiating sales.


Locates, understands, and interprets written information in prose and documents-including manuals, graphs, and schedules-to perform tasks; learns from text by determining the main idea or essential message; identifies relevant details, facts, and specifications; infers or locates the meaning of unknown or technical vocabulary; and judges the accuracy, appropriateness, style, and plausibility of reports, proposals, or theories of other writers.


Communicates thoughts, ideas, information, and messages in writing; records information completely and accurately; composes and creates documents such as letters, directions, manuals, reports, proposals, graphs, and flow charts with the language, style, organization, and format appropriate to the subject matter, purpose, and audience; includes, where appropriate, supporting documentation, and attends to level of detail; and checks, edits, and revises for correct information, appropriate emphasis, form, grammar, spelling, and punctuation.


Performs basic computations; uses basic numerical concepts such as whole numbers and percentages in practical situations; makes reasonable estimates of arithmetic results without a calculator; and uses tables, graphs, diagrams, and charts to obtain or convey quantitative information.


Approaches practical problems by choosing appropriately from a variety of mathematical techniques; uses quantitative data to construct logical explanations for real world situations; expresses mathematical ideas and concepts orally and in writing; and understands the role of chance in the occurrence and prediction of events.


Receives, attends to, interprets, and responds to verbal messages and other cues such as body language in ways that are appropriate to the purpose-for example, to comprehend, learn, critically evaluate, appreciate, or support the speaker.


Organizes ideas and communicates oral messages appropriate to listeners and situations; participates in conversation, discussion, and group presentations; selects an appropriate medium for conveying a message; uses verbal language and other cues such as body language in a way appropriate in style, tone, and level of complexity to the audience and the occasion; speaks clearly and communicates a message; understands and responds to listener feedback; and asks questions when needed.



Sample tasks:

  • Resolve schedule conflict by setting priorities for processing orders.
  • Collect payment for delinquent customers and use judgment about extending credit.
  • Compensate a customer who is dissatisfied with housekeeping services on a recent cruise.
  • Evaluate vendor bids and select supplier.

Creative Thinking

Generates new ideas by making nonlinear or unusual connections, changing or reshaping goals, and imagining new possibilities; and uses imagination freely, combining ideas or information in new ways, making connections between seemingly unrelated ideas, and reshaping goals in ways that reveal new possibilities.

Decision Making

Specifies goals and constraints, generates alternatives, considers risks, and evaluates and chooses best alternatives.

Problem Solving

Recognizes that a problem exists (i.e., that there is a discrepancy between what is and what should be); identifies possible reasons for the discrepancy, and devises and implements a plan of action to resolve it; and evaluates and monitors progress, revising the plan as indicated by findings.

Mental Visualization

Sees things in the mind's eye by organizing and processing symbols, pictures, graphs, objects, or other information-for example, sees a building from a blueprint, a system's operation from schematics, the flow of work activities from narrative descriptions, or the taste of food from reading a recipe.

Knowing How to Learn

Recognizes and can use learning techniques to apply and adapt existing and new knowledge and skills in both familiar and changing situations; and is aware of learning tools such as personal learning styles (visual, aural, etc.), formal learning strategies (note-taking or clustering items that share some characteristics), and informal learning strategies (awareness of unidentified false assumptions that may lead to faulty conclusions).


Discovers a rule or principle underlying the relationship between two or more objects and applies it in solving a problem-for example, uses logic to draw conclusions from available information, extracts rules or principles from a set of objects or a written text, or applies rules and principles to a new situation (or determines which conclusions are correct when given a set of facts and conclusions).




Exerts a high level of effort and perseverance toward goal attainment; works hard to become excellent at doing tasks by setting high standards, paying attention to details, working well even when assigned an unpleasant task, and displaying a high level of concentration; and displays high standards of attendance, punctuality, enthusiasm, vitality, and optimism in approaching and completing tasks.


Believes in own self-worth and maintains a positive view of self, demonstrates knowledge of own skills and abilities, is aware of one's impression on others, and knows own emotional capacity and needs and how to address them.


Demonstrates understanding, friendliness, adaptability, empathy, and politeness in new and ongoing group settings; asserts self in familiar and unfamiliar social situations; relates well to others; responds appropriately as the situation requires; and takes an interest in what others say and do.


Accurately assesses own knowledge, skills, and abilities; sets well-defined and realistic personal goals; monitors progress toward goal attainment and motivates self through goal achievement; and exhibits self-control and responds to feedback unemotionally and non-defensively.


Recognizes when being faced with making a decision or exhibiting behavior that may break with commonly held personal or societal values; understands the effects of violating these beliefs and codes on an organization, oneself, and others; and chooses an ethical course of action.



The Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills. Learning a Living: A Blueprint for High Performance. A SCANS Report for America 2000. U.S. Department of Labor, 1992.

______. Teaching the SCANS Competencies. U.S. Department of Labor, 1993.

______. What Work Requires of Schools. A SCANS Report for America 2000. U.S. Department of Labor, 1992.