Could Competency-Based Online Training Address the Skills Gap?

Skills target conceptUniversities traditionally confer degrees based on “seat time”—the number of credits (often, 120 credits for undergraduate degrees) that a student earns with a passing grade. Whether the student earns an “A” in every course, or a “C” in every course, he gets the degree. But, will he be successful on the job, especially as a credit hour is a measure of time, not learning? If, upon graduation, he applies for a job that is not traditionally associated with the degree he earned, can employers expect that he can do the job—and do it well?

Recruiters and hiring managers must take gambles on job candidates. Sure, recruiters try to be as thorough and objective as possible when searching for the right candidate and have a variety of tools at their disposal (interviews, referrals, digital searches for online reputation, background checks, assessments, etc.). But ultimately recruiters and hiring managers do not know if a candidate will be successful in a position until the candidate proves success down the road.

Meanwhile, there’s a skills gap in the workforce. Organizations cite an inability to find enough candidates with the right skill sets to fill open positions, yet unemployment is high. Part of the solution is convincing organizations to take the hiring gamble with candidates who may not yet have the “right” skills for a job yet are “trainable”. Reducing the risk of that hiring gamble and closing the skills gap is found in competency-based education, according to Michelle Weise in the article, The Real Revolution in Online Education Isn’t MOOCs.

Competency-based (higher) education awards credits not on time, but on whether students can prove that they have mastered competencies—the skills and knowledge—required for real world success. But, why wait for a revolution in higher education before you should expect job candidates with the “right skill set” to apply for your open positions? Hire people who have the aptitude to learn the right skill set and then help them to build those skills through competency-based online training in the workplace.

Creating Competency-Based Online Training

Competency-based training builds competencies in individuals based on pre-identified profiles of job success. It’s based on what you know and what you can do, not on how much raw time you spend taking classes on what you are supposed to know and do.

With competency-based training, the gap between current performance and desired performance is bridged. Individuals clearly understand the expectations for the knowledge and skill set needed to perform a given job successfully. Time spent away from the job and in training is minimized. And, prior knowledge and experience is recognized and valued.

When creating competency-based online training:

  • Define competencies for each role: Work with HR and hiring managers to determine the skill set that profiles success for a given set of roles and responsibilities.
  • Determine how to assess mastery of each competency: There must be an agreed upon mode of determining if a competency has been achieved. Will you measure success through quizzes, proctored exams, interviews, 360 feedback, or another method?
  • Identify if online training provides an edge: There are so many reasons to take workplace learning online. But does moving online create an edge for your workforce, in terms of individual and organizational success? Does online training (rather than some other form of training) build competencies in your work force? It’s often assumed that online training is the way to go. But, as with everything, be sure before you leap.
  • Create discrete modules for each competency: For each competency defined, create a discrete training module and assessment test. That way, individuals have the ability to objectively prove mastery of each competency.
  • Be open-minded: People come into an organization with differing levels of experience. Allow learners to “skip” skills for which they show competency and don’t mandate compulsory seat time. Allow for self-paced learning. Let learners learn on their own terms—as long as they learn.

Create a Partnership Based on Mutual Success

Competency-based training allows for targeted and accelerated learning and maximizes job success while minimizing time away from the job for training. This type of training also allows role standardization and provides an objective way to measure skills. Employers can take a proactive role in helping employees be successful on the job. The ability to address the skills gap is placed directly in the hands of both the employers and the employees, working in partnership based on a desire for mutual success.

Gauri Reyes is a talent developer and learning leader with extensive experience in roles ranging from software management to managing the learning function in organizations. She is Principal Learning Strategist and CEO at Triple Point Advisors and Founder of the YOUth LEAD program. Follow her on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.

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