Why You Need to Train for Competencies, Not Skills

Don't get left behind! The future of training will be more about competencies than skills. Start now to build a training program that arms your future workforce.

According to industry prognosticators, the future of learning looks something like this: Microlearning. Millennials and Centennial (Gen Z) digital workers. Personalized learning plans. Virtual reality. Artificial intelligence. Multi-cultural, multi-generational, geographically dispersed networked teams. It’s a vision of who is learning and how they’re learning. What’s missing is the what of training in the future.

We acknowledge that future workers will need to interact with technologies that have not yet been developed, in industries yet to be defined. Still, we’re not yet articulating an underlying truth about “what” employees will need to learn — that training for job skills is not enough. We’re scrambling toward a future workforce that’s less supported by what employees learn in school and more reliant upon an ability for workers to adapt. To pull that off, the future of training must be more about competencies than skills.

Untapped Potential of Competencies

Competencies are an established tool in corporate America and government. The recently published Brandon Hall Group 2017 Competency Planning and Management Study shows that about two-thirds of organizations are utilizing workforce competencies. That’s good news. What’s surprising is this statistic: “only 33% of organizations using them believe they are effective in meeting business goals.”

There is, then, a huge disconnect between potential and reality. That gap will only widen unless we mature our competency management programs and align competency requirements with our business strategies.

Skills vs. Competencies

Just to be clear, let’s distinguish between skills and competencies. The two terms are interrelated and are often (unfortunately) used interchangeably. In its simplest terms, a skill defines a learned activity. Writing an email is a skill. So is flying a fighter jet. Knowing which skills an employee has helps us understand which workplace activities he or she is equipped to perform.

Competencies are bigger than that. Competencies encompass the skills and proficiencies (knowledge, abilities, expertise) of job performance. They are the cumulative fundamental knowledge and abilities or expertise within a specific subject area. They may also include personal characteristics that can establish the level of performance for an individual within a specific position, team or project. Maintaining strong customer relationships is a competency that includes the ability to write an email – as well as an ability to establish a rapport, the judgment to manage when and how to connect with a customer, and the knowledge to share information that adds value to a customer’s experience.

Why Competencies?

Ultimately, it is competencies, not skills that define requirements for high job performance. Someone who writes flawless emails and faithfully calls a customer three times a month may still not be the best person for a customer management job. If that person doesn’t “get” the give-and-take of a customer relationship, he or she won’t be successful in building long-term relationships.

This makes sense at a gut level. We all know people who are expert on a technical level but who struggle with social interactions. (And the opposite!) Research bears out the expectation that aligned competencies can have a positive impact on the organization. Studies show that organizations with a competency management program in place benefit from higher productivity and advance the company’s bottom line. The flip side is also true. The World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Employment cautions that, “A mismatch of skills between those required and those possessed by an employee has far-reaching effects – negatively impacting labor markets worldwide and hindering the ability of societies to capitalize on their workforces.”

Training for the Future

We know that by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of your workforce, you can improve your training programs and your workforce performance.

What’s tricky is that the strengths of high performers in our future workforce can’t rest with activities they learn. Those skills alone become rapidly perishable commodities in a world where technology and market changes are escalating. Instead, future workers will need to continuously build on their knowledge, effectively communicate with colleagues across changing demographics, and expertly adapt to their new realities every day. In short, they can only succeed if they master the competencies — the skills, knowledge and abilities — required to navigate what’s next.

Competency-Based Training

Because competencies are multifaceted and innately tied to multiple proficiencies, many organizations are hesitant to fully adopt a competency-based training and talent management program. However, the benefits and needs for a competency-based program are compelling.

What’s more, technology has revolutionized the ability to reach competency effectiveness. The Brandon Hall Group study found that “fully automated organizations are 79% more likely than other organizations to rate their top competency objectives as effective.”

Don’t get left behind! Start now to build your training program on competencies, not skills, to arm your workforce for the future.

Read our new 8 Critical Success Factors for Competency Management Implementation white paper to see if your organization is ready. Or contact us to learn more about Avilar’s comprehensive competency management solutions.

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