Learning is an important part of any business and selecting the proper tools as well as designing realistic and measurable learning paths is paramount in growing and engaging the workforce.

When sales people go to HR managers to pitch a particular training program, whether it is face to face or online, they will present it in the best possible light. Employees will learn more and easier than ever before, returns on investment will go through the roof and engagement will surely plummet. The training units will definitely add greatly to employee skills, abilities, competencies, expertise, proficiency and pretty much everything else in that particular semantic area.

Of course that sounds unrealistic and a little too good to be true; because vocabulary aside, you can train your employees for skills OR for competencies. They are not the same thing and their value is not equal in the workplace. Here’s why.

A question of WHAT vs HOW WELL

If we were to define skills, they are very specific activities, some more complex than others. Scaling a salmon is a skill but so are typing, driving or performing a kidney transplant. They are all things that people learned to do at a certain time in their lives. Of course a lot more people can clean fish, type and drive than perform a transplant but ultimately, they are all just skills.

Still, a sushi chef will scale flawlessly and efficiently, a court clerk will type faster and more correctly than a high school freshman, a professional driver will make better time than a Sunday driver, and it’s only safe to assume that where kidney replacement is concerned an experienced surgeon will do a better job than an intern.

A more academic definition of competency is “the capability to apply or use a set of related knowledge, skills, and abilities required to successfully perform critical work functions or tasks in a defined work setting. Competencies often serve as the basis for skill standards that specify the level of knowledge, skills, and abilities required for success in the workplace as well as potential measurement criteria for assessing competency attainment.”

Repetition, mastery and interconnecting of skills leads to competencies.

Talent management is about competencies

Since competencies are a lot more complex than skills are, and because they are built around an internal and interconnected logic, using them as a base for talent management requires greater attention and care.

For a long time, the additional work that came with using competencies to define job success made many organizations hesitant to adopting them. But in the past few years, the process of building and deploying comprehensive competency architecture to support the organization has been revolutionized by internet-based solutions.

Replacing long, boring objective lists and paper-based forms of SWOTS and charts with easy to use online tools allows organizations to construct, deploy, and maintain complex competency architecture with transparency and ease. This type of online tool also simplifies and automates key competency-based activities such as conducting interviews, performance management, and developing talent.

As a result, learning and development professionals no longer have to give up on a competency-based approach because they don’t have the resources to develop and manage it efficiently.

Competency-based online training – the effective way to reach mastery

If you want your competency-based online training program to be really successful it must be very clear about each employee’s learning path. This means that initially there has to be an assessment of their current skills, talents, and abilities. Then the learning consultant should work out with them and the manager to establish what is their true potential, or the stage at which they want to arrive in order to be most efficient.

Of course this means being prepared to design a personalized online training path either for a group of employees with similar starting abilities or for every individual employee. This is easily done with the use of surveys, focus groups, online assessments, interviews, and observing people in their roles to assess training needs and design a unique competency-based online training trajectory.

The online activities, materials, and exercises employees should complete have to be designed in such a way as to fill their skill gap and help attain their individual goals. For example, an employee working in the customer care department should have a completely different competency online training path than somebody working in corporate sales. Likewise, everyone in a specific department should also have some common competencies to master.

Competency-based online training has the great advantage that it allows focus on practical, hands on knowledge instead of academic theory. Choosing this type of learning for your employees will ensure they breach the gap between simple skill and competency and reach their true potential.

Author: Roxana M

Roxana is a learning and development professional with over 10 years experience in corporate training.