Competency-Based Learning: 5 Steps To Assess Employee Skills Development

Competency-Based Learning: 5 Steps To Assess Employee Skills Development
Summary: In this article, we’ll provide you with a road map to effectively gauge your employees’ professional growth and discuss the most effective means of doing so.

Assessing Employee Skills Development

As you’ve heard throughout this series on competency-based learning, one of the most useful aspects of CBL is that there are defined criteria against which to measure employee performance. But how do you actually go about assessing employee skills development? And why should you bother? In this article, we’ll provide you with a road map to effectively gauge your employees’ professional growth and discuss the most effective means of doing so. Think of these steps as an employee skills development competency map. And speaking of competency maps…

eBook Release: Competency-Based Learning: Increase Employee Skills Development Through Competency-Based Learning
eBook Release
Competency-Based Learning: Increase Employee Skills Development Through Competency-Based Learning
Create the competency-based learning program that is right for your organization.

1. Create A Competency Map

Everything has a starting point, and in order to assess your employees’ skills development you have to know what skills and abilities they should have for their job roles, and those they need to cultivate if they seek advancement. We’ve discussed competency mapping at length, so we won’t belabor the point, but this is the essential—and arguably the most challenging—step in the process. You can’t assess the development of skills and abilities that haven’t been clearly defined.

2. Create Opportunities For Learners To Demonstrate Competency

Employers should be on the lookout for ways to weave skill demonstration into existing processes. Opportunities might include:

  • Hiring
    Candidates should be evaluated not only based on interviews and past experience but should also be provided the opportunity to demonstrate skills necessary for the job role. This gets your employees started off right, as they’ve provided evidence of competency from the outset.
  • Development planning/performance reviews
    Employees should know what resources are available to them in terms of ongoing training and personal development. Remember, your competency map is in place, so managers and employees know what competencies are required to excel and advance. A good manager will encourage the acquisition of new competencies rather than dismissing ongoing training as a waste of time. The more employees remain engaged, the longer they’ll stick around, and the better they’ll get at their jobs.
  • Mentorship
    Having achieved mastery of their required skill set such that they are capable of coaching others, mentors model what competency looks like for more junior staff. Mentees reap the benefits of working closely with top performers willing to share their experience. "Tell me, show me, let me" is an excellent means of integrating competency demonstration into this type of professional relationship.
  • Daily business operations
    If an employee has been hired based on competency mapping criteria, chances are they have the basic knowledge and skills required to perform their day-to-day work. But there is always a learning curve for new hires, and providing opportunities to demonstrate competency might look much like the pattern we discussed for mentorship. A junior technician, for example, might first observe an equipment test conducted by a senior technician. The next time the task is performed, the junior technician assists, and the next time, performs the task independently while the senior technician observes.

3. Design Meaningful, Measurable Assessments

In competency-based assessments employees must demonstrate "what they know as well as what they can do [1]." Though online training events should definitely be an element of your training arsenal, they’re better suited to demonstrating mastery of knowledge than mastery of competency and associated skills.

Thanks to your competency map, the "measurable" aspect of your assessments is inherent: the skills and abilities are clearly defined, and your employee either demonstrates them, does not, or requires improvement. Whichever the case, the competency map provides you with a framework against which to measure, which simplifies the task of designing assessment rubrics.

While measurement is simplified, authenticity can be a challenge. Assessment in competency-based environments must be as authentic as possible. If a job role requires negotiation skills, for example, an employee should be able to demonstrate such skills in as true to life a situation as possible, perhaps going so far as to be in an actual negotiating environment with a supervisor assisting in an observation role.

4. Use A Variety Of Assessment Methodologies

The most effective skills development assessments will include a variety of assessment methodologies [2], taking the best elements of each to paint a clearer picture of skills acquired and those that need improvement.

  • Self-assessment
    Competency-based learning, more than any other type of learning, relies heavily on self-assessment as a means of gauging skills development. An employee who is serious about their career will more often than not honestly evaluate their performance and target areas for improvement.
  • Hierarchical assessment
    Manager/supervisor assessment is also necessary and should examine knowledge as well as skills to determine if there are any gaps between current performance and desired level. This can help identify whether the learner needs foundational knowledge or simply additional practice to achieve competency.
  • Three-hundred and sixty degree (360º) feedback
    Co-workers, subordinates, superiors, and sometimes customers and vendors provide input on an employee’s performance. Such feedback can provide a more holistic view of employee performance, as the multiple viewpoints tend to hone in on areas that require development with greater prescience than a simple top-down evaluation.
  • Skill gap analysis
    This type of analysis is used to determine if there are gaps between an employee’s existing skills and those required to meet the business needs of the organization. They can be conducted on both an individual and organization-wide basis to determine if such gaps can be filled by additional training or if they require new hires.
  • Performance/psychometric tests
    Performance tests gauge an employee’s suitability to fulfill a role based on how they perform certain specific job-related tasks. Psychometric tests, on the other hand, are used to discern attitudes and behaviors that may be difficult to fully apprehend during a job interview.

5. Make It A Continuous Improvement Loop

As you might have guessed, this is not a one-and-done exercise. When an organization redefines its business goals or shifts focus it should also review its competency maps to make sure they align. If new competencies are required, new assessments will be as well. You get the picture. Though it might sound daunting, this exercise is crucial to your organization’s—and your employees’—continued success. When undertaken regularly, the process is much less arduous. If your company is not experiencing any dramatic shifts, an annual review is entirely reasonable. A 5-year review? Not so much.

You've Got Your Road Map—Why Do You Need It?

Throughout this series on CBL, we’ve discussed the benefits of competency-based learning. The benefits of competency-based assessment are equally desirable [3], for both employers and their workforce:

  • Improved clarity and transparency
  • More seamless personalization of learning
  • Encourages the shift toward a culture of assessment
  • Better individual understanding of learning profiles

If your organization is serious both about achieving its business goals and helping employees achieve their full potential, don’t neglect to apply these 5 steps to assess employee skills development. Download the eBook Competency-Based Learning: Increase Employee Skills Development Through Competency-Based Learning to discover more about this highly-strategic approach to employee skills development.


[1] TeachThought Staff, The Benefits of Competency-Based Assessment

[2] Competency-Based Assessments: Benefits and Types That You Must Know

[3] New to Competency-Based Learning? Here’re Five Ways to Assess It