Competency-based Learning: Why Bother?

Andy Andrews

When I was employed as a Learning and Development manager at one of the world’s largest software companies we faced one of the classic challenges – understanding the L & D requirements of the organization.

The team that I managed were responsible for training employees from subsidiaries that were geographically dispersed and the businesses had grown organically. It was difficult to establish what the learning requirements for each subsidiary were up front and to plan accordingly. Up to that point, “up front” meant sending a list of courses in a spreadsheet from which each subsidiary would choose the ones they wanted and how many.

In truth, the response was generally half-hearted until it suddenly impacted the ability of the subsidiary to deliver. “You’re not providing us with the training that we need to support our business!” they exclaimed. “You’re not telling us what you need until it’s too late!” we would retort. We needed to apply some science to the task.

The answer was to help the business take more responsibility for identifying their learning requirements. How did we manage to do it successfully? Firstly, by helping the organization to articulate the skills and competencies required of each employee in the job they were doing. Secondly, by carrying out a competency audit from which we identified each individual’s gaps and the relevant training they required to bridge those gaps. Consequently, we were then able to aggregate the needs of each individual into a team, functional and even a regional plan. In other words, we were able to build a robust competency-based learning plan.

Each subsidiary responded enthusiastically, not only did they now have a relevant learning plan but they also benefited from understanding the competencies of their people and how to best utilize them. The arguments (almost) ended.

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