I’ve been seeing the phrase “competency frameworks” a lot lately. I’m glad. I’ve long been concerned about the disconnect between training content and job performance. In a quarter decade of business training, I have rarely felt much attention was given to the question: “What do these people need to know to do better in their jobs?” I often felt that training was designed from the starting point of “here’s what I know so that’s what I’ll teach”.
So, what is a competency framework and how will it improve the effectiveness of training?
The HR Dictionary defines competency framework as “the set of duties or tasks performed as part of a job with the standards which should be achieved in these duties”.
OK, so for every training course we design, we need to know:
- What job are we training for? In other words, what duties or tasks are we teaching someone how to do?
- What are the standards that we will measure against? How will we know if our students have learned enough of the right things to perform those duties? How will we know our training accomplished this?
In my mind, competencies for education are fairly well-defined and adhered to by a very strict accreditation system. It is relatively easy to accurately measure students’ understanding of geometry, grammar, or DaVinci’s work. Education provides foundational knowledge; training is the application of that knowledge in a specific situation. My brother-in-law (a math whiz) was always amazed at how his grandfather used calculus in his machine working job. But Granddad didn’t actually know calculus; he knew some rules for machining. My brother-in-law, with his foundational knowledge, can apply what he knows about math to just about any situation.
The difficulty with business training is that job descriptions (and their related competencies) change frequently. People in those jobs come from varying backgrounds. Often, people have to adapt to new job requirements because that’s the best thing for the company. An example would be that of typists. There’s no such thing as a typing pool any more. For awhile, typists were converted to word processors (using machines of the same name). That transition required an entirely new competency: using a computer.
Businesses try to fill the gap between “knowledge/skill” of workers (old, young, new, tenured) and what they need at that moment, with training. Not only is it difficult to determine what training is required for that gap, it is even harder to measure if the training is effective. Sadly, it is even more difficult because often the very people in charge of these efforts are not competent in training design or testing! I’m hoping that with increased emphasis on it from a software view, there will be some attention to the concept itself.
Much the same as when mapping a process, the people who do the job should be involved in the determination of the necessary competencies. Mind Tools™ has posted an excellent article on the subject, which includes a step by step guide to get it done. As they say, it will take a lot of effort; effort by the people who actually know the positions.
The US Army is very good at defining job duties and training to them. Every job, at every classification, has defined skills within the MOS system. (Note: this term varies by branch of service, but the structure is very similar.) Here is an example for a US Army Corp of Engineers Diver for five skill levels. Notice how this also includes required scores on fitness and written tests, as well as other requirements. Those developing the training would start with these requirements, not with what they felt like teaching!
I encourage you to read as much as you can about the concept of competency frameworks (start with this Wikipedia article), browse through the Army’s MOS listings (for ideas on how to structure yours), and do your own Internet searches. To read more on how competency frameworks are critical to the success of your business, visit my blog for earlier posts (such as this one) on testing in a business environment and this one on Purpose-Objectives-Goals for business training. Future posts are planned for how Moodle supports competency frameworks through grades, scales, and outcomes.