What is competency based assessment?

How do you know how good a person’s business skills really are?

This was the question posed by the TV show The Apprentice. For those not familiar with this show, a group of people competed over a series of weeks to become the winner. Each week they were assigned real world business related tasks to complete. Their performance was then judged by the host of the show and a group of business savvy advisors. Each episode one person was eliminated until the final winner was determined.

The show was in effect a form of competency based assessment and is a good place to start your understanding on what it is and how it works. Like the show, competency based assessment seeks to determine whether a person can do a task or group of tasks and how well they can do them. It recognises that the most accurate way to determine a person’s competence at something is to assess them using their knowledge and skills in an on-the-job situation.

Every job requires a specific set of knowledge and skills. This varies depending on the type and complexity of the job. A competency based assessment process provides a way of building the skills and knowledge people need to perform their job. Similarly, the TV show The Apprentice was not just an assessment exercise. It was a learning process for the contestants. Beyond this winning the show meant gaining a role where you were an apprentice and would be able to learn further from an expert. Like the show, competency based assessment isn’t just an assessment exercise. It is a process of assessment, learning and re-assessment.

A typical competency assessment process

There are different approaches to competency based assessment. One typical approach is explained in the diagram below.

Competency based assessment infographic
  • Step 1 - self assessment

    The first step in competency based assessment is for a person to conduct a self-assessment.  This could be as simple as completing a competency assessment form (see our sample form or it might be as detailed as a collection of evidence that they can perform some skill.

  • Step 2 - assessor review

    While a self-assessment may be sufficient for some processes, many require an assessor to also assess an individual. This usually requires completing a competency assessment form and in some cases reviewing the evidence a person has collected that they can perform a skill. For more robust competency assessment processes an assessor may observe a person performing some skill on-the-job.

  • Step 3 - identify development needs

    An assessment will identify the areas where a person is already competent and the areas in which they need development. Using this information a development plan can be created.

  • Step 4 - on and off the job learning

    A good approach to a person’s development plan is to include a mix of on-the-job and off-the-job learning. For instance, shadowing an expert, attending a training course or special assignments. See our article on the 70:20:10 approach to learning for more information.

  • Step 5 - re-assessment

    If development needs were identified a person will need to be re-assessed once learning has been completed. Once the assessment has successfully completed a person is deemed competent and in some cases awarded a certification.

An Ongoing Process

Competency assessment is an ongoing process in which knowledge and skills are continually built. This is particularly important in today’s fast paced dynamic world. Being able to understand current capabilities and develop new ones is critical to stay ahead of the curve.

But it’s not just new skills that need to be developed. Competency levels can be used to define different stages of expertise. This is useful for individuals as they progress through career from novice to expert. For companies, competency assessment can provide a great foundation for a succession planning process.

If you’d like to continue your learning about competencies and competency assessment, see the recommended articles below. You can also find more in our Learning menu.

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