Competency Assessment Methods

The methods for assessing competencies range from simple self-assessments to detailed approaches that result in a formal certification. In this article we’ll explore the options and discuss when each should be used.

Competency assessment methods have three things in common:

  1. People who perform the assessment
  2. The competency statements and assessment criteria
  3. An assessment process

Who should assess competencies?

This depends on the circumstance, the type of competencies being assessed and whether a certification is required. One method can be used or a combination of methods. Below we discuss the options.

Regardless of which option is chosen, two terms need to be defined. They are the assessor and assessee. The person assessing competencies is called the assessor. The person being assessed is the assessee. Let’s take the example of a person being assessed against competencies in a workplace situation. The company may require that all people undergoing assessment conduct a self assessment and also be assessed by their manager. In this situation the assessor is the manager and the assessee is the employee.

Competencies assessors

Self-assessment

A self-assessment is helpful in almost all circumstances. It is usually combined with one or more other assessors such as a person’s manager.
Self-assessment is a form of reflection that helps a person recognise their skill level and opportunities for development. It gives a person a voice in their assessment.

For certifications, self-assessment is often a necessary part of the process in which a person also collects evidence of their capability level.

Manager and supervisor assessment

In many competency assessment processes, managers and supervisors are called upon to assess their team members. They are suitable assessors in cases where they are:

Competent in the areas they are being asked to assess their team members
Have a regular exposure to the team members exhibiting the competency areas

Expert or Experienced Operative

People who are experts or highly experienced in some area of competency are often suitable to assess others in that competency area. This is particularly true for technical competencies where the assessor must have the capabilities themselves.

Multi-rater and 360 degree feedback

One potential problem with any type of assessment is that the assessor may have a limited perspective or bias. In these cases multiple assessors can help provide additional perspectives.

360 Degree Feedback is an approach designed to provide an all round perspective on a person’s competence. It brings in the perspectives of not just the individual and their manager, but also colleagues and direct reports (subordinates). It is frequently used when a person is being assessed against leadership competencies.

Assessment Centres and RTOs

Assessment Centres and Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) provide assessment services, particularly in the case of certifications. In addition to reviewing a person’s existing evidence of competence, they utilise other techniques such as simulation exercises.

Competency Statements and Assessment Criteria

A person can be assessed against one or more competencies. Most often a person is assessed against a set of competencies that are needed for some job role.

To help the assessor determine whether the assessee is competent or not, each competency should include some form of assessment criteria. The assessment criteria provides the assessor with conditions they can compare the assessee against.

There are three common types of assessment criteria. For each competency below we provide a subset of the criteria as an example to help your understanding.

Competency elements

Competency elements help define a competency and how to assess it by breaking it down into smaller parts. Our sample competencies article has a number of examples including this one for a teacher:

Competency

Create course content

Competency elements

  • Establish learning outcomes
  • Plan and structure course content
  • Create engaging learning materials
  • Develop tests to measure student knowledge

As an assessor, the elements help you determine whether or not a teacher can create course content.

Behaviour statements

Behaviour statements are similar to competency elements in how they break down a competency into more meaningful parts. They define behaviours that a person should display if they are competent in some area. Let’s look at an example:

Competency

Leadership

Behaviours

  • Provides clear and specific performance feedback
  • Aligns individual and team objectives to the organisation’s goals
  • Speaks clearly and concisely, gets point across well
  • Actively listens when communicating with others to gain a good understanding
  • Discusses and considers options carefully

When assessing a person or yourself against the leadership competency you would ask yourself, have I observed them displaying these behaviours? You would also take into account how often you observe them and how well they exhibit each behaviour. For instance, a person may only sometimes provide clear and specific performance feedback and at other times provide vague comments. This person could not be considered as competent at leadership. Whereas a person who exhibits all the behaviours almost all the time and does them well could be considered competent.

Performance and evidence criteria

More robust competency assessment methods provide additional criteria to ensure consistency in assessment outcomes. By describing the performance and evidence criteria for each competency, assessors can make more accurate judgements above the level of a person’s competence. Here is an example from the Certificate III in Barbering certification.

Competency

Cut hair using freehand clipper techniques (source)

Elements
1. Consult with client and assess hair.
2. Select equipment and prepare for service.
3. Cut hair using freehand clipper techniques.
4. Outline haircuts.
5. Finish hair to shape and review service.

Performance Criteria

To help you understand performance criteria we have listed the requirements for the element “3. Cut hair using freehand clipper techniques”. For a full list of the elements please see the standards here. Additional guidance is provided to assessors in this guide.

3.1 Maintain client and operator comfort, safety and hygiene throughout haircutting service according to organisational procedures.
3.2 Position and adjust client head and neck during service to enable access and achieve required angles of lift.
3.3. Use a smooth, fast and fluid freehand clipper action to cut hair.
3.4. Follow a logical cutting pattern to achieve planned haircut length and structure.
3.5. Blend lengths in interior and exterior of haircut by using various clipper attachments, as required, and clippers at various angles.

Competency levels

Assessment criteria can also define a number of levels of competency. This enables you to differentiate what a novice at the competency might look like compared to an expert.

To help explain the concept of levels, below is an example taken from the NSW Government Public Sector Capability Framework.

Competency
Influence and Negotiate

Levels
Foundational
Intermediate
Adept
Advanced
Highly Advanced

Level descriptors
Below we present the Adept and Highly Advanced descriptors side by side. The framework includes descriptors for the other levels, however we have not included them here to keep this article to a readable length.

Adept and Highly Advanced descriptors

The Competency Assessment Process

Once you know who is going to assess competence and what the competencies are, you need an assessment process. We describe a typical process in our article What is Competency Based Assessment.

The trade-off between robustness and cost

Methods for assessing competency range from simple to robust. You might wonder why a robust approach is not always used. After all if the robust approach gives us a more accurate assessment, how can more simple approaches be justified.

The answer to that question is simple, robust approaches are more costly because they consume more time for the individual being assessed and their assessor. This means competency assessment methods are a trade-off between time (cost) and robustness.

The time that an assessment takes determines how willing a person will be to participate in the process and how practical it is to do across a large group of people in an organisation setting.

If the purpose of an assessment is to provide a person with a certification, they will be more willing to spend the time necessary in a robust approach. Whereas if the purpose of an assessment is to determine development needs for a large group of people a simpler approach will provide the outcome necessary with a much lower cost (time investment).

Where to next?

We hope you’ve gained a good understanding of competency assessment methods with this article. If you’d like to continue your exploration of competency related topics, we have some recommended articles below. You can also find more competency articles under our Learning menu.

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