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CTDO Magazine

A Road Map for Upskilling and Reskilling

Friday, October 15, 2021

Use skills assessments to determine where employees are and where they need to go.

It’s an understatement to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to many changes. For companies, those changes have related to how work gets done and adjustments to business priorities.

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All of that has quickly and dramatically accelerated the need for new workforce skills, including skills for the future, according to McKinsey & Company.

McKinsey’s research as well as research from the World Economic Forum and LinkedIn Learning signal the need for workers to upskill and reskill quickly. In its 2021 Workplace Learning Report, LinkedIn describes this as the age of rapid upskilling, reskilling, and internal mobility.

The report also points out that a culture of continuous learning can create a more equitable workplace, innovate in ways we can hardly imagine, and create economic opportunity for every member of the organization.

Those all sound like great objectives. So, how do we get there?

First assess

Individuals cannot upskill or reskill without knowing where they are and where they need to be to be competent in a given role. If they need new or improved skills in their current role, they need upskilling. If it’s for a new role—because their current position is being automated or they’re looking for internal mobility—they need reskilling.

That’s where a skills assessment comes in. It evaluates their capabilities—the behaviors necessary to complete specific tasks—against the job requirements, which are defined in a competency model.

To be valuable, competency models should contain only the tasks and skills that are critical to success in a particular role. Capability ratings are selected based on the perception of how the individual completes each task or skill—that is, it defines their proficiency level.

In the assessment, the individual’s selected proficiency level is then compared with the target level, defining proficiency or skills gaps for each task or skill. It’s a simple math equation: job requirements minus proficiency equals skills gaps. At the end, workers can compare their current situation to their target and determine a path to achieve their end goal.

If you don’t already have an established competency model, several resources can help you develop one, such as this Association for Talent Development webinar.

Best practices

As you move forward with skills assessments, keep these four best practices in mind.

Be specific. Avoid using a generic skills assessment, where you assess everyone against the same skill set. That will be less effective than using a role-specific assessment, because while it may provide information for a point in time, it won’t help each person on their journey to upskill and reskill for other roles in the organization. It will become a check-the-box exercise that is not well sustained.

Use the right skills assessment. There are self-assessments, manager assessments, and assessments by others, which may or may not be 360-degree assessments. A manager skills assessment without a self-assessment will not provide the results you seek because there will be no buy-in to the results. Start with a self-assessment, and add a manager assessment, and optionally those from subject matter experts.

Use skills assessment technology that facilitates scale. Factoring in scale enables you to assess thousands of employees, working at their own pace, over and over again, as skills and corporate strategy change.

Gain data quickly. Done well, skills assessments can provide data rapidly. For example, I use a working session approach with customers so that large groups of up to 300 people come together virtually for a quick tour of the assessment, after which they complete their self-assessment in a system together live, all in a one-hour meeting. At the end of that meeting, skills assessment data is instantly available as analytics—easily sliced, diced and visualized, and ready to provide to leaders as the baseline.

Significance

The value of a skills assessment at the individual level is that employees know how they measure up, which can motivate them to do something about it. The assessment provides them with control, empowerment, and engagement—everything talent development leaders look for to create an excellent employee experience.

At the organizational level, the value of a skills assessment is that it provides the data to explain a company’s circumstances and performance and specifically what leaders need to do. Assessments quantify the size of the skills gaps. And when organizational priorities are changing and work is increasingly dependent on higher-level skills such as innovation, critical thinking, and adaptability, skills assessments are the only way to know whether your employees have the ability to do what you need them to do. Over time, successive assessments will tell you whether they are progressing.

Most companies are blissfully unaware of the quantity and size of their skills gaps. They know they have them, but they don’t know how large or widespread they are, and they can’t inform organizational plans, priorities, and strategy.

Think about that for a moment. If you don’t know what you can and can’t do, how can you be successful? How can you truly define what your organization’s strengths are and which opportunities you should pursue or what you should do about it?

As a leader, if you are setting priorities and strategy and you don’t have organizational analysis skills, you should be scared. You’re making decisions based on inadequate data.

However, you don’t have to stay in the dark. Use skills assessments to understand your organizational capabilities, and then you can make optimal decisions, including where you need to upskill and reskill staff.

Action steps

Use skills assessments as part of an ongoing process to drive a culture of learning. After you’ve raised employees’ awareness of their own skills gaps and intrinsically motivated them to close those gaps, give them specific ways to do so.

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Make your skills assessment actionable, providing individuals with personalized learning options across the 70-20-10 model that can help them close gaps or increase their proficiency. Without such recommendations, you don’t connect the WIFM (what’s in it for me) for staff or their managers. Personalized learning provides focus for each person and equips managers to more easily coach and support.

One underused but highly cost-effective method for closing gaps is pairing high performers in a particular skill with those who need that skill. The proficient individuals serve as short-term, task-based mentors, expanding both their and the mentees’ skills. However, you can only identify individuals to pair for such relationships via skills assessment data.

Further, once you know where skills gaps exist, you can use that data to inform strategic actions to meet organizational goals. Aggregated personalized learning data becomes real needs assessment data for demand planning. Focus your talent acquisition strategy accordingly and hire those with the skills the company currently lacks.

And with regular skills assessments, you can measure the impact of learning. You can show that employees who have completed certain development activities have increased their skill in a particular area. That may lead you to provide more of those learning opportunities. Or if some activities are not changing skills in a positive way, you can make decisions to replace them.

Ongoing efforts

Is a skills assessment the end game? No, rather, it is just the beginning. The life cycle of skills is shorter than ever, and the pace of change is unprecedented.

Some C-level executives may think a skills assessment is only necessary once every few years; however, that’s like saying you only need to report company financials every five years. How could someone possibly want to invest? And in that case, how can you invest well in your talent, which is your greatest asset?

If you want to check the box, then conduct only one skills assessment. But if you want to drive organizational capabilities, then create a cycle of assessment, ongoing development, and reassessment on the tasks and skills being developed so that you have a relevant picture of capabilities at any time.

You can only achieve measurement when you have skills assessment data over time. Skills assessments also enable you to create a culture of lifelong learning that drives real growth and engagement in the company.

As organizational strategies, priorities, and required skills change, adjust the role-based competency model’s skills so that you’re moving everyone to the new destination. Do that easily with an annual or biannual review of the model with high performers in the role.

Employees want to remain relevant and have career options and internal mobility. Organizations need to know whether employees have the skills they need for today and tomorrow, and you need to know what skills to hire for and whether your training efforts are successful. By assessing employees’ skills, you will have an upskilling and reskilling road map for success.

Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.

About the Author

Cheryl Lasse is SkillDirector’s managing partner. Her goal is helping people and companies achieve their potential. Cheryl has extensive experience with competency model development and implementation, and enjoys sharing her knowledge and passion with others. Check out the LinkedIn group Competency Models For Professional Development.

She believes people are intrinsically motivated to excel, if they are given access to a competency model for their role, the opportunity to assess themselves against that model, and personalized learning to help them close gaps and meet aspirational goals. This philosophy has been embodied in the Self-Directed Learning Engine, the engine behind the ATD Skill Tracker.

Cheryl has a strong background in consulting, marketing, and sales, mostly in technology companies, where training has played a chief role throughout her career. She holds bachelor’s degrees from Syracuse University in computer science and HR, and an MBA from the University of South Florida.

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