Employees love certificates and certifications; many a cube wall is dedicated to framed or push-pinned testaments of activity. In corporate environments, almost every training activity comes with a certificate. Most people view certificates as a testament to having “finished” something. Is there a relationship between certificates or certification and competency?
What’s the Difference?
In reality, certificates say little about the individual student’s skill level as it pertains to the workplace. Think about your college degree, about your driver’s license. Consider the training of your local firefighters and paramedics. Does an 18-year-old, freshly licensed driver have the same level of skill as a driver with 30,000 miles behind the wheel? Certificates and certifications actually represent the beginning of something. Let’s define each term in relation to training and the workplace:
The individual has acquired specific knowledge, skills and abilities, measured at a specific moment in time, as determined by the training or instructional staff.
Skill ( Competency )
An individual demonstrates, over a period of time, proper application of knowledge and ability in a real-world environment.
Track Skills & Competency
For each job title in your company, there is probably a job description. One function of most job descriptions is to outline the basic skills associated with the job. These skills are reviewed with employees infrequently at best – usually as part of a “360-degree review” or employee evaluation.
That’s just not smart.
There are two problems here. First, employees should receive constant feedback. Feedback can be positive or corrective, and it needs to be ongoing, specific, and relevant. Second, a limited-scope 2011 project conducted by the University of Washington – Bothell evaluated job discrepancy. Nearly 80% of the study participants related moderate to high levels of discrepancy between their job’s description and actual job expectations.
Employers are concerned with maximizing performance in an employee’s current job or position. Really good companies are concerned with grooming employees for future roles. That’s where training managers and human resources need to draw a distinction. The definition above provides a good break point:
- Use ongoing skill and competency evaluation to monitor performance in the current job.
- Use the acquisition of certifications (i.e., additional knowledge, skills and abilities) to prepare an employee for a future job or responsibility.
Monitoring and improving employee performance of skills critical to corporate success is the priority. Helping employees is important, but secondary. And all of these relate directly to the function of corporate training.
Skill and competency tracking is a bridge between human resources, training, managers, and the workforce. Your learning management system can print beautiful certificates, but can a manager observe an employee in the work environment and record relevant feedback using a mobile device?
Case Study: Paramedics, Certification & Competency
The paramedics that arrive on an ambulance must be certified or licensed (usually a state function). Certifications are earned through knowledge and skills testing after hundreds of hours of training. This means that on the date tested, the paramedic demonstrated the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to be a paramedic. There are specific requirements that must be met to renew each certification. Because the role of the paramedic as part of our 911 system, though – most agencies monitor competency of each and every provider frequently. This monitoring takes many forms: demonstrating skills in laboratory training sessions; in reviewing documentation from 911 calls; observation by a field training officer; through rotations in clinical environments. The certification is important, but competency is what both the employer and the public demand.
Monitoring skill and competency in the workforce provides a wealth of information to the training center. There are a number of data points that can be beneficial.
- Skills performance in relation to expected levels by employee segments.
- Individual employee performance of a single skill.
- Individual employee performance over multiple skills.
- Skill compliance monitoring – required versus actually acquired.
- Amount of time to reach a specific skill level.
- Relationship between similar skills and employee performance level
A skills gap analysis is a way of looking at the data you’ve acquired. A skills gap analysis shows the skill, identifies the current performance level, and compares it to the desired performance level. Consider problems throughout the process.
- Why does the actual performance deviate from expected?
- Is there a problem with the way the skill has been taught?
- Is there a problem with how the skill is being observed or scored by the evaluator?
- Is the problem with the individual’s use of the skill competency?
- Why is the individual having trouble performing at the desired level?
Once you’ve identified areas where performance is beneath expectations, training resources can be directed in an appropriate manner. Ultimately, training centers and human resources personnel have the same objective: improve overall organizational performance. Integrating skill and competency management with the training function creates a functional bridge for information. Linking training activity to performance and the workplace provides insight into the value of training provided.
Certificates are a great way to recognize participation in training and academic achievement. Even more important to today’s corporate training centers is the link between training and performance.