If you’re working in HR or learning and development you’ve probably heard the term competency-based training thrown around online and at conferences. Is it just a new buzz term companies use to appear great places to work, or is it something legitimately worth investigating? We’ve broken down what it is, and why you might want to incorporate it in your organisation.

So, what is it exactly? Competency-based training is used to develop valuable characteristics and skillsets in individuals, leading to greater employability and life-long learning. It’s also known as mastery-based learning, proficiency-based learning or performance-based education. It requires a well-designed framework at its core. Competency frameworks are based on key ‘competencies’ (behaviours, skills, knowledge and attributes) that enable employees to do their job effectively. In competence-based training, these competencies become the basis of what is taught and assessed.  Defining key competencies in a specific, measurable way gives learners a clear picture of the path they need to follow to become masters of that skill. After creating the framework, programmes of study detailing learner progression, appropriate teaching and learning approaches, assessment practices and quality assurance processes, learner support, and more, are designed.

As the demands of our working environment are constantly changing, the way we teach and assess must change to keep up, too. Competency-based training is designed to capture these changes by:

  • Developing a demand-driven curriculum to produce a workforce with the relevant skills and competencies demanded by the industry.
  • Building an education and training system delivering competencies in accordance with nationally recognised standards.
  • Creating an education and training system with multiple entry/exit points and with flexible delivery options to create a culture of lifelong learning.
  • Building a system capable of recognising skills and competencies wherever and however they are obtained.
  • Developing mutually recognised graduate capabilities through increased consultation and collaboration with industry.

The below table illustrates the hierarchy of learner progression throughout a competency-based training journey.

 Competency Framework2

As well as providing a pathway to master certain skills, competencies also help:

  • The development of structured learning pathways and programmes
  • Evidence-based performance and development
  • Blended learning approaches focused on the development of key behaviours, knowledge and skills acquisition over time whilst in the workplace.
  • The building of qualifications to recognise learning and to facilitate career progression

What sets competency-based training apart from other, more traditional methods of training and assessment, is that it is learner-focused and flexible. Leaners are actively involved in shaping their learning journeys, supported by competencies which allow a natural progression through the hierarchy of expertise. Some of the ways that competencies support learning are by:

  • Focusing learning and assessment on the critical competencies.
  • Allowing learners to work on one competency at a time, only moving on to the next competency when they have shown mastery of the current skill being learned.
  • Allowing learners to skip learning modules entirely if they can demonstrate mastery. This can be established via prior learning assessment or formative testing.
  • Designing flexible learning and assessment to allow for greater personalisation and choice in the learner’s journey from competence to mastery.

The flexibility and customisation of competency-based training allows individuals to develop specific competencies in a more accurate, timely manner. It also means they can work up the hierarchy of capability at a faster rate than through traditional training methods. Within organisations, competency-based training is an excellent tool to get individuals advancing their skills. So, if your organisation is considering upskilling your people, it’s worthwhile looking into a competency-based training approach to fast-track you to higher quality work and greater success.

Skills International is a leading workforce capability consultancy. With proven expertise in developing industry-led solutions, partnering with organisations both in New Zealand and internationally, we build productive, high performing and engaged workforces. Using competency-based training, we help organisations build the skills they need to prepare them for future successes. We can work with you to create bespoke competency-based training programmes that enhance the operation of your organisation.

Skills International is a leading workforce capability consultancy