Is your trained employee competent?

It happens all the time. A worker makes a misstep in his or her day-to-day duties. The mistake leads to a serious injury, compromised product quality, negative environmental impacts, or even a fatality. “But they were trained,” the supervisor responsible for the employee in question objects. Trained, indeed – but were they competent in their job?

This situation is a regular occurrence in workplaces around the world and it speaks to a widespread and persistent discrepancy in many conventional approaches to training management: the gulf between simply delivering training and ensuring actual competency. Organizations that have achieved success know the value of a comprehensive, robust training program. Streamlined onboarding of new employees and ongoing training – and, critically, training tracking – throughout the course of their professional development can, if delivered effectively, lead to a more effective and responsible workforce, and greater retention rates. After all, while the costs associated with recruiting, training, support and professional development can be great, any seasoned business owner knows it is even more expensive to lose those employees.

A widespread problem, however, is that too often employers equate training with competency. They assume that since an employee has sat in a classroom and completed a course, that they are competent – a very inaccurate presumption. The following misconceptions contribute to some traditional views on corporate training:

  • Any and all training is good training, so we ought to train for the sake of training.
  • Simply having employees sit in a classroom means they are competent.
  • The availability of training material is sufficient enough to induce learning.
  • Subject-matter experts (SME) are able to train other staff based on tenure (that is, the notion that longer-serving employees are more capable of delivering training).
  • That robust training is not necessarily worth the investment and ROI is too difficult to capture.

As with the mistaken belief that training is tantamount to competence, all these assumptions lead to false conclusions. But above and beyond how these misconceptions are engendered it is important to clarify what is actually meant by competence in an organizational context. Essentially, ‘competence’ refers to an employee’s ability to do their job properly. But establishing competency within an organization is not something that just happens, nor is it something that will be necessarily produced by the provision of an otherwise robust and seemingly comprehensive training program. Instead, a systematic approach featuring a nuanced training strategy is an essential prerequisite for employee competence.

Competency certainly sounds like something that would be an advantageous element to cultivate within a corporate culture, if not an essential element of doing business. However, the intrinsic value of a training program that engenders competency is not always immediately apparent to upper management whose buy-in is critical to the success of any training strategy.

Tomorrow we’ll discuss how training impacts different areas of business performance, and on Thursday we’ll talk Training and Competency Strategy.

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