Skills assessments: what they are and how to revamp them

Why the new world of work calls for new methods to assess workforce capabilities

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By Nicole Schreiber-Shearer, Future of Work Specialist at Gloat

90% of leaders are now experimenting with skills-based strategies—and it’s easy to understand why they’re eager to make the shift. Research from Deloitte reveals that skills-based organizations are 107% more likely to place talent effectively, 98% more likely to retain high performers, and 49% more likely to improve processes to maximize efficiency.

Despite leaders’ growing enthusiasm for these strategies, many companies have a long way to go before they can be considered skills-based. One challenge that almost every business faces is the question of how they can accurately assess the skills within their workforce.

While many companies have some version of a skills assessment to gauge proficiency levels, most approaches need an upgrade to provide the level of visibility needed to power a skills-based organization.

What are skills assessments?

Skills assessments are processes that organizations undergo to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the knowledge that individual employees have and their proficiency to perform various tasks. Traditionally, most skills assessments took the form of tests that were designed to assess whether individuals have the competencies necessary to perform essential aspects of a job. Some examples of skills assessments might include work sample tests, cognitive ability tests, and personality tests.

As work evolves and technology continues to advance, skills assessments are shifting to become more data-focused. Rather than asking employees to complete a test—or in addition to their exam—companies are now collecting data from employees’ previous professional experiences to evaluate their skills and how to best utilize them.

Why are skills assessments important?

Skills assessments are important because leaders need a way to see and understand all of the capabilities within their workforce. A skills assessment is an opportunity for employees to showcase their proficiency and for leaders to then better understand this capability, in turn enabling a more comprehensive talent strategy.

To reap all of the benefits associated with shifting to skills-based strategies—including gains in productivity, engagement, and retention—businesses must have an in-depth understanding of their workforce’s capabilities and how to harness them. Without a skills assessment, it will be virtually impossible for leaders to thoroughly understand their employees’ capabilities, forcing untapped productivity to inevitably remain hidden.

4 common skills assessment mistakes companies make (and what to do instead)

Rather than settling for the same incomplete view of workforce capabilities, companies must harness new approaches to skills assessments that capture all of the knowledge and expertise their people have to offer. There are a few tell-tale signs that an organization should consider updating its process for assessing skills.

#1. Over-relying on manual reporting

While it’s important to understand how employees feel about their proficiency level in various skills, businesses cannot rely solely on this self-reported information when evaluating workforce capabilities. Since one employee may rate their skills proficiency as higher than a colleague who has the same level of expertise, manual reporting is often swayed by biases and inconsistencies.

Rather than letting these variances impact career development decisions, leading companies are harnessing workforce agility platforms to accurately assess skill levels. Since manual reporting isn’t included in the matching process when the systems generate suggestions for projects, gigs, and full-time roles, leaders can feel confident that personal bias isn’t playing a role in aligning employees to opportunities.

#2. Not taking recency into account

Now that the half-life for technical skills is just 2.5 years, leaders need to factor in how up-to-date an employee’s knowledge is when evaluating their skills. A worker who did video editing a decade ago doesn’t have comparable expertise to someone who produces videos now and keeps up with all of the latest editing innovations. That’s why workforce agility platforms don’t just look at how long someone practiced a specific skill; they also take into account when they were honing that capability and how much time has passed since.

#3. Overlooking the opportunity for career coaching conversations

Assessing skills shouldn’t be an entirely top-down process; it’s also an opportunity for employees and managers to come together and discuss the competencies the worker should prioritize next. Rather than just having an employee evaluate their skills or asking a manager to do it, it’s advantageous to have both perspectives and compare them side-by-side.

Comparing how manager and employee evaluations stack up opens the door to meaningful career coaching conversations about what a worker’s next steps should be and the skills they should prioritize.

#4. Expecting managers to become “skills gatekeepers”

Even the most diligent managers won’t know about the full capability their employees possess. Beyond their day-to-day responsibilities, employees have skills and knowledge that leaders may not know how to account for—often skills that either don’t connect directly to their job title or, through human bias, are not assumed to have. Instead of putting the onus on managers to identify and tap into every capability an employee has, skills-based organizations are harnessing workforce agility platforms to gain full visibility into their company’s skills. These systems include workforce intelligence tools, which showcase the skills employees have so managers across the organization can harness them to complete high-priority projects on accelerated timelines.

How to upgrade skills assessments with a workforce agility platform

Businesses can no longer rely on one test to capture the skills their employees have—and they can’t expect managers to keep track of it all either. Instead, companies looking to harness all of the capabilities within their workforce are turning to workforce agility platforms to comprehensively assess skills.

With these platforms, employees can upload a resume or Linkedin profile and the system will infer their skills and proficiency levels. The platform’s algorithm takes into account both years of experience and how long ago employees executed a specific skill to accurately assess capabilities. Workforce agility platforms also enable both employees and managers to evaluate their skills, which is information that hiring managers can use when deciding which employees to staff for a project or gig. These evaluations are kept out of the algorithm to minimize bias, since perceptions of proficiency levels can vary depending on who’s assessing them.

If you’re looking for more insights into what it takes to put skills at the center of your talent strategy, check out The ultimate guide to the skills-based organization

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