The concept of competence, discussed in itself and difficult to define precisely, is now widely used, both in the world of training and human resources management. In this article we will focus on the skill assessment in the second area.
Let us try, despite the difficulties, to propose some definitions. “A system of knowledge, conceptual and procedural, organized in operational schemes and allowing, within a group of situations, the identification of a task and its resolution through effective action”. (P.Gillet, 1991). “A recognised and proven set of representations, knowledge, skills and behaviour mobilised and combined in a relevant way in a given context”. (G.Le Boterf, 1994). Galliani (2011) sees competence as the use of “clothes” (“a set of schemes that allow to adapt an infinity of practices to always renewed situations”, Bourdieu 1972). Such “clothes” are capable of mobilizing practices and resources to manage professional situations that meet specific performance criteria.
As can be seen, the concept of competence moves on several levels and embraces different areas. In general, and simplifying a lot, one can say that a competence in the field of work is the ability to carry out an activity correctly, putting in place a group of skills, commitment and knowledge in a given situation.
The meaning of work competence today
The last thirty or forty years have seen some important changes in this conception. A Tayloristic type of work organization uses the word competence with the meaning “knowing how to do in a situation”. In this case the worker must limit himself to applying prescriptive deliveries. Today, however, competence is increasingly to be understood as “knowing how to act in a situation”. The worker often finds himself in the position of having to take initiatives and take risks, without having all the necessary information (Guy Le Boterf, 2002).
The worker must therefore possess and know how to use the necessary tools correctly, such as knowledge and skills, but must also know how to organise them.
It follows that competence is closely linked to the individual person who possesses and implements it. However, it must be context related. In order to complete his or her task, i.e. to implement his or her competence, the worker must make use of the context in which he or she operates, the technical and operational tools that are part of his or her working environment, and the skills of other colleagues. The professional thus becomes a key figure in innovation. They are also given ethics, autonomy and responsibility in the path of professionalisation that concerns them.
Skill assessment in the company
It is natural that a company should identify and monitor the skills of the staff working there. This control is even more important in relation to identifying the “core” skills that we will return to later. On the other hand, the possession of a skill is not easily detected directly. Instead, it is necessary to create a base of information useful to detect its presence through a series of conditions or performances. A single manifestation of it cannot in fact be sufficient.
In the nineties of the last century, first in Canada and then in France, the practice of the “skills balance” began to develop and rapidly spread in Europe, including Italy. This methodology involves a set of analyses of individual socio-professional experience aimed at highlighting the personal skills and the specific context of action of each worker.
This practice can be implemented through an external consultant who, through tests or other tools, produces a description of the worker’s skills and potential. Or, the consultant can help the worker to reflect on his/her own motivations and work experiences.
In any case, this tool, on the one hand, puts the worker in a position to understand with reasonable precision his skills, competences and professional aspirations; on the other hand, it allows the company to plan career paths, eventual company restructuring and, more generally, to finalize the definition of its core competency.
Core skills and products
The rapidly changing world in which we live does not allow us to remain market leaders for long unless we rethink the company in terms of core competencies. C.K.Prahalad and G.Hamel laid the foundation for this new vision of corporate strategy (The Core Competence of the Corporation, 1990). They claim that core competencies are the skills, characteristics and resources that distinguish a company from its competitors.
They are the engine of innovation, the “roots” of competitive advantage and must be translated into core products. These in turn become the components of several core products, thus being able to be used in different sectors and freeing the manufacturing company from the risk of being tied to a particular sector or market. Among other things, the same core product can become a basic component of competing products, competing in the market also through other brands.
Source: S.Forbes, Core competencies, 2005.
The increase in applications for core products reduces the costs, time and risks associated with research and development, creating considerable economies of scale.
Some practical examples
Examples of these core products can be laser printer motors for Canon, adhesives and media for 3M, semiconductors for NEC. To make it clearer, each Canon product has at least one core product in it, which makes a significant contribution to the quality perceived by the customer. In addition, because a long-term strategy requires constant innovation, core competencies can create a market position for the company to influence the type of products that will be available in the future.
Each core product may result in a different business unit, which may also operate in different markets. For example, Canon’s expertise in optical components may enable it to be present in the printer, copier, scanner and camcorder markets, with different end products incorporating the same core products.
Outsourcing in this type of strategic organisation should only be used where there are no core competencies. If the company believes it is important to remain present in non-strategic areas, it must establish alliances and agreements to purchase licenses rather than spending better useable resources in core areas.
Benefits of employee skill assessment
To sum up, long-term success for a company requires structured organization of its skills, innovation and consistency with the market, creation of innovative core products, which, integrated into various end products, create new market spaces.
Concentration and innovation in core products make it more difficult for competitors to imitate them. This brings the company a competitive advantage over the end user. In fact, the latter gets used to recognizing their quality and value and somehow “retains” the company’s brand.
The importance of analysing skills at the personal level of the worker, the group and the entire organisation makes it necessary to have suitable tools for monitoring the skills that workers possess. There are software products for human resources that allow them to be easily identified, stored, analysed and selected. In this way it is possible to carry out evaluations based on existing opportunities and intervene on strengths and weaknesses that can be identified in the organization.
Skill assessment software
Tools of this type, such as hr-assistant, allow to define the necessary skills for employees working in the same team or performing the same type of activities.
The HR manager can carry out, for example, the search for skills present in the company. Then he can assess the degree of individual skill. In turn, the employee can carry out a self-assessment of the skills required by his or her role. Through a graphical representation provided by the system, the supervisor’s assessment can be immediately compared with the employee’s own assessment. This in turn can stimulate a constructive comparison between the supervisor and the employee in order to arrive at a shared assessment.
All data is securely accessible within a platform that uses the most advanced technologies for data protection and access security.
Written by Anna Maria Maggi
Find out how HR-Assistant manages the skill assessment by clicking here