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May 07, 2018
7 Steps to Measure Worker Competency Learned in Your EHS Training
By David Galt, Senior Legal Editor - EHS Training

Are you being asked to measure the competency of your workers either before or after they have been trained to perform their tasks safely and correctly? What is the impact of learning on your workers? Do you know where to start, and how to make it repeatable?

A good place to start was outlined this week at the 2018 ATD International Conference and Exposition in San Diego, CA in a session entitled, 7 Steps to Measure the Impact of Learning With a Competency Model with Cheryl Lasse, Managing Partner at SkillDirector, Jennifer Naughton, Principal and Founder of Naughton Consulting, and Bill Rothwell, Professor at Penn State University. ATD is the Association for Talent Development.

There are several OSHA rules that require you to verify the competence of workers to perform their tasks safely, such as hazard communication, permit-required confined spaces, forklift operators, electrical safety, HAZWOPER, process safety management for highly hazardous chemicals, and most construction work. It is up to you the employer to determine how to verify that a worker can competently perform work tasks safely. EPA also requires that your workers perform their tasks according EPA rules and in a way that prevents harmful releases to the environment and protects public and worker health.

7 steps

During the session, the speakers described 7 steps to measure the impact of learning with a competency model:

  • Create the competency model.
  • Have people perform a baseline assessment (make it actionable).
  • Use a personalized learning plan to provide people with cafeteria options from which they can create a development plan that is relevant and meets their learning preferences.
  • Ensure they actively execute the development plan (supported by manager coaching).
  • Re-assess against the competency model.
  • Measure change in skills (and results, if possible).
  • Return to step 3 for iterative continuous improvement.

Step 1: Create the competency model

Start by identifying the general categories of tasks that your best worker (or group of workers that perform the same or similar tasks) does to perform their job safely. The session leaders used the example of an event planner.

General categories of activities that an event planner does are:

  • Planning the event
  • Decorations
  • Invitations
  • Secure a venue
  • Create guest list

Then list out the activities for each category. From the categories shown above, planning the event is first. Under Planning the event, the list of activities that the best worker would perform included:

Category 1: Planning the event

Task Statement

Behavioral example notes

Develop a budget

Research the elements of the event that have costs
Set the maximum budget
Prioritize what will be cut if the budget is exceeded
Organize budget by costs
Estimate costs accurately
Document and track actual costs accurately

Negotiate with vendors

Build relationships
Demonstrate actual savings

This is the end of Step 1, the competency model.

Step 2: Baseline assessment

Perform a baseline assessment of how well workers perform the tasks listed in your competency model.

There are several ways to perform the assessment, listed here in the order of lowest effort to greatest effort to assess:

  • Self-assessment. Have the worker assess how well he or she performs each item in the behavior example notes column for each task.
  • Manager/supervisor assesses worker performance.
  • Team assessment. Each member of a team assesses coworkers.
  • Data-based assessment (360/180)
  • Work samples and quality reviews. This includes observations of workers and job simulations as they perform tasks.

Step 3: Develop a personalized learning plan according to worker preferences for learning

This step assumes that individuals on their own will learn based on the method of learning that works best for them. When people can see their own proficiency gaps, they will be motivated to learn to close them.

  • 70% of the time people learn best from experience. Hands-on practice of a skill that a worker needs to perform a task safely is an example of learning from experience to fill the gap between existing proficiency and the preferred proficiency level.
  • 20% of the time people learn best from collaboration (coaching, mentoring, feedback). On-the-job performance evaluations, watching peers perform tasks, and coaching from more experienced workers are examples of collaborative learning.
  • 10% of the time people learn best from formal settings such as classroom, webinars, online and other eLearning courses, and reading manuals.

List the ways a worker could learn each task and behavior described in Step 1, the competency model. Using the event planner example:

70% Experiential

20% Collaborative

10% Formal

Work as assistant to an experienced event planner

Watch a mentor negotiate with a vendor

Take an event planner classroom course

Research vendors in preparation for negotiations

Share tips with others that have or will negotiate with vendors

Take event planner online course

Role play with coworker acting as a vendor



Step 4: Execute the development plan, create a culture of learning

Help workers close the skills gap between the ideal conditions identified in Step 1 for performing tasks safely and the actual conditions identified in Step 2 baseline assessment.

This will require consistent and more frequent communication with workers than an annual review:

Ensure employees feel they own the learning process, that they are accountable for having the skill to do their job safely.

The worker’s manager or supervisor should be actively involved in this process.

Ensure there is regular messaging to the workers that encourages learning and closing the skills gap.

Steps 5-7: Reassess against the competency model, measure change in skills (and results, if possible), and return to step 3 for iterative continuous improvement

For more information about this session, contact the speakers at Jennifer Naughton, William Rothwell, and Cheryl Lasse.

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