Is It or Isn’t It? Competency-based Training

Is It or Isn’t It? Competency-based Training

Competency-based training is one of those over-used (buzz) phrases in the training world.  Everyone wants it (or says they do), but few people understand what it really means.

For starters, it’s important to define the word “competency.”  A competency is a set of knowledge, skills, behaviors, attitudes, and characteristics that distinguish one person from another. Functional competencies relate to technical knowledge or skills required by a particular field or profession (e.g., accounting principles). Personal competencies are individual attitudes and skills required to handle professional relationships and facilitate learning and personal development (e.g., communication).  Business competencies relate to the ability to view issues or situations from a business perspective (e.g., strategic or critical thinking).

For any job, it is possible to identify the functional, personal, and business competencies required for outstanding performance. Once identified, these competencies can be used for selection or development of employees. Just as performance-based interviews can help to identify qualified job candidates, competency-based training can ensure that employee development is directly tied to job performance. In the training world, this means separating the “need to know” from the “nice to know.” If it isn’t required for job performance, it shouldn’t be listed in the company training catalog.

A competency-based training system includes more than just training courses related to job performance. It defines the level of competence required for different levels of employees. For example, a competency-based training system for a large bank would differentiate between accounting skills required by entry-level tellers vs. accounting skills required by regional managers. Looking at the competencies required for different job levels allows employees to set professional development goals. For example, a teller whose career goal is to be a regional manager would work to develop the competencies required for that job.

To develop competency-based training, you must look at the jobs in an organization and ask:

  • What knowledge and skills are required to perform this job?
  • What level of competence is required to perform this job?


Once competencies are defined, training can be organized to support performance at different levels – from entry-level to upper management. And, the level of competence required for performance can be established. Does the job require an employee to make decisions independently, or are all decisions made by a supervisor? The level of decision-making skills required in these two situations would be very different.

When you set your sights on employee development, focus on competencies and the work that must be performed – not titles of training courses. Competency-based training can help you prioritize your training dollars to achieve results.

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