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Are firms taking employee competency seriously enough?

Adrian Harvey, CEO - Elephants Don't Forget

The average employee competency level of tenured employees stood at just 52% pre-pandemic. Are firms taking employee competency seriously enough?*

The study, conducted over a three-year period, analysed over 74 million employee competency interactions from some of the world’s best-known brands, and indicates that most employees only knew half of what they needed to perform their roles effectively before the pandemic hit.

To compound matters, recent studies also indicate that remote training provisions launched during the pandemic have not been updated in some cases and are also not having the positive impact that some firms – including those in highly regulated sectors – would have expected.

Responses from a 2020 Covid-19 Insight study, which was distributed to 2,000 Learning & Development practitioners to gauge their successes and primary challenges whilst working through the pandemic, found that 65% of companies stated that their online training material had stayed the same or decreased during Covid-19. To further compound matters, only 3% of companies said that they had seen a significant uptake of employees engaging with self-selection materials online.

Alarmingly, from a recent February webinar poll, the competency management provider found that 40% of firms operating in regulated financial sectors stated that their approach to Training & Competence (T&C) had not changed over the last 12-months, with further results from the event – hosted in conjunction with Clearstep consulting – indicating that 66% of firms were ‘not confident at all’, ‘slightly confident’ or only ‘somewhat confident’ that their Senior Managers could demonstrate a consistent approach and application to T&C.

Attaining competence, maintaining competence, and supervision were collectively recorded as the primary issues facing these regulated firms.

Adrian Harvey, CEO of Elephants Don’t Forget, said: The pandemic has thrown a lot of challenges at businesses, which – for the most part – we have all adapted and coped with. However, there is an underlying issue highlighted by our studies that employee competency, development and governance practices may have been neglected by some organisations over the last 12 months.

There has been a collective sense that firms, employees, and consumers are ‘all in this together’, but exacting consumer expectations are more prevalent than ever. Covid-19 and working from home can no longer be used as excuses for poor customer service or consumer resolutions.

With a returning workforce to accommodate too – the majority of which will have experienced serious knowledge fade – businesses are a critical juncture when it comes to meeting the challenges of maintaining and monitoring employee competency and governance; especially if hybrid working does indeed become one of the lasting legacies of the pandemic.

Harvey asserts that organisations need to critically assess the guidance, reports and studies issued from professional bodies and regulators throughout the pandemic and look at how they can implement more effective solutions to tangibly improve competency levels, whether employees are working remotely or in an office environment.

Harvey continued:  “In the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CPID) recent ‘Flexible working: lessons from the Pandemic’[1] report, it was interesting to note that employers recognise that there are points when learning needs are more intense, such as onboarding, training following a promotion, and taking on new responsibilities. The interview responses from the report also indicated that some firms are still reliant on the ‘on-the-job’ informal questions asked by employees to their peers within the office to help them understand how to perform a task or operate within the lines of documented policy and processes.

The reports also recommends that firms can look to compensate for the loss of peer-to-peer learning and office socialisation through implementation of internal employee support networks and spending ‘remote time’ with different colleagues in the business to learn the skills they need.

I am obviously an advocate of professional relationship building and informal peer-to-peer learning, but how can your business tangibly evidence in metrics that employee competency and in-role knowledge has improved as a result?

Regulators are becoming hyper-focused on the outcomes associated with employee competency too. The recent release of the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) FG21/1 Guidance for firms on the fair treatment of vulnerable customers highlight the need for regulated firms to proactively identify knowledge gaps or poor performance.

Harvey believes that organisations can fast track the improvement of employee competency by updating their approach of default training methodologies and milestones such as onboarding, six-month assessment, and annual refreshers.

Harvey concluded:

“If an organisation truly wants to reap the employee-centric benefits of remote or office working, then they need to redefine their thinking around their training and support. It is not a question of simply offering more training at key milestones; it is about implementing continual nurturing support structures.

Employee wellbeing, team cohesion and organisational belonging is obviously paramount to productivity. However, the key challenges associated with employee capability – be it in a remotely enforced way, a hybrid version, or as a full-time business function – requires organisations to implement robust controls to help them assess and objectively evidence employee competency and in-role knowledge.

Personal development and the opportunity for company progression should be aligned with objective and individual competency assessment; there is no room for subjectivity. With the cost-effective employee-focused technology available today, there is simply no excuse for not paying more focus to this key area, especially if you’re considering implementing surveillance technology over employee development technology.”

*Research according to Elephants Don’t Forget

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