Developing employee competencies: a study of the employee’s perspective

Competency development is a crucial driving force for increasing employee effectiveness and employability. Therefore, organisations are taking a number of initiatives to stimulate competency development. But are these initiatives penetrating all the way down to the work floor? That’s the central question of “Best Practices in Competency Development: a survey of employees” – a research project conducted by Ine Willemse, Sara De Hauw and Ans De Vos.

The project took 3 propositions about competency development and tested them in practice:

  1. Competency development = integration of training, on-the-job learning and career management?
  2. Competency development = shared responsibility of individual and organisation?
  3. Competency development = broader employability, better labour market position and higher career satisfaction?

This study – which investigated the employee perspective – complements a prior study that was focused on the organisation’s perspective. The researchers sought to provide more information about employee attitudes towards competency development and the way in which employees give shape to their competencies in practice

Brief Summary of Findings

  1. With regard to the first proposition, the study’s results indicate that employees most often make use of training initiatives – and, in particular, the traditional forms of training and education – to develop their competencies. So, training still forms an important part of competency development – which is not surprising, given its long-standing history as a developmental practice. However, initiatives in the field of on-the-job learning (e.g. coaching) and career management (e.g. career counselling) are increasingly being used by employees as well. By communicating about the availability of these ‘newer’ competency development practices and their goals, organisations can ensure that employees will take advantage of them more readily.
  2. With regard to the role of the organisation in competency development, employees indicate that their organisation supports them in their learning activities. However, initiatives in the field of career management seem to lag behind. With regard to their own role in the competency development process, employees indicate that they themselves take initiatives to develop their competencies. Moreover, employees estimate their own share as being high. Therefore, competency development can be seen as a shared responsibility of both the organisation and the individual employee.
  3. With regard to the third proposition, the results show that initiatives in the field of competency development not only increase the employability of employees, but also their general level of career satisfaction and their perceived labour market position. Employees who participate in a broad range of development initiatives and experience organisational support in their development, report more positive career outcomes. These results indicate that organisations should indeed invest in competency development.

A Shared Responsibility

Competency development draws its strength from a variety of different learning activities. By integrating training, on-the-job learning and career management into one development trajectory, organisations can approach the developmental needs of their employees from different angles. Given the positive career outcomes that are associated with competency development, it’s important that organisations make sufficient efforts to support their employees in developing their competencies. However, significant responsibility rests with the employee as well. While the organisation can create a stimulating environment and offer the employee opportunities for competency development, it is then up to the employee to seize these opportunities and develop his/her competencies accordingly. Here too, the organisation can play a role by encouraging employees to develop their competencies and by drawing their attention to the important role they themselves play in this matter.

Related article

Willemse, I., De Hauw, S. & De Vos, A. Best Practices in Competentieontwikkeling: een toetsing bij werknemers. Rapportering werknemersbevraging. Onderzoeksrapport Steunpunt Werk en Sociale Economie, 2010.

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