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What is a Skills Assessment and Why is it Important?

What is a skills assessment? Why is it important? And how can it help your organization?

When hiring, developing, or promoting employees for new positions in your company, resumes and interviews only tell you so much. A person’s education, experience, and references all provide indicators about what a person knows and what they have done. But, the best way to understand one’s abilities and level of proficiency is to conduct a skills assessment. 

What is a Skills Assessment?

Very simply, a skills assessment is an evaluation of an individual’s ability to perform a specific skill or set of skills. Usually, it’s an evaluation of skills specific to a job or role. Ideally, the assessment captures the level of proficiency for each skill, so you know which participants are new to a skill and which have mastered it. 

Skills assessments may be conducted in person and/or online and may take the form of a simulation, test, questionnaire, or observation. For example, the skill of “Manages project risks,” could be assessed with this stated requirement: “Able to identify and document risks and assumptions associated with projects. Considers impact on the whole system when identifying risks. Collaborates with others to develop strategies for managing risks and ensures inclusion of input from all key stakeholder groups. Develops and documents contingency plans to reduce or mitigate risk factors.” Skill level could be assessed with proficiency markers of: “Limited,” “Basic,” “Intermediate,” “Advanced,” or “Expert.”

When to Use a Skills Assessment Test

Some people are strong on education; others are rich in experience. Skills assessment tests give no weight to how employees learned what they know; they measure what employees can do. They are routinely used for a range of hiring and employee development initiatives:

  • Recruiting: a skills assessment test for employment can help hiring managers narrow down the list of candidates to interview or to decide between finalist candidates for an open position. 
  • Career Development: a jobs skills assessment test can be used to evaluate the performance of current employees, to help confirm that they are strengthening essential skills as they build experience.  
  • Learning and Development: as employees progress along a learning path, a skills assessment test is a simple, objective checkpoint to ensure that the training is effective.
  • Rapid Adoption of New Skills: The coronavirus pandemic reminds us that skills are constantly evolving. From effectively participating in video meetings to adopting new social distancing protocols or manufacturing procedures, a skills assessment can quickly test whether employees have mastered new, essential skills before they are cleared for the work.
  • Reskilling and Upskilling: many employers are encouraging current employees to learn adjacent or entirely new skill sets to help address a talent gap.

Benefits of a Skills Assessment

Because skills assessments are designed to objectively assess the skills of individuals, there are many benefits to using them. Here are just a few: 

  • Reduce Bias: Especially in the hiring process, intrinsic biases can affect our hiring decisions. The more weight given to skills assessments, the less is given to things like age, gender, previous employer, education, address, and other factors that can inadvertently sway a hiring manager. 
  • Consistency: Without an assessment, hiring managers are left with human reports of proficiency – with no objective agreement on the “scale.” One job candidate may report that her skills are mostly “3” on a 3-point scale and another mostly “2” – even if their skill levels are exactly the same. A skills assessment does a much better job assigning objective meaning to that 1-2-3 scale.
  • Personalized Development Plans: Just because someone isn’t fully skilled doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get the job or promotion. A skills assessment is extremely helpful in pinpointing exactly the areas where someone needs to develop skills, making it easier to develop a relevant, personalized learning and development plan. 
  • Measure Progress: Whether monitoring the development of individuals or teams, regular skills assessments can confirm progress – or identify areas where the training and support isn’t enough.  
  • Employee Engagement. “Cultivating your employees’ growth is a win-win situation — it keeps them engaged and allows them to develop new skill sets that will make them stronger employees.” Skills assessments are precisely all about employee growth; supporting and recognizing their progress keeps employees engaged.

For skills old and new, a skills assessment can help keep your employees and teams current, productive, and engaged.