Workforce & Career

Competency Career Frameworks

Aligning employee and organisation expectations with the skills of the ‘future’



Aligning employee and organisation expectations with the skills of the ‘future’ – Competency Career Frameworks


The irony of our times is that we don’t know what we don’t know. We know this, yet we often forget this. Now if this statement hasn’t confused you, then we’re missing the point already.


Historically, humans have always overestimated the delta impact change of growth on the way we live our lives and do our jobs. But what’s even more interesting is the extent to which we overestimate the short term impact of growth and underestimate the longer term impact.


Because you know… you don’t know!


Having said that, organizations are becoming increasingly better at making bets on how to align their people practices to future value. Today’s organisations require employees to be agile and adapt to the fast-paced changes that impact our work today.  


How do organizations align work to future value?


One of the more recent, relevant and impactful solutions to solving this ‘complicated’ problem is identifying and redefining what skills are needed to meet strategic objectives. This simply put, is a Competency Framework. 


If your business is operational on any tiny square inch of this earth, you’d be able to qualify that technology, automation and demographic shifts are impacting your workforce in some shape or form.


The question you must ask is ‘how ready are you and your people to embrace this disruption – to positively unlock value?’


This isn’t a revelation for some countries. Norway, Ireland, USA and even India to name a few have already begun to identify and upskill their workforce with the skills needed today and those ‘likely’ needed in the foreseeable future.


Singapore is also in the mix with a well-advertised and well-mandated National SkillFuture Initiative – a robust public source repository of technical and generic skills needed by 33 Sectors! Mercer has had the pleasure of developing a number of the National Skills Framework in recent years.


In fact, Singapore’s Jurong Port has implemented “competency frameworks to help technically trained employees with their career planning and progression.” Jurong Port also “provides training career progression, and upskilling to prepare its employees for the future,” writes Francis Kan in a recent Business Times article.


The reality is that today’s employees want to better understand how to grow their careers, which Jurong Port and many more already understand. According to the 2019 Global Talent Trends report, 65% of employees across all regions and industries want a clearly defined skills map for the different job roles in the organization. This is so they can determine the steps needed to advance on the career ladder. In fact, 51% of employees are willing to take on an internal gig to gain experience.


How to design an effective competency framework?


As we move towards a people-first-future-value approach to HR, it is time to review the organisation’s competency framework. This is to ensure that it gives a clear and transparent view to the options and career pathways available to move laterally, vertically, and diagonally within the organisation, and that employees can proactively manage their own career. Today’s employees look for guidance and transparency.


In Asia, organisations use their competency framework for career pathing, talent development, talent management and retention, strategic workforce planning, and compensation and rewards.


Mercer has successfully been able to craft a robust and well-tested approach to designing competency frameworks across multiple sectors and organization contexts.


Fundamentally, our (REV) approach revolves around three main principles:


1.    Research – a holistic, technology led insights driven approach


2.    Engage – when you design something for the consumption of business, the business must be actively engaged and involved


3.    Validate – a constructively reiterative process to reflect what skills are most relevant


Here are some tips to do it ‘mostly’ right:

  • Cultivate a partnership approach for the project, with clearly defined roles and accountabilities, joint contributions, and understanding
  • Understand the organisation’s business context, strategic intent, value chain, and the skills required to meet goals
  • Benchmark emerging trends, emerging jobs and emerging skills impacting the sector and peers
  • Establish a clear link between core, leadership and technical skills to the relevant job roles in your organization
  • Validate the competency framework
  • Coach the organisation with the right capabilities and communications needed to implement the competency framework
  • Design a Talent Assessment Framework: to conduct competency assessments to identify talent and skill gaps in the organization
  • Create a competency framework that can be easily assimilated – technical relevance does not come with a trade off
  • Engage business every step of the way!


A shift in thinking


Today’s employees want to understand how to advance their career, and they care about organisational transparency. In fact, 56% of employees surveyed expect their company to provide learning based on their level and career aspirations. Meanwhile, organisations are focused on staying competitive in the future of work. According to 2019 Global Talent Trends report, 99% of companies are taking action to prepare for the future of work.  This includes reskilling and upskilling employees so that they are future-ready.


The top reskilling approaches used by HR in 2019 are employee directed learning (59%), formal reskilling programmes (55%), and informal hands-on learning (50%). In fact, organizations are offering more diverse rewards and compensation to employees who upskill themselves – this year's number one rewards priority. To truly align the business, investments in rewards should reflect a company’s strategic focus, and this could mean stepping away from market norms in pivotal areas.


The reskilling and upskilling of employees is also tied to engagement. In Thriving in the Age of Disruption, we found that thriving employees are almost three times more likely to say their organisation provides the tools they need to do their job efficiently.


Keep a holistic view of skills


There is a difference between Knowledge and Skills. Knowledge is the theoretical concepts that are imbibed through a number of tangible and intangible mediums. Whilst Skills are the application of knowledge into effective action.


A competency framework is multifaceted. While it does include steps like job analysis and analysing emerging trends, it also defines the different types of skills that employees need. For example, behavioural traits like the ability to deliver results, work as part of a team, and be customer focused are important. Critical behaviours can be aligned with the business needs, and they should be communicated as expected of everyone across an organisation.


Another tier of skills are leadership skills - the ability to create competitive strategies, drive performance, and develop others. These are critical skills expected of someone who leads others.


A third tier of skills is functional or technical skills such as project management, or technology implementation etc. They are department-specific skills, unique to a job family or functional area required to perform a certain type of work effectively.


Here is an example of designing a high technical competency framework in action:


Client – Singapore, R&D organisation


Driver –  The operating environment for the organisation was changing. The client was looking to develop a competency framework for their technical staff to determine organizational capabilities. It was also to bring home the point that development and attainment of skills form the basis of performance enhancement, career development, and individual growth as well as drives work relevance and employee engagement.


Challenge – In an R&D organisation where technical expertise is pivotal, it is becoming increasingly important to broaden the skills given changes in technology; and overlap in expertise may increase over time. To facilitate this, develop a forward looking competency framework that provides information and direction to engineers and scientists of what career progression pathways look like in future whilst ensuring technical depth continues to be important.


Solution – We interviewed key business stakeholders and HR, and conducted focus group discussions with the employees to understand their perspective and expectations for a competency framework. We facilitated technical discussions with Subject Matter Experts. We identified functional areas and areas of specialisation for the technical staff and drafted unique technical skills that recognise nuances of the job families. We went through multiple iterations of validations to refine the skills with the client and subject matter experts which were then eventually endorsed. This then led into development of success profiles for each unique role in the organisation. This competency dictionary and success profile is the basis for development of career progression pathways for the technical staff.


Result – The client is working towards implementation of skills in the organisation to facilitate talent assessment and career mobility. This will further be integrated with other HR systems for performance management and learning and development in due course of time.


The three key dimensions to designing an effective career framework are transparency, control, and velocity. Employees want to understand and execute their career moves at the right speed. Employers want to have capability visibility, hire the best talent, and ensure they are filling the talent pipeline. The competency framework is a tool for both employees and employers to map out a plan for success. 


Kabir Nath

Kabir Nath is the Talent Strategy & People Performance Leader at Mercer Singapore, an award-winning global HR consultancy. He recently led the projects around Strategic Workforce Planning for the Petrochemical Industry, SkillsFuture Competency Framework for Singapore – Human Resources and Marine & Offshore, Career Framework and Pathways for Special Education, Performance Management System Development and Talent Assessment Framework for Financial Services.

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