More employers than ever are using skills tests to hire top talent.
But finding skilled candidates is only half the battle. Employers also need to ensure that employees’ skills remain competitive over time.
The fast pace of change in key skill areas means the skill set you hire an employee for loses value quickly. For instance, experts estimate that the value of STEM degrees halves within the first decade of graduates’ working lives.
Employers must therefore embrace skills-based employee training and development to keep up with this change, and talent assessments are the way to do that.
In this blog, we discuss how skills tests go hand in hand with employee development. We show you how to use talent assessments to identify training and employee development priorities and how to track your employee training and development efforts.
Employee training and development refer to different but overlapping types of employee learning.
Employee training is targeted to improve performance in an employee’s current role. An example is employee onboarding, when they are given the basic knowledge and skills to complete their jobs.
Employee development has a more long-term view, focusing on overall employee growth and building skills employees will use in future roles.
An example of employee development is a leadership development program, which instills leadership qualities in individuals before they take on management roles.
Employee training and development may overlap, like when an employee’s long-term development requires some short-term training to upskill or reskill in a certain area.
For example, a content writer might pursue short-term training in content strategy to “craft” their role and prepare to expand into strategy and management in the future.
Here are some more employee training and development examples:
- Technical training, such as in a specific coding language
- Compliance training, like data privacy rules
- Customer service training
- Leadership development
- Reskilling to manage a career pivot
The skills businesses need are changing rapidly from year to year.
This creates three common challenges for employers when setting up employee training and development initiatives.
Research suggests that nearly 60% of the workforce needs new skills to do their jobs effectively. Many of these are likely to be digital skills because one-third of workers in the US lack the digital skills to succeed.
But “digital skills” range from basic Excel competency to Python coding. Knowing which skills are lacking in your workforce – and which ones impact your bottom line most – is challenging.
Identifying which workers to target is also difficult. You can’t give every employee data skills and expect that to solve all your problems; giving the right employees the right training is necessary to get a good return on investment.
Unfortunately, anticipating the skills needed for the future of work is even harder than knowing the skills you’re missing in the present.
Less than half of workers say they know how the skills required for their job will change in the next five years. Research from Gartner shows the number of skills required per job is only increasing.
This means that even if you do manage to patch the gaps in your current workforce, the business landscape is changing so rapidly that you’ll soon fall into another gap you didn’t know existed.
Let’s say you’ve chosen which employees need which skills and provided the resources necessary to build them. You now face the question of how to track their progress.
This might be especially challenging in some work environments, like when working with remote employees. You don’t directly witness them working, so you may underestimate the business impact their online employee training and development is having.
In the traditional hiring and career development landscape, these dilemmas are next to impossible to resolve. That’s where skills-based methods, and particularly talent assessments, come to the rescue.
As evidenced by their widespread use in recruitment, talent assessments are known for improving hiring efficiency and accuracy. But did you know they can help with employee development and training, too?
Here are the three ways talent assessments help with employee training and development.
Talent assessments are crucial during a global skills shortage. In 2022, more than three-quarters of employers around the world reported talent shortages, a 16-year high.
Similarly, UK research found the number of leaders reporting shortages in small-to-medium businesses (SMEs) increased significantly year-on-year.
Skills testing helps you identify which skills gaps are present in your organization and how severe they are.
This helps you understand your hiring needs and your training needs.
For example, skills testing might reveal a skills gap in one of your teams that none of your adjacent teams can fill. This could inspire you to bring in a contractor to cover the skills gap while you train up an existing employee.
Talent assessments don’t only help you hire for potential instead of just experience; they also help employees realize that potential through leadership training.
They do this by giving you a way to spot leadership skills even in employees without any managerial responsibilities in their current role. You can then create leadership development plans to raise these employees through the ranks.
The benefits of employee training and development are especially felt in startups, where employees’ ability to scale with the company provides needed stability. They also save the organization money on external hiring for new roles or openings from employee turnover.
Power skills (soft skills), in particular, are important to track because of how connected they are to leadership capabilities. A McKinsey study found there are 20 leadership traits that correlate with organizational performance, all of which are related to four key power skills:
Insight: for instance, offering a critical perspective on a business problem
Integrity: giving praise and role modeling organizational values
Courage: championing desired changes and remaining calm in the face of uncertainty
Agility: motivating teams and recovering from failures while maintaining positivity
Finally, skills tests give employers the ability to track employees’ skill development over time. They also help you analyze the skill areas in which employees are progressing faster than others.
This is possible because each skills test result gives an employer a breakdown of employees’ scores in different skills.
For example, you might test an employee on their skills with the Flutter framework after a month of training and then after three months, comparing scores to examine how their skills have improved.
With this insight, managers can guide their employees’ learning.
It also provides useful proof of the benefits of employee training and development for senior executives, so you can justify asking for more funding for employee training and development initiatives.
We’ve discussed the challenges of creating good employee training and development initiatives and the areas in which talent assessments can help.
But how can you apply this to your organization?
Here are seven actionable tips to access the benefits of employee training and development with talent assessments.
Already using talent assessments in hiring and want to apply them to employee training and development as soon as possible? Here’s the short version.
Strategy for using talent assessments in training and employee development
Audit the skills within your organization
Assess core skills by assigning a skills test that focuses on basic digital skills and key soft skills like communication
Create an internal talent marketplace
Create a spreadsheet to track employee performance on these skills tests
Conduct a skills-gap analysis
Compare skills tests from high-performing teams to low-performing teams and spot which skills are missing
Draw up professional development plans for each employee
Match up employees’ management ambitions with upcoming management roles
Identify employees’ learning styles to tailor their teaching
Use the Big 5 (OCEAN) test to identify whether employees would suit solitary learning or hands-on training
Foster a company culture of learning by using skills-based compensation
Assign points to critical skills and boost salary per extra point acquired
Look for learning agility when hiring
Prioritize openness and curiosity over four-year college degrees
The first step of using talent assessments to supercharge employee training programs is to conduct a skills audit. In other words, assess the skills of your current employees.
This could be a general audit, testing all employees for the same skills, or a targeted one. For example, you might test only skills areas you know are lacking, such as digital skills, or soft skills you want to cultivate, like leadership.
This helps you identify high potential employees, or HiPos, who have the budding leadership skills to ascend through the ranks in your organization.
Alternatively, you might test only teams that are high-performing to identify what skills they excel in and how you can replicate their success elsewhere.
You can do this by comparing employees’ scores on skills tests the way you would candidates’ skills during the hiring process.
As you can see, the TestGorilla portal enables you to:
Search for specific employees
Select a scoring benchmark – for instance, their raw score
Set a minimum and maximum score to identify the employees who fall within your desired skill range
Filter by status – for instance, completion of the assessment
Sort by field – for example, their score
Select multiple employees
Click an employee’s name to view their individual results
An internal talent marketplace is a spreadsheet or piece of software where you can view and analyze all the skills data for your current workforce.
You can use an internal talent marketplace to facilitate talent mapping, assess the strength of your employees’ skillsets, and target areas for development.
First, they show you when an employee in another team has the skills required to fill an upcoming role or skills gap.
Second, they even allow employees to manage the application process for themselves.
Mastercard found nearly 50% of its workforce uploaded their LinkedIn or professional profiles to Mastercard’s digital internal marketplace within the first month of its launch.
This brings benefits for your organization: The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that employees who received promotions within three years were 70% more likely to stay on board, and those who moved laterally were 62% likely to stay.
This is in stark contrast to those who stayed in their original roles, who only had a 45% chance of staying long-term.
Using the overview of your employees’ skills you’ve gained from your internal talent marketplace, identify the skills gaps in your workforce.
One way to conduct a skills-gap analysis would be to audit the skills of a high-performing team, use the same tests to assess a lower-performing team, and compare the differences.
You might find their differences lie in their communication skills, in their problem-solving skills, or in the mix of personalities present.
An example is the Big 5 (OCEAN) test, which looks at five personality factors key to teamwork:
Openness to experience
The test assigns scores for each personality factor on a scale of very low to very high. An overbalance in a team of any one of these traits could be causing dysfunction and require training to counteract.
So far, you’ve identified the weaknesses in your employees’ skill sets. Now build professional development plans to bridge these gaps.
These plans should include:
The employee’s self-assessment of their strengths and weaknesses, informed by tests
Detailed goals – for example, “increase score on Google Ads test by 20%”
Strategies for completing these goals, such as completing Google Ads training
The resources they’ll use to do this, like an employee development budget
A clear timeline for development, such as “10% improvement in one month.
Let’s say that in your skills audit you use leadership assessment tests to spot candidates for managerial training.
You might then map these candidates’ skills and ambitions onto upcoming opportunities for promotion in their department. If possible, build their professional development plans to ensure they are qualified by the time managerial roles open up.
This approach is not only a great strategy for talent planning, but it also makes employees feel valued. It could even encourage them to stay longer at your company because of higher job satisfaction. The top reason people leave their jobs is a lack of learning and development opportunities.
Personality testing can tell you a lot about how your employees learn and which in-person or online training methods are most effective.
We’ve already seen an example from the Big 5 (OCEAN) test. Looking at how high or low interpretations of each trait express themselves, it’s clear how this might impact individuals’ learning styles:
Openness to experience
For example, someone with low interpretation of openness to experience might prefer more dynamic, hands-on learning. Someone who is more consistent and cautious in their personality would probably prefer more structured skills training.
Personality testing tools like TestGorilla or Plum can yield this information and more. For instance, Plum enhances individuals’ professional development by:
Measuring drivers and drainers for employees and candidates
Identifying each employee’s work style
Comparing employees’ strengths and weaknesses side by side
Offering suggestions based on employees’ personality profiles
To boost employee engagement in your training and development programs, you should consider skills-based compensation. This is when an employee’s salary is determined based on the value of their skills to your organization rather than their experience in their role.
It's an innovative way to use skills test data, and skills-based compensation incentivizes your employees to engage in constant learning by tying their advancement to their agility. It takes gamification of employee training and development to the next level.
One example of skills-based compensation in action comes from a medical services firm. Leaders wanted to strengthen career paths for experts, so they assigned a point value to critical skills and promised higher pay for each point.
Acquiring these skills through training provided by the organization enabled employees to bring their pay above the industry median. As a result, the company reported more motivation in their workforce.
Even as you prioritize developing your current workforce, you should still ensure new employees display the learning mindset needed to deliver a strong return on investment for employee training and development.
One way to do this is to look for learning agility when hiring.
Learning agility is the ability of learners to pick up new skills and knowledge quickly. It’s necessary across all roles – even ones where employees must have a lot of training to begin with.
Examples include many highly skilled tech roles for which most employers still mistakenly use college degrees as a prerequisite for hiring.
As we mentioned in the introduction, the value of STEM degrees diminishes by half within the first decade of a graduate’s career.
In theory, that means a learning mindset becomes even more important the more experienced a tech worker is – because the skills they learned in their degree are likely to be obsolete.
For this reason, you should prioritize learning agility over college degrees, even when hiring for highly skilled roles.
Now that you have your strategies in place, here are three more best practices to put you ahead of the competition when it comes to employee training and development.
When we think of learning, most of us picture a classroom. However, employees learn best when their learning is divided into:
70% challenging experiences and assignments
20% developmental relationships
10% coursework and training
This is known as the 70:20:10 rule, and it empowers employees to take control of their learning and pursue innovation.
For example, a social media manager might spend 70% of their learning time experimenting with social ads and 20% of their time working with the data team to understand analytics.
In doing so, they might devise a better way of tracking ad spending, deciding to spend 10% of their time on formal data training.
Existing employees are an often-neglected resource in training and employee development. Particularly when hiring for entry-level positions, mentorship offers a low-cost way to provide training for employees new to the workforce, like to interns.
For best results, think flexibly about what makes a good mentor. Consult the employee’s professional development plan and their personality test results to determine the key factors that motivate them.
For example, if they desire a career pivot, a mentor in their target role may make the most sense.
It’s not only early-stage employees who can benefit from mentoring. You should also consider reverse mentoring, when early-career employees mentor senior leaders.
Caterpillar’s reverse mentoring scheme gave young women a voice within the organization, challenging executives’ assumptions about corporate diversity.
Job simulations are tests usually used in hiring to assess how well candidates perform the tasks required for the role. However, they are also useful for talent management when upskilling employees.
When used to prepare employees for a step up in responsibility or a pivot into an adjacent role, especially as part of an overarching employee development strategy, job simulations offer invaluable insight into employees’ readiness for promotion.
You can conduct a job simulation using a skills test, such as a coding test. You could also assign situational judgment questions examining employees’ decision-making in response to managerial dilemmas.
It’s hard enough when the volatile labor market makes finding great talent such a challenge. When you add the accelerating pace of change that quickly depletes the value of employees’ skills, it’s an HR nightmare.
However, talent assessments can help.
With the right combination of strategies, skills testing can supercharge your employee training and development efforts and cultivate a powerful learning mindset among your staff.
To find out more about developing your workforce, read our full guide to learning and development.
To dig deeper into the holes in your current workforce, read our blog about how to use skills tests to address internal skills gaps.
Or, if you’re already working on your first skills audit, don’t forget to include our Leadership and People Management test to spot your next great leader.
Deming, David J.; Noray, Kadeem. (June 2019). “STEM Careers and the Changing Skill Requirements of Work”. Harvard University. Retrieved July 24, 2023. https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/ddeming/files/dn_stem_june2019.pdf
Mello, John P. (November 30, 2021). “Report Finds US Workers Lagging in Digital Skills”. TechNewsWorld. Retrieved July 24, 2023. https://www.technewsworld.com/story/report-finds-us-workers-lagging-in-digital-skills-87352.html
“The Talent Shortage”. (2022). ManPowerGroup. Retrieved July 24, 2023. https://go.manpowergroup.com/talent-shortage
Ritter, Ron; Ruggero, Ed. (October 2, 2017). “Leadership in innovation needs innovation in leadership”. McKinsey. Retrieved July 24, 2023. https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/operations/our-insights/leadership-in-innovation-needs-innovation-in-leadership
Maurer, Roy. (March 15, 2020). “Study: Internal Mobility Boosts Retention”. Society for Human Resource Management. Retrieved July 24, 2023. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/internal-mobility-boosts-retention.aspx
“2019 Retention Report”. (2019). Work Institute. Retrieved July 24, 2023. https://info.workinstitute.com/hubfs/2019%20Retention%20Report/Work%20Institute%202019%20Retention%20Report%20final-1.pdf
“Caterpillar's Tana says mentoring is key to success”. (September 3, 2018). Where Women Work. Retrieved July 24, 2023 https://www.wherewomenwork.com/Career/1071/Caterpillar-supports-mentoring
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