21 OCTOBER, 2015


Assessing an individual’s skills while they are on the job is a valuable way of determining whether they are performing to the required standard, whether further training may be needed, or whether they have skills that can be utilised in other areas (such as in future team leadership or managerial capacity).

A workplace skills assessment involves observing a candidate as they perform their daily tasks, often over a period of time, and using a variety of methods to gain an all-round picture of that person’s current abilities and future potential.

Why is it necessary?

Not everyone learns in the same way, and someone who is naturally good at something may not be able to demonstrate that ability in a classroom environment. Some people have book smarts and others have street smarts, and if the latter is not to be overlooked when assessing the overall competency of a workforce, then workplace assessment needs to play a vital role.

What are the benefits?

From an organisation’s point of view, workplace assessment can determine whether the right people are in the right jobs, whether further training is required, and which employees have the potential to benefit the organisation in the long term.

By observing employees at the coalface, remedying problems, and providing incentives for growth and advancement, an organisation benefits through:

  • increased employee satisfaction, resulting in less absenteeism and higher staff retention rates;
  • increased employee participation leading to higher productivity;
  • cost savings by being able to provide targeted training that aligns with company objectives, without leaving the workplaces; and
  • by being a valuable resource of potential candidates for dynamic succession planning.
What makes a good assessor?

Workplace assessment is only as good as those who are doing the assessing. An assessor needs to be at least as qualified as the person they’re observing, and should preferably be someone who is able to read between the lines and see things from a ‘big picture’ point of view. A good assessor should also:

  • hold formal recognition of competence as an assessor;
  • have extensive knowledge of the industry in which the assessment is being conducted, including best practice standards; and
  • have a relevant work history in the same or related industries.

Workplace skills assessment can also measure the benefits of cultural competence in the workplace, including improved communication and increased employee satisfaction.

What are some popular assessment methods?

A variety of methods can be employed when conducting a workplace skills assessment.

1. Observation

The assessor literally looks over the employee’s shoulder, observing how they perform their daily tasks. It is one of the most direct means of determining competency, because unlike a simulation, actual workplace resources and facilities are being used. It is also one of the most cost-effective methods, as workflow is not being interrupted.

One possible disadvantage of this method is the fact that the employee is aware they are being observed. This may intimidate them and detract them from their performance, or it may cause them to behave in the way they think the assessor would want them to, instead of how they would normally do things. One way to overcome this would be to perform the observations over time, so that the employee becomes used to observation and begins to behave naturally again. Another method would be to inform them of the reason behind the assessment and allay any fears they may have that it is in any way personal or negative in nature (which shouldn’t be).

2. Simulation

This is where a workplace is simulated in a classroom or workshop environment. It can involve hands-on tasks if the employees are being assessed for their technical skills, or role playing if assessing those from a corporate environment. Simulation is particularly useful for testing behaviour in emergency situations that don’t normally happen in the employee’s day-to-day environment.

The main disadvantage of this method of assessment is that everyone is aware they are being assessed, which can affect their behaviour. Because it is simulated, it can also never give as true a picture as the real thing.

3. Questioning

This can take the form of an interview or a series of casual conversations, and because it is oral, it does not disadvantage employees with reading or writing abilities. Here, the assessor asks in-depth questions about the employee’s perceptions of their role, their goals for the future, and things they would improve in the workplace. It can be a useful means of not only assessing the employee but also providing valuable information for the organisation that may not otherwise have been available.

One drawback is that the success of this form of assessment is entirely dependent on the style and communication skills of the assessor. If there is no rapport between the assessor and the subject, useful information may be thin on the ground. One way to overcome this would be to conduct such sessions in a group environment rather than one-on-one, so that the employee has the support of their peers.

4. Testing

This is a method that most employees would be familiar with, and it can provide extensive information on their knowledge and experience. The assessor sets a test, ideally involving a combination of theory and practical tasks, and marks the employee(s) according to a predetermined yardstick.

The main disadvantage of this method is the same as in any exam environment: the fact that some people do better than others under this kind of pressure. It also may not give a true indication of an employee’s abilities due to its limited nature.

While these methods of assessment all have validity, the most effective kind of workplace skills assessment is a blended learning solution. This is one that combines elements from a number of different assessment methods to create a more complete picture of an employee’s overall skill set.