Using Competency Mapping to Achieve Workplace Equity

Posted: July 15th, 2016

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ACT Foundation is committed to promoting the positive aspects of simultaneously working and learning, especially the ability to develop leadership and management skills not always learned in the classroom. Students who work while in school are often able to enhance the relevancy of what they are learning in the classroom by applying these skills to real world situations. We have worked to help working learners identify and understand the skills they develop so those skills can be leveraged for equitable career advancement. For employees, knowing and being able to show value to an organization is central to career progression. For employers, adhering to a set of definable and demonstrable competencies and transparent proficiency measurements ensures that people from all backgrounds have a fair opportunity to achieve graduated roles in the workplace. Our  National Retail Services Initiative helps address those needs.

Why High School Students Need More Than College Prep,” recently featured on NPR, underscores those needs. It included comments from Dr. Anthony Carnvale of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, who co-authored the  Learning While Earning: The New Normal  report, which was developed with major support from ACT Foundation, among other organizations. In the NPR piece, Carnvale points out that many students do relatively well in high school and enroll in college, but do not graduate and need skills developed outside of the classroom in order to launch fulfilling careers.

“Every year, more than 400,000 young people in the top half of their high school class go to college, and at least eight years later, they have not gained either a two- or four- year degree or certificate,” Carnvale says. He emphasizes the importance of professional and technical skill development to ensure these young people are ready for sustainable employment.

The article also points out the “soft skills” students learn at the workplace, including punctuality, customer service, management, and teamwork. Working helps students develop marketable tools they can use when entering the workforce, whether or not they go to college. The New Normal drew several related conclusions that underscored the work the Foundation engages in to help working learners understand their value. Among them:
·         early work experience forms good habits and help students make career connections;
·         working learners have less student debt than students who do not work;
·         after graduating, working learners are upwardly mobile and more likely to move into managerial positions; and
·         the traditional bachelor’s degree-centric model has limited utility in a world focused on workforce development.

Guided by this kind of information, we developed the National Retail Services Initiative Competency Model, a tool that brings together the collective competencies across the retail sector (sourced from a variety of retail services associations and leadership groups) and clearly defines the skills needed to succeed in retail careers at progressive levels. The Competency Model translates those skills into competencies in which proficiency can be measured, aiding employers in the hiring process.  The model explains the degree to which a core set of competencies are integrated into work at career levels grouped into four roles: entry, advanced responsibility, manager and leader and identifies the competencies as:
·         communications;
·         a drive for results;
·         customer service;
·         adaptability;
·         critical thinking;
·         technical/occupational; and
·         people leadership.

New enhancements to the SEEK online platform, developed as part of the National Retail Services Initiative through a partnership between ACT Foundation and Innovate + Educate , will use technology to help workers identify both the competencies in which they currently have proficiency and gaps they need to fill to advance in their careers.

You can learn more about the National Retail Services Initiative here.