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Using Competencies to Define Job and Work Requirements:


A Process to Enable Employers to Successfully Leverage the Competencies of Internationally Educated/Trained Professionals


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Business Success and the Role of Competencies:

The pace and competitiveness of modern business demands efficient and effective practices, which improve the bottom line and promote improved operations. For many small- and medium-sized businesses, finding the time to explore, learn about and implement new elements, such as the use of competencies, can be beneficial but may also be quite challenging. The smaller the company, the more difficult implementing new systems can be. But this should not stop even the smallest enterprise from considering the use of competency-based systems in their operations. The benefits can be immediate and significant.


Competency-based systems can assist with:

  • Responding to the reality of continuous change in the business environment

  • Seeking and securing competitive advantage

  • Encouraging role flexibility (especially important in smaller operations)

  • Developing redundancy and surplus capacity required for expansion

  • Identifying company shortcomings and operational skills gaps

  • Finding, recognizing and securing multi-skilled employees who can fill job specific requirements while being able to adapt to new technologies, new position profile changes and new service/product platforms

  • Implementing person pay systems that are based on used and mastered competencies relating to company vision and direction

Even starting the process of implementing competency-based systems can prove to be beneficial. The development of a competency framework for any business, followed by the identification of those competencies that are core to distinguishing one business from competitors, is a significant and productive activity.

There is no longer any question that the vast majority of sectors of the Canadian economy will face skills shortages in the not too distant future.  There are few sources from which skills can be gained to improve the workforce: Up-skilling existing workforce members and immigration are two key ones. Internationally educated/trained professionals (IEPs) are a rich source of talent, skills, competencies and business networks. Unfortunately, most small- and medium-sized employers (which comprise the majority of the Canadian economy) have not effectively leveraged IEPs and their potential. This is, in many cases, due to not having an understanding of systems that help make the right fit and/or connection.


Understanding the Benefits and Applications of a Competency-Based Approach to Workforce Management

Stage of Workforce Management


 Credential Based Process

Competency-Based process



A business specializing in finding locations for retailers determines that core competencies include a comprehensive knowledge of the city and the rental range in effect.

“Nice to Know” competencies include: proficiency with computers, as well as research and database management skills.


Making Job Postings reflective of the actual skill and competency required of a potential employee to successfully do a particular job.

Listing “minimum” credentials or educational attainment does not assist.  Courses and educational programs vary in content, duration, rigour and evaluation standards. They only serve as a very generalized indicator of a certain level of ability to learn elements, process thoughts and handle information.  There is no specific “mapping” of course content against employment requirements, let alone confirmation that any specific skill was mastered.

A competency continuum/ framework allows an employer to identify competency gaps that exist within the organization.  It provides a tool for the identification of special skills and abilities that make their business unique and competitive.  Once identified and defined a matching with the competencies of candidates can be achieved.

Having an understanding of core or essential competencies vs. other “nice to know” competencies means that an employer will not overlook candidates that may not have everything that is desired but have what is necessary to do the job. No candidate is ever 100% perfect.  A determination can be had as to whether a candidate’s competency gaps are within the acceptable range and to determine if they are easy to correct with training.  Serious gaps in core competencies make the rejection of an ill equipped candidate more obvious and defensible.



A dry cleaning plant seeking employees capable of operating specific equipment included the equipment operational competencies in the job posting and notified potential candidates that they may be required to demonstrate. 


Create short list of candidates to interview from a large application response.

Credentials are very general and have little detail.  They are only a basic indicator of a person’s ability and as such are not very useful as a filter for developing short lists of candidates who may be suitable for an interview.

Having a competency framework and a job posting that is specific in detailing what is sought, can allow the employer to focus on those candidates who claim to possess with “the right stuff”.

Interviews can focus on determining the credibility of the self-assessment results.  It can be assumed that if the candidate’s self-perception is accurate the employer will save time through the “filtering” effect and focused applications received. 

This process allows easier identification and subsequent elimination of unqualified applicants and reduces the amount of time spent dealing with them.  Time is money.


Evaluate a candidate’s intellectual level and suitability.

The possession of credentials is an indicator of a person’s ability to function at an advanced learning level.

Direct proof of competency attainment and/or mastery provides concrete indication of a person’s intellectual capacity as it relates directly to anticipated employment functions.


Determine whether a person can do a suitable majority of tasks required to successfully fulfill employment requirements.

i.e., Can they do the job?

Research has shown that the possession of credentials is a poor indicator of a person’s job readiness or specific skills and abilities.

Direct proof of competency attainment and/or mastery ensures that employment requirements are within a person’s range of skills and abilities.



A business specializing in sewing seat belts for the automotive industry supplied the candidates, chosen for interviews with the model and type of sewing machines used.  Candidates were asked to assemble documentation that they had experience and competencies with that specific equipment or closely related types.


Determine the relevance of a person’s learning and educational platform.

Credentials can provide an indication of a minimum level of learning that was necessary to attain graduation/certification.  Such an indication is generalized across student populations and is not specific to any individual candidate. Credentials, therefore, usually cannot be used to identify whether individuals holding credentials have particular specific skills. 

There are 17,000+ post-secondary colleges and universities in the world.  Making comparisons between programs and courses is virtually impossible.  In fact, universities in Canada are generally reluctant to accept courses for program advancement from other Canadian universities.

The use of a competency matching portfolio is a solid indicator of the elements of and value of a person’s learning experience.

Using tools such as a competency matching portfolio, employers can satisfy themselves of the actual competencies possessed by an individual and how they relate to the business’ requirements. 



Determine and identify a candidate’s non-technical competencies (“soft-skills”).

Credentials rarely, if ever, identify and/or illuminate a candidate's personality traits and interpersonal skills.

Properly defined and described, an employer can actually assess non-technical competencies. 



A manufacturing plant negotiated a $2,000 per employee educational allowance.  60% of these funds had to be used to address competency gaps that had been identified – the rest could be used for any other job-related skills.


Identify employment related training requirements.

Credentials are a “static” element.  They do not identify if or where there are gaps in a candidate’s learning or skills/abilities.  In fact, credentials do not identify the competencies that candidates have.

A tool such as a competency matching portfolio will identify competencies that are missing.  This information can be used to develop a training plan and/or contract between the employee and the employer as to how to acquire the missing competencies or otherwise deal with them.



A community arena had the same “ice expert” for more than 24 years.  This person understood the “quirks” of the equipment.  Employees hired as the “expert’s” assistants received credit from the expert for each demonstration that the person had acquired the specific skills required to use, manage, and fix all matters relating to making ice.  When the Expert retired the arena had 3 people competent to carry on.

Identify areas where that the organization/business is at risk, due to dependence on one or a small group of people to complete vital business activities.

Credentials only deal with requirements in regulated professions and succession may require certain credentials in some circumstances.

By having a business competency framework, areas that depend too heavily on individuals or small groups of individuals can be identified. Given that the competencies are defined and that mastery levels and criteria are already established, redundancy (essential for growth) can be achieved as skills get added, through training and mentoring to others.  This reduces a business’ risk, develops surplus capacity which can be marketed and reduces the negative impact of a vital person leaving.

Research report

Immigrant Labour Market Integration in York Region and Toronto

Identifying Needs and Opportunities for Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises

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Think Talent, Think Global

17705 Leslie Street, Unit 11, Newmarket, ON Canada