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Mapping the future

The Learning & Performance Institute's new Capability Map has big implications for recruitment as it does for personal development.

Just occasionally, something comes along which has the potential to change everything around it. Marketers call such new ideas 'disruptive': they sneak in, looking initially innocuous - before they steadily undermine the previous paradigm, often in unpredictable and unexpected ways.

It's not hard to think of examples. iTunes would be a good one. The iPod wasn't the first MP3 player. iTunes wasn't the first online music store. Apple did innovate, but by driving current ideas to their logical conclusion. The leap forward, in Apple's case, was to integrate the hardware, software and buying process via a great user experience.

So perhaps it is with the Learning & Performance Institute's Capability Map, which was released at the end of October 2012. Considering that it wasn't launched with a fanfare and hasn't been pushed hard through marketing, interest in it has been astonishing.

But is the Capability Map a game-changing, disruptive idea? The Capability Map is a new online tool for L&D professionals to self-assess their skills. But what makes the Capability Map special isn't so much the tool itself as the in-depth thinking behind it.

Lesley Price, membership services manager at the Learning & Performance Institute, worked on the development of the Capability Map. She believes that it breaks new ground partly because of its simplicity and partly because it's built using the knowledge of many specialists. "It was a core design goal that the online tool be simple to use. There are very few mandatory fields, there's no hidden agenda - such as signing people onto mailing lists - and it uses clear, common language."

The Capability Map groups skills into just nine areas; with twenty-seven specific skills under those. A person can score his or her own skills fairly quickly, by giving them a rating of one to four. It's not instant, but it's not onerous either. "We didn't want using the tool to be a chore," says Price, "but clearly if you put a bit more time into it, you'll get a lot more out."

What you 'get out' is a competency profile, in PDF format. And it's here that we start to sniff something of a game-changer.

Consider the CV, or résumé. It's been around for perhaps five hundred years, yet the CV has changed little: it's someone's unstructured (and rather subjective) take on themselves. Just ask anyone who sifts through CVs for a living, the lack of common structure, language and reference points make it a pretty hit-and-miss tool.

The Capability Map isn't designed as a replacement for the CV, but, if you work in L&D, it's a pretty useful companion to it - and one that could become an essential partner.

But to cite it merely as a partner to (or a replacement for) a couple of pieces of paper is really to underestimate the potential of the Capability Map, believes Nick Bate, director at specialist recruitment firm Blue Eskimo - a company focused solely on recruitment within the learning industry. "The learning sector has been very much focused on qualifications and experience," says Bate. "How many years you worked somewhere. Which qualifications you have. That's only part of the picture. What the Capability Map provides is a common language and structure for both skills development and recruitment."

Price agrees. "The Capability Map provides far greater objectivity around recruitment and around skills development and career progression."

Like the résumé, the Capability Map is a form of self-assessment. So, like the CV, it can be used to provide an 'over-optimistic' picture of someone's skills. "We tell people that they need to be honest with themselves when using it," says Bate. "Partly because any skills framework is useless if it's based on lies, but mainly because it's so much easier to be caught fibbing. And the whole point is to be objective about where you are, so you know where you fit in, where you want to go, what you need to learn."

Alex Watson, senior learning and development consultant at Lloyd's Register, concedes that self-assessment can lead people to overstate or understate their capabilities, but the Capability Map's strengths outweigh this potential weakness. "What's good is that it does enable you to look at your skills objectively. It orientates you; makes you think about what you are doing and how you utilise your skills."

Price believes that most people are honest when using the Capability Map. "We've deduced this because we're in a market where a higher value is placed on emerging skills - such as collaborative learning. But people have been marking themselves higher for more traditional skills and lower for emerging skills. This suggests that they're being more objective than aspirational." 

Andrew Jacobs, learning and development manager within London Borough of Lambeth Council, is enthusiastic about the Capability Map - and feels that it succeeds where other similar initiatives have failed. "It uses plain English," says Jacobs. "There's no hiding behind jargon. It's very focused on what you do, how you do it and why you do it. It's also genuinely based on capability - rather than qualifications. It doesn't prescribe you have to be qualified in something to be capable at it. This is much more powerful. And it's very firmly an L&D tool, not a HR add-on. It's there to help you focus on the things you need to do, not record what you've done."

Jacobs also believes it could play a strong role in recruitment. "You could assess someone's abilities more easily from a Capability Map," says Jacobs. "There's been too much of a focus on qualifications. Too much of our approach is institutionalised. Qualifications don't count as much as ability."

Watson agrees. "You are hired for your skills, for what others don't possess. The Capability Map is a good tool for recruiters. Its common language can be understood by others - perhaps people who are recruiting don't always understand L&D roles. And it's something you can take with you as your skills develop."

A few new facets are due to be added to the Capability Map and these will strengthen its objectivity and usefulness. The first is that the skills will be mapped to job roles. "This doesn't change the underlying skills, but it does anchor them in another common reality," says Bate.

The second change is that people will be able to add themselves to a group and use the manager of that group to validate their skills. "That really helps to ensure impartiality," believes Bate. "But it also means that managers can see skills gaps more readily and plan training or recruitment better. It makes it easier for a company to advertise a job and easier for candidates to assess how well they could fit that job."

The Capability Map is portable - the user will be able to transfer it when moving jobs. "It's as portable as a CV," says Bate, "and really does add more substance to someone's personal brand. Imagine: you apply for a job and you're the only one with a Capability Map. It puts you ahead. Now, apply for a job and you're the only one without a Capability Map. It puts you behind. Over time, this will happen."

It's early days, but so far the signs are good. "We didn't realise what an open door we were knocking on," says Price. "We launched at the end of October and expected 500 registrations by March. In fact, we had 500 registrations by the start of November. By March we hit 1,500. What's more encouraging is that around 65% of people have come back for more than one assessment, keeping their data live." Adoption has been strongest in the UK, the United States and Australia. "But we have people using it worldwide," says Price, "including India and the Philippines."

Bate's confidence in the Capability Map is such that Blue Eskimo is aligning its recruitment processes to it. "There's no tool like it," says Bate. "The Capability Map is approachable and understandable. We're encouraging both organisations and candidates to use it - and we're building it into the core of how we recruit."

As with any disruptive idea, what the Capability Map needs is mass adoption. Andrew Jacobs summed this up perfectly: "To succeed, it must achieve critical mass, to reach a point where L&D employers expect that a Capability Map competency profile is submitted when you apply for a role."

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