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‘AI Can Help HR To Identify And Close Competency Gaps’

Deepa Damodaran interviews Nick Schacht from SHRM

Posted on 4thNovember 2018, by:

HR.com LimitedHR.com

“AI will help HR in not only identifying an employee’s competency gap but also to identify the nature of the gap in terms of knowledge, skills and behaviour, and then in deciding which learning intervention or combination of learning intervention is the best for that individual,” notes Nick Schacht, SHRM-SCP, Chief Global Development Officer, SHRM, while talking to Deepa Damodaran of HR.com on the backdrop of the SHRM India Annual Conference & Exposition 2018 held recently in New Delhi, India.

Excerpts from an interview:


What will drive learning and development in future? What are some of the emerging trends? 


“There are two principle areas you need to focus in the talent development space. The first is competency development. We have for such a long time focused on what I call ‘big black learning and development’ vs. degrees vs. programs. Today’s organizations need to focus on competencies which are much more finite and are specific combinations of behavior, knowledge and skills.

Competencies change quickly and are also generally much easier to address quickly. So talent development is a process of continuous identification and closing of competency gaps and moving forward.

The other area is that more and more artificial intelligence (AI) will be involved in the entire learning and development process. You can use AI to focus on the identification of competency gaps, in the assessment of the competency gaps and in finding the most efficient way to close those gaps. Closing a competency gap doesn’t mean putting everybody through the same course. One employee might learn about something faster than the other. So the former shouldn’t be spending as much time in that learning intervention as the other might need to.

These two areas will be driving what learning and development will be in future.“


Is HR moving from the traditional model of training to a more individual-focused model of talent development? How will HR avail AI in the L&D space?


“It is definitely happening, but at a slower pace. Everybody is talking about AI. But a lot of AI in HR focuses on talent acquisition currently – i.e. sorting through resumes, helping people hire etc. That is important too. However, on the learning and development side we are now starting to see some momentum around how to effectively assess what an individual’s competency level is  From there, they can then adjust what they need to learn and how they need to learn it, and then close that gap as quickly as possible.


Competency is a combination of knowledge, skills and behaviour. Knowledge is knowing what to do, skill is to be able to translate that knowledge to action, and behaviour is to be able to put that in to use in a work environment. There are different learning activities that support each of them.

For example, bite sized nuggets or eLearning helps only in developing knowledge. Maybe you can develop skill to some extent but not behaviour. Behaviour is developed by putting someone in a specific assignment for a day, week or month depending on the competency gap that you are trying to close.

AI helps in not only identifying what the gap is but also to identify the nature of the gap in terms of knowledge, skills and behaviour, and then help HR in deciding which learning intervention or combination of learning interventions is the best for that individual.


This is where intelligence comes into play because traditionally we say everybody has to go through the same course of study, project or internship. That is not really what we are talking about today.“


What are the factors that will come into play in terms of millennial learning and development? Will it be different from its earlier generation?


“We tend to think that millennials are far different than they really are. Genetically people are pretty much the same. We do not evolve so quickly.


One of the benefits of having spent 40 years in the workplace is that I can remember the same type of articles and discussions written about earlier generations, next generations, millennials, post millennials, generation Z and so on and the discussions have been basically the same.

However, I think there are two key differences when it comes to millennials. One is that they are digital natives. They would have much more complex understanding about technology-based interventions than perhaps the earlier generations. I think that is an advantage that is something you can leverage.

The other thing is that millennials tend to be more self-aware – both in the good and bad sense. In the good sense, they internalize the value to themselves of a learning experience. The bad sense is that there is also a feeling of entitlement that tends to prevail in some millennials.

I think you need to balance out between what is good for the individual versus what is good for the organization.

How millennials learn will be technologically more adept, but they will basically learn in similar ways.“


How much more should HR be involved in the talent development decision of an organization?


“HR has always been involved in the learning and development decision. If you look at the body of competency, talent development, or L&D, you see the core HR competencies. The problem is when HR segments itself. Trainers train people and are separated on the basis of perceived reality that they are different from the core HR group. That is just as bad as having recruiters separated from the core HR group.


HR is one big continual, a big function. So learning and development and talent development are absolutely critical to the core HR profession, and have to be seen as part of this integrated ecosystem. You cannot treat them as diverse chunks. Otherwise how would you know if you are developing talent that is aligned to the strategic workforce planning of an organization?“


Of late, there have been several discussions around xAPI and LMS. What is your take?


“The problem is people get so caught up in the notion of how to distinguish between things without a difference. So if I call a system a learning management system or a content management system or an accelerated performance management system what difference does it make? The only thing you need to be concerned about is what function do these systems have. All these systems have to do is identify and curate with specific learning activity. They have to maintain a data set of all the content and interventions and then match that against people.


People are then measured in terms of their competencies and how those competencies compare to what the job requirements are, either for the current job or for a job that they may be matched against.

In its totality, these systems need to be able to bring all of that together and identify the appropriate competency development activities for an individual You should be able to track everything. If you have assessment, competency management, and other systems built in,  I wouldn’t get too hung up on the labels.“

Thank you

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