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Do we need management systems?

Bob Little reports on the in-depth discussions on learning management systems, skills management systems and virtual classrooms that took place at the March 2004 meeting of the eLearning Network.

Part 4: Skills Management Systems

Don Taylor, strategic alliances director - or, as Taylor put it, 'SAD' - of InfoBasis, began by defining an SMS as 'a system that allows you to manage your skills'. He added: "An SMS relates to processes that make skills work for your organisation. This says nothing about software. Every organisation needs an SMS but not every organisation necessarily needs a software SMS.

"An SMS is by no means simple. And learning is not the primary aim of an SMS.

"An SMS can cover any skills and will relate to individuals, their line managers and their senior managers," he said. "From an individual's point of view, an SMS records all of that individual's skills and, from this, produces a skills profile of the individual. You can compare that profile with the skills needed to do that individual's job and, where there are discrepancies, you can define some learning objectives. The SMS should also provide some suggestions for how any discrepancies between the existing and ideal skills profile should be removed. Most commonly, the SMS will help you produce a training plan and, for each individual within the system, an individual training plan.

"Common questions relating to an SMS are: 'I have a skills baseline, a desirable endpoint and a training plan, but what else can I do with this data?' and 'what infrastructure is required to make an SMS work?'," added Taylor.

"Basically, you need to put a common skills framework in place within your organisation," he continued. "This means that, while you can make your own, it is usually easier and cheaper - and easier in terms of upkeep - to buy an existing skills dictionary. Microsoft produced their own skills dictionary, containing some 1,500 items, but such a dictionary requires a great deal of time to keep it up-to-date. It is simpler to use an industry-standard skills dictionary which other people keep up-to-date. Typically, organisations begin by acquiring a skills dictionary that looks at one area of their business - such as IT user, or behavioural skills - and expand the system from there as necessary.

"Having acquired a skills dictionary, you assign the skills to job roles and functions," he explained. "The functions combine to produce the roles. This means that you then know what each job requires in terms of the skills necessary to do it.

"Then each person's skills are reviewed - by themselves, their manager and other people. The review focuses on the degree to which that person's skills are aligned to the business' needs and to what extent that person has achieved the skills - and level of skills - that he/she needs. It also gets other information that is important to people's skills - for example, a person may need skills other than purely job-related skills in order to do his/her job. These could include first aid or health and safety skills.

"Once you know what skills a person has and what skills that person's job requires, along with the skills needed by the organisation, you can match all of these via assessment, validation and object setting (that is, mapping the skills needs to training interventions)."

According to Taylor, the benefits of having all this information fall into three areas:


  • Training - you may spend the same or less on 'training' but you should get increased value from the expenditure
  • Expert finding - this exercise will find 'experts' in your organisation
  • Reduced contractor costs - since you can identify people in your organisation who already have the skills you need or who will have the skills with some training
  • Faster team formation
  • 'Other' - including facilitating 360 degree feedback, succession planning, recruitment and selection


This is not merely about meeting, say, FSA requirements but also other compliance-related standards such as the requirement of ISO 9001 that organisations employ 'resource management' techniques, including skills management.


Many organisations, especially those within the 'knowledge economy' have plans but they will not know if they stand a chance of fulfilling them until they have an SMS in place that can identify who, within their organisation, has the skills they need.

In answer to the four 'set' questions, Talyor commented: "You need to buy an SMS in order to get an idea of the skills that exist within your organisation and in order to get people discussing how their skills can meet organisational goals. An organisation will work more effectively and efficiently if it has a thorough understanding of the skills it has because it then knows what its people can do.

"The answers to the last two questions are, 'it depends'. However, the benefit usually attributed to an SMS is that it reduces contractor costs. Again, it can be of great benefit in setting out the skills present in an organisation following a merger or take over. Few organisations are using an SMS purely in order to deliver an ROI. They tend to use an SMS if they really want to understand the skills that exist within their organisation."

Part 3 < Back to Top > Part 5   

© 2004 e-Learning Network. Reproduced with permission. Any opinions or views contained in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Training Reference.

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