Employees’ professional profiles are primarily the sum total of their knowledge, skills, and abilities – often abbreviated simply to KSA. But how do you measure and evaluate your employees’ knowledge, skills, and abilities in practice? And what tools are available to help? Here’s how to do it!
The abbreviation KSA stands for knowledge, skills, and abilities. They form a major part of an individual’s personal and professional profiles.
Knowledge is primarily theoretical in nature. If you’re knowledgeable about a certain subject, then you’ve acquired a lot of facts and mastered the concepts and theories underlying the topic in question. We usually gain knowledge from information sources such as books, journals, internet, or traditional classroom-style courses and lectures.
Skills are primarily more ‘practical’ in nature than knowledge. They’re rooted in knowledge, but are generally acquired by means of training courses and work experience. A skill is the ability to perform a certain task or role competently and relates to application of knowledge in a particular situation or context.
Abilities are very similar to skills in many respects. However, there are important differences. An ability is broader – a combination of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and other personal traits.
The sum total of knowledge, skills, and abilities define a role or job title. Does a candidate or employee have the right KSA combination for a specific opening? Using the KSA model, you can see quickly and clearly if the right person is in the right role/job.
The US government still regularly uses the KSA concept, especially at a federal level, to recruit suitable staff, using a scale from 0 to 100. A score of 70 is generally a minimum requirement to be eligible for a job opening or role.
Nowadays, the model is primarily used to map and analyze the success of, and necessity for, a particular training program. In other words, a useful tool for identifying potential skills gaps and finding concrete solutions.
How to measure knowledge, skills, and abilities
You can evaluate each of the three KSAs, assuming you have the right tools and adopt the right methods. It’s high time we looked at exactly how to evaluate these three components.
Knowledge is a partially abstract and somewhat fluid term. If you think of knowledge as a weighty tome full of theory, facts, and figures, then it’s highly unlikely you’ll remember every tiny piece of information.
Nonetheless, you can evaluate someone’s knowledge levels in several different ways:
- Certification. Certification is ‘proof’ of competence and shows that someone has mastered both the theoretical and practical basics required for a certain role, task, or job. Examples include CERT and SCC certification.
- Qualifications also demonstrate a degree of acquired knowledge, for example a bachelor or master’s degree in a certain subject area.
- Workshops are a great way to evaluate knowledge levels and test to what extent an individual can apply theoretical knowledge in practice.
Skills are more ‘practical’ in nature than knowledge and are evaluated differently. You can examine previous examples of someone’s work. This will provide a good indication of an employee’s skill levels, the way they apply their knowledge, and their attitude to their work.
By examining results over an extended period, you also avoid evaluating an employee based solely on a one-off snapshot. This is a common problem associated with traditional evaluation systems such as performance reviews, questionnaires, and standard tests.
Practical tests are also a good method for assessing skill levels. They demonstrate how an individual applies their knowledge and experience to solve practical problems and challenges.
Besides assessing previous work and taking practical tests, skills matrices are another useful option. A skills matrix is exactly what its name suggests – a snapshot of all your employees’ skills and qualifications laid out in matrix form. A well-laid-out matrix allows you to determine knowledge levels, proficiency levels, and valid certification at a single glance.
Read more about how to create a skills matrix and what the benefits of maintaining such a system could be to your organization.
Abilities require a combination of knowledge and skills, but also a third component – certain character traits. For example, analytical problem solvers can pinpoint the essence of a problem, draw logical conclusions, and make a sound analysis. But a certain degree of inquisitiveness (character trait) is also an important piece to the puzzle.
You can evaluate abilities in one of several ways. For example, you could rely on managers’ observations over an extended period. What have they observed and how do employees respond to feedback?
Alternatively, you can evaluate employees’ abilities based on examples they present themselves. A useful tool for this type of evaluation is the STAR method. Adopting this approach, an employee would present answers to the following questions:
- What is the situation?
- What task did I have to perform? I.e. what was expected of me?
- What action did I take in this particular situation?
- And what was the result of my action?
Other options include validated personality questionnaires, interviews, or 360° feedback. This last example involves asking several people who directly interact with the employee in question to fill out a questionnaire. The broader cross-section of people involved, the better, for example a close co-worker, a manager, a client, and a business partner.
The questionnaire highlights several relevant behavioral indicators, such as punctuality, decisiveness, or collegiality – each of which relates to a particular ability. An average is then calculated from all the feedback gathered. In this way, it’s possible for you to gain a more objective view of the extent to which the employee in question has acquired and mastered certain abilities.
Skills management software
First, you need to be able to pull up a complete overview of all your employees’ knowledge, skills, and abilities quickly and accurately. It’s best to organize these in some form of foolproof system that isn’t too susceptible to human error or ineptitude. A popular solution is to use a spreadsheet such as Excel, but this is anything but foolproof.
Fortunately, alternatives to Excel exist. A prime example is AG5’s skills management software. Armed with such a tool, you can access all the vital information about your employees’ knowledge, skills, and abilities – anytime, anyplace, anywhere. What’s more, all this information is stored centrally in the cloud.
For example, AG5’s software allows you to:
- enter updates and training results real-time from the shop floor
- link projects to specific expertise and experience
- set notifications for employees, groups, or qualifications
- find the best replacements for employees off sick
- search for the most qualified employee to retool a production line
- replicate organizational structures and link employees to qualifications using drag ’n’ drop menus