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Why Assessments Are the Next Big Thing in Talent Strategies

June 27, 2022 Talent Management
Mark Feffer
By Mark Feffer

The use of assessments to recruit and develop talent has been on the rise. In today's labor market, employers want and need to ensure their hiring decisions will pay off over time and not result in unnecessary turnover.

Assessments help HR leaders identify candidates who have the characteristics, aptitudes and skills the business truly needs — rather than focusing on the traditional grades and college coursework criteria, which provide little information about how the person will perform in a given work environment. And they just might be the key to finding hidden talent in a competitive job market.

How Assessments Work

According to workforce assessment and development firm Talogy, turnover and retention predictions continue to be among the main concerns of HR leaders. Technical innovations now allow employers to utilize more effective solutions for understanding what employees know and what they are capable of from the outset. 

Assessments occupy a specialized patch of the workforce landscape. With a minimum of bias (on paper), they help identify workers who are most likely to excel at a position based on their skills and background rather than, for instance, their grade point average or recommendations.

The true value of assessments is that they provide the information necessary to guide employers and HR teams in building diverse teams, achieving superior performance and fostering greater productivity. In theory, they can support a more impartial and inclusive workplace — one where opportunity is based on individuals’ capabilities, skills and talents, with advanced data providing additional insights.  

But like so many other aspects of talent acquisition and management, exactly how employers mesh their assessments with management remains in flux. There are important considerations for employers that choose to use assessments, among them:

  • The technology behind feedback systems should include new advancements and leverage natural language processing. It should also consider the role of virtual environments. 
  • Fairness in DEI and assessments are distinct subjects. Implementing predictive, reliable and fair assessments should help companies reach their stated DEI goals. However, they must still actively recruit for diversity and, in turn, measure competencies that fit an inclusive culture.
  • New strategies for technology-based assessments will help ensure predictability, reliability and fairness.
  • Multi-dimensional personality scales can be abridged while retaining reliability and validity. They should be based on research using a combination of machine learning and content validity data.

Related Article: Using AI to Onboard New Recruits May Be a Bad Idea

Putting Assessments in Context

In April 2022, Boston-based digital learning company Skillsoft launched Skill Benchmark Assessments, a new capability within its Percipio platform. With it, organizations can determine their employees’ proficiency across a range of areas and deliver personalized development paths to assist in learning.

Traditional assessments compare a learner’s knowledge to the average of other learners, which may or may not match the level of proficiency an organization needs to be successful. Skill Benchmark Assessments, however, takes a “criterion-based” approach by measuring capabilities against specific objectives. This, in turn, allows both organizations and learners to determine if they are objectively proficient in certain skill areas, while successfully retaining and applying knowledge that’s been gained in the workplace.

Through a dashboard, Skillsoft identifies where skills gaps exist across an organization and sets out a path toward closing them. Admins and managers can view scores and levels for individuals and teams, then assign specific benchmark assessments and training courses to connect learners to careers and competencies. After answering curated questions aligned to specific skills, learners are assigned a benchmark score. Based on this, they receive personalized recommendations that include micro-learning lessons, hands-on practice labs, instructor-led training and longer form curricula. 

Apratim Purakayastha, Skillsoft’s chief technology officer, said learners often get tangled up because of time constraints, irrelevant content and trouble knowing where to start. “An effective path of learning ultimately comes down to the experience,” he said.

Skillsoft offers hundreds of benchmark assessments across a variety of technology, developer, leadership and business topics. For example, there’s cloud computing, security, digital literacy, innovation and creativity, agile methodologies and performance management. The company said it expects to expand its subject matter even further, including sequences on analytics, digital marketing, virtual leadership and problem-solving.

Related Article: How Data Is Changing HR Practices

Assessments Open Up New Talent Pools

According to Bas van de Haterd, an advisor on assessment recruiting and the influence of technology on work and society, as they become more sophisticated, assessments will take on a growing role in combatting discrimination of multiple types. In his view, assessments are key to addressing many DEI concerns because, when implemented properly, they can boost the quality of hire and the rate of diversity in the workplace.

“Talent doesn’t stick to racial, ethnic or sexual orientation lines,” van de Haterd said. “And everywhere that I’ve seen an assessment tool being used in the right way — which basically means ‘let’s figure out the traits that somebody needs for doing this job. Let’s measure those traits in a scientifically valid manner, and let’s start hiring based on those tests,' you see diversity going up on each and every measure.” 

There are significant real-life examples of the benefits of assessments. For instance, in KPMG’s Netherlands business, for example, early graduate recruiting has increased the firm's proportion of women from 33% to 40% by tapping into their leadership capabilities, van de Haterd said. In the UK, accounting firm Grant Thornton did away with all educational requirements for its internships and began, instead, conducting aptitude testing. The effort resulted in finding exceptional talent they wouldn't have had the chance to uncover before.

Van de Haterd said it's not at all surprising: “Even your math grade in high school doesn’t tell me if you are good at math. If you need three jobs to sustain your family, your grades will be lower because you don’t have the time to do the homework," he said.

In the end, employees hired based on aptitude tests rather than based on the college they attended or grade point average clocked more billable hours and stayed longer at the company. “They’re the most profitable employees we have,” van de Haterd said.

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