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How to build a ‘skills bank’ to tap employee knowledge

As the United States continues its shift to a knowledge economy, a work force with specialized knowledge, skills and abilities is one of the standards for measuring our country’s economic health and wealth. But how does this translate to your own organization?

Organizations that have the ability to learn faster than their competitors and apply what they learn will have a competitive advantage. Developing employees, through integrated training programs, provides an organization with an adaptable workforce.

However, if the prospect of providing full-blown conventional training programs to develop your employees is overwhelming, consider a quick alternative that is tailored to your company’s more immediate needs.

Building a skills bank can strengthen your internal talent pool while creating a learning organization that will carry you into the future.

Employees have knowledge and skills within, and often outside of, the scope of their job. This knowledge and these skills can be shared with other employees and the organization when needs arise. But these talents can’t be tapped if no one knows about them.

Easily locating an employee to cross-train another on a specific skill, to help act as an interpreter when language barriers arise, to participate on a project team because of the skills they can contribute or to fill a new need, is dependent upon having this internal resource tool that all employees can access.

How to create a skills bank

Identify a list of all the knowledge and skills that your business may need.

A good place to start is by reviewing all of your organization’s job descriptions. Often job descriptions will include a section that addresses the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to perform each job.

Another resource is the Internet. Researching an applicable industry or human resources and training sites will also give you ideas.

Network with contacts in your industry. See if they have something useful that they would be willing to share with you.

Think about your customers and their service expectations. Think about your needs as they relate to foreign language skills, computer skills, administrative skills, as well as the skills needed to manage and supervise.

Break into categories

Developing a skills bank will be a much easier process for you if the list of knowledge and skill sets that you arrive at in step 1 are organized and labeled under broad categories. Examples are: technical skills, customer service skills, sales skills, administrative skills, financial skills, management and supervisory skills, language skills and so on.

It will also be easier for employees to find what they are looking for when they want to use the skills bank. For example, if an employee is looking for another employee who speaks a particular foreign language, that employee would go to the broad category labeled ‘language’ and then within that category they could search for Spanish, Hmong, French, Russian, German, Vietnamese, Chinese, Sign Language and so on.

Create a skills bank survey

Using the knowledge and skill sets list (with their associated categories that you compiled in steps 1 and 2), design an organized and easy to complete survey for employees that includes clear instructions.

In the survey, consider also asking employees their level of expertise in the skills they select (basic, intermediate or expert).

When creating the survey keep in mind that it can be designed to be administered to employees in either an automated fashion via survey tools found in various computer software packages or via your basic paper and pencil method.

Conduct the survey

When you send out this survey to your employees, make sure you communicate what the information is going to be used for, how the skills bank can help them and the organization, as well as whether it is optional or mandatory for the employee to participate in the skills bank survey.

Compile the results

Once the results start coming in, you will compile the results and place them in an easy-to-use directory format that all employees can access and navigate. As mentioned earlier, it is easiest to organize the skills bank by broad categories first. Don’t forget to include contact information alongside the employee’s name for easy reference.

Conducting a quality check of the survey results is another important step to take prior to finalizing and rolling out the skills bank directory. Ask the supervisors of employees to review the skills their employees checked to ensure they concur.

Determine how employees can access the results

If your organization has an intranet, this would be a great place to put your skills bank directory. Otherwise you can place the directory on a shared drive that everyone can access online, or you can send everyone a photocopy for their files.

Roll out the skills bank

Once the skills bank is built and ready to roll out, consider creating a fun and motivating communication to introduce the skills bank and to build excitement around it.

Don’t forget to periodically remind employees that the skills bank exists and find ways to tap into managers and supervisors who can help you keep the program alive and actively used.

Maintain the skills bank

Just like anything, the skills bank is only as good as it is current. Make sure you set up procedures for adding new employees and deleting ones who have left. Once a year, ask employees to update their skill records so that you can keep the bank current.

By leveraging internal knowledge and skills to form a skills bank, businesses will foster a better sense of teamwork and community among staff. The bank will also help to increase and hone employees’ skills, create a more flexible and versatile work force, create safety nets for backup coverage, enrich jobs and thus prevent stagnation, and even potentially improve the company’s bottom line.

Chris Dressel

Senior Vice President of Marketing and HR - Western Bank
Western Bank