How to Create Learning Program Competency Models [Part 3]

In the third part of this case study blog series, Alfonso Riley, learning technology consultant at Caterpillar Inc., discusses how and why the organization created competency models for their learning programs—including advice and best practices for fellow L&D practitioners.

Developing Competency Models for Learning Programs

To increase Caterpillar dealerships’ workforce leadership, sales, and product support-related competencies, our Global Dealer Learning (GDL) team created a competency model for each program. This competency model:

  • serves as a reference for dealers to customize programs to their business needs.
  • provides a link between competency (e.g. skills and knowledge) and learning activities (e.g. formal and informal learning).
  • offers a reference on the different proficiency levels within the competency, so progression through the learning program can be measured and tracked.
  • provides cross-functional competency equivalents to simplify career path competency tracking and credit during career progression.

How did GDL create competency models for multiple programs? Describe that process.

For developing competency models, we followed our Caterpillar Production System (CPS) Lean methodology, change management, and instructional design principles using previously developed competency dictionaries. We also focused on creating competency models for key job roles (i.e. technicians, sales professionals and leaders).

Using DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, and control) methodology, we defined the structure of our competency models based on business indicators and collected data from our dealers on how they were using our learning solutions. We then linked those solutions to tasks associated with each job role.

This process required the creation of tactical task forces to work on each of the Career Development Program Competency Models, under a common framework, to ensure dealers could apply the same process regardless of the job role. Through continuous collaboration across the task forces, maintaining focus on the competency models, and working with dealers, we were able to deploy our five-step Career Development Process (CDP).

What is Caterpillar’s Career Development Process Wheel?

To achieve competency models for each program, GDL established the Career Development Process Wheel, a five-step process to deliver its learning products and services.

Step 1: Set Goals

The Career Development Process starts by setting the business goal. Learning consultants work with dealers and Caterpillar business units to define the competencies needed to win business.

Step 2: Assess Learning & Identify Skills Gaps

Through our learning ecosystem, GDL assesses learners to identify any skills gaps. From there, we recommend appropriate learning activities based on the competency models (i.e. leadership, sales, and service competencies).

Step 3: Develop Custom Learning Plans

Using assessment results from Step 2, GDL works with dealers to develop individual learning plans for their respective workforces. We also coordinate with dealers’ HR and/or training departments on the people pipeline to each of the programs. Dealers define their learning plans and work closely with GDL learning consultants to ensure those plans are completed as expected.

Step 4: Reinforce Learning with On-Demand Tools

Thanks to GDL’s learning ecosystem that provides on-demand learning tools, we can help learners reinforce and apply knowledge and skills after they’ve completed formal learning activities.

Step 5: Measure & Validate Competency Levels

Learners’ competency levels are measured and validated against the competency models. Based on learners’ needs, GDL offers multiple solutions—from online exams to in-person skills assessments—depending on the competency. To ensure the business goal is being achieved, the results from these exams and assessments feed back to the CDP wheel to compare business data with learning data.

How did you determine and develop the 5 steps for the process wheel?

We followed the ADDIE model, a well-documented instructional system design and human performance improvement process.

  • Steps 1, 2, and 5 come from human performance improvement processes—which are based on the application of formative and summative assessments, based on a business need.
  • Steps 3 and 4 follow the instructional design principles to create human performance interventions to provide formal and informal learning opportunities in alignment to the target competencies.

Why is this career development process important? And were there any lessons learned along the way?

This process is important for us, given that we were merging multiple L&D organizations into one, and we needed a global process in alignment with our global business strategy.

When it comes to lessons learned, we realized that we had been creating training focused on a topic when we should have been focusing on what skills learners needed. This approach caused difficulties as we began shifting to a competency-based training program as it's reactive instead of proactive. So rather than focusing first on the product or topic and then creating corresponding content, we learned that it’s critical to first create the competency model and dictionary based on the job roles.

What advice would you give other organizations about creating learning programs?

Always define a clear picture of the future state first before you start designing and developing your training programs. Keep your focus on business needs and have clear metrics and targets before design and development.

Up Next: Caterpillar’s Plan to Align L&D Goals with the Business

See how Caterpillar’s Global Dealer Learning team applied Lean 6 Sigma methodology to generate rapid changeover to achieve their aggressive, enterprise-wide business goals. Learn more as Alfonso Riley continues this client story blog series.

The information provided in this series is based on Caterpillar’s 2019 award from the Brandon Hall Group in the category of “Best Advance in Creating an Extended Enterprise Learning Program.” Special thanks to Alfonso Riley, Jeff Barbee, Phil Adams, and Paul Gasparro of Caterpillar for their time, contribution, and insights.

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