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Developing a Competency Model – The Basic Elements and Steps

Audience: Workforce developers, economic developers, and education and training program planners may find this guide useful.

We all use competencies; they are simply the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to perform our daily activities. A competency model organizes the competencies needed to perform successfully in a particular work setting, such as a job, occupation, or industry. Competency models can be used as a resource for developing curriculum and selecting training materials, identifying licensure and certification requirements, writing job descriptions, recruiting and hiring workers, and evaluating employee performance. View or download one of ETA's industry competency models

To assist you in creating your own competency model, the Competency Model Clearinghouse offers the Build a Competency Model Tool. For more information, visit the Build a Model Tool section of the Clearinghouse.

What is a competency?

A competency is the capability to apply a set of related knowledge, skills, and abilities to successfully perform functions or tasks in a defined work setting. Competencies often serve as the basis for skill standards that specify the level of knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for success, as well as potential measurement criteria for assessing competency attainment.

What is a competency model?

A competency model is a collection of competencies that together define successful performance in a particular work setting. Competency models are the foundation for important human resource functions such as recruitment and hiring, training and development, and performance management. Competency models can be developed for specific jobs, job groups, organizations, occupations, or industries.

ETA's industry competency models are resources for identifying the knowledge and skill needs of employers.

Elements of a competency model

Competency models can take a variety of forms. Typically, they include the following elements:

  • Competency names and detailed definitions. For example, a competency model could include a competency called "Teamwork" defined as:
    • establishing constructive and solid interpersonal relationships;
    • treating others with courtesy, tact, and respect;
    • working effectively with others, regardless of organizational level, background, gender, race, or ethnicity;
    • working to resolve disagreements, attempting to persuade others and reach agreements;
    • abiding by and supporting group decisions; and
    • facilitating team interaction and maintaining focus on group goals.
  • Descriptions of activities or behavior associated with each competency. For example, the following behaviors could be associated with the competency "Teamwork":
    • handling differences in work styles effectively when working with coworkers,
    • capitalizing on strengths of others on a team to get work done,
    • anticipating potential conflicts and addressing them directly and effectively,
    • motivating others to contribute opinions and suggestions, and
    • demonstrating a personal commitment to group goals.
  • A diagram of the model. Typically, the model (or a summary of the model) is presented as a visually appealing graphic. Presentation of the model in graphical form helps users quickly grasp the key features of the model.

Some competency models include information about the skills and abilities required for different levels of mastery, or information about the level of competence required at different occupational levels.

The Employment and Training Administration (ETA) uses a Building Blocks model to depict the key competencies needed in specific industries. Learn about ETA's industry competency initiative and explore the Building Blocks Model.

The Competency Model Clearinghouse also offers real-world examples of competency model use. Explore how business, educators, and the workforce investment system are developing and using industry competency models to address their workforce challenges at the Models in Action.

Step 1. Gather background information.

The development of an industry competency model is based on an analysis and synthesis of existing national and state skills standards, technical curriculum, and certifications in the industry sector. This step should be undertaken in collaboration with industry or subject matter experts (SMEs) familiar with the terminology, processes, and skills required in the industry.

The process of gathering information involves:

  • cataloging existing resources,
  • organizing the resources,
  • comparing the contents to the building blocks framework, and
  • analyzing the contents to determine commonalities for an industry model.

Step 2. Develop a draft competency model framework

The Building Blocks and validated industry models serve as content resources that ensure that the draft industry framework is comprehensive. Using these tools, a model developer should:

  • identify themes and patterns existent in the information,
  • relate the information to the content areas,
  • organize the information using the selected industry framework, and
  • develop a draft competency model.

Step 3. Gather feedback from subject matter experts (SMEs)

Gather feedback from the focus group members either in person or through a series of telephone and electronic communications. Focus groups members should be selected based on their familiarity with the competency requirements of the industry. It is useful if these SMEs represent diverse viewpoints. It is also useful to select members across geographic and industry sub-sectors. When interacting with SMEs, a model developer should:

  • summarize the purpose and process of the competency model development,
  • review draft model,
  • discuss each competency in turn, and
  • consider the following questions:
    • does the framework reflect the major competency groups in the industry (personal effectiveness, academic, workplace, cross-industry, and industry sector)?
    • are there any missing competencies that should be included?
    • are any terminology changes needed to the names or the details of the competencies?

Step 4. Refine the competency model framework

The development of a competency model is an iterative process. During the refinement phase of the process, the model developer should:

  • analyze the information gathered through the feedback process;
  • edit the competency names, definitions, and behaviors to reflect the input gathered; and
  • add or delete competencies from the model as appropriate.

Repeat Steps 3 and 4 until the SMEs on the development team agree that the model is a comprehensive representation of the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed in the target occupation or industry.

Step 5. Validate the competency model framework

Validating the model is an essential step to ensure acceptance by the target community of users. The validation process is similar to the development process, except that the audience of experts has been expanded to include potential users who have not helped develop the draft. To validate the model:

  • distribute the draft model to potential users,
  • gather input and comments, and
  • reach consensus that the content is complete.

Explore how business, educators, and the workforce investment system are developing and using industry competency models to address their workforce challenges.

The Build a Competency Model Tool will guide you through the development of a competency model that identifies the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to perform successfully in your industry.

The tool requires you to choose a competency framework to guide model development. The competency model frameworks contain competencies for you to review and possibly incorporate at each tier of your industry competency model. You will be asked to choose either:

  • a pre-existing industry model or
  • the generic building blocks model

Use the Build a Competency Model Tool to develop a competency model that identifies the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to perform successfully in your industry

Do you have advice on using competency model tools or other hints for Developing Competency Models that you would like to share? If so, e-mail

For assistance applying your model in some common situations, select another guide.