Aviation Training: The Indispensable Element of a Competency Building Strategy


Tying Competency Building to Strategy

Because people are an organization’s greatest asset, it goes without saying that training and developing employees needs to be a key and explicit part of an organization’s strategy. There are many reasons why an organization should prioritize investing in their people. One of the most compelling rests in the fact that when done strategically, money spent on developing human capital boosts productivity more than any other spend. For aviation organizations, this represents a major capital investment. It is imperative that those making decisions are equipped with the proper skill set and competencies to make the right decisions.

It is concerning that recent research from PricewaterhouseCoopers found that less than half of the human resources leaders polled, were confidant that they have access to the right talent to execute their business strategy.  Attracting, selecting, developing, rewarding, and retaining the best talent possible is vital.

While the first step is attracting and selecting the best people, it is also important that these individuals are developed through a robust competency building process to ensure the best return for an organization’s human capital investment. Competent employees become more productive and when their accomplishments are recognized and rewarded – they tend to stay with the organizations that develop and value them.

A competency building strategy supports human resource capital development in an organization. The key success factors for developing a competency building strategy include:  identifying the organizational guiding principles, conducting a performance needs assessment, and ensuring an implementation and measurement plan.

Organizational Guiding Principles

Before embarking on a performance needs assessment, it is critical to set the tone. Identifying the organizational guiding principles would ensure that a competency building strategy reaches the impact that is both desired and needed, to address an organization’s performance needs.



A competency building strategy must be tied to an organization’s corporate vision and direction, as well as its inherent organizational values. It should be led by, and have the full support of, the organization’s top management. In addition, the right stakeholders must be involved at all levels.

Organizational visioning requires clearly articulating expected outcomes as a well as the efforts and processes required for reaching said outcomes. As with every other direction-setting exercise, an organization must clearly articulate, decide and support their desired competency building outcomes.

Successful organizations maximize their potential with competency development programmes to provide them with a sustainable competitive advantage: the learning organization. According to Senge, “Learning organizations [are] organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.”  The key principle of a learning organization is transformation through systems thinking, primarily at three levels: aligning objectives and building a shared vision, empowering individuals and cultivating communities to stimulate innovation.

Transparency is a vital element of the process. In order to address performance issues, a clear identification of problem areas and organizational performance issues is required. The organizational climate must promote an openness to discussing needs and issues and an environment that allows for all employee voices to be heard.

Performance Needs Assessment: the performance gap

A performance needs assessment forms the basis for structured learning and development. It systematically identifies the standard of performance that is being achieved, or actual performance, and the standard of performance required, or optimal performance. The difference between these two performance levels is the performance gap.

Analysing the gap can be challenging in that it is sometimes quite clear where the deficiencies are, but it is not always obvious why the deficiencies occur, and at times, the causes of the deficiencies are misidentified.

The Organizational X-Ray

An organizational x-ray is a systemic analysis which provides a high-level perspective of the performance issues within an organization. The x-ray requires interviewing senior management, collecting existing documentation such as position descriptions and general background information on the organization and/or division. Past and current learning and development initiatives, as well as their results can also provide useful insight.

A performance needs assessment distinguishes itself from the traditional training needs assessment, in that it focusses on all the interdependent elements that affect performance.  All too often, performance issues are linked to outdated processes and procedures or job descriptions that are not a right fit with operational and business needs.

The Critical Incident Technique

The critical incident technique is employed to identify the precise flaws in actual performance, essentially digging deeper into performance issues. Through qualitative observation of human performance, rich and contextualized data that describe real-life situations emerge, more than with a traditional task analysis. The findings provide insight on why the performance gap is occurring, as well as what could be done to close it.

Shortly before creating the technique, John Flanagan made the following observation:

“Too often, statements regarding job requirements are merely lists of all the desirable traits of human beings. These are practically no help in selecting, classifying, or training individuals for specific jobs. To obtain valid information regarding the truly critical requirements for success in a specific assignment, procedures were developed in the Aviation Psychology Programme for making systematic analyses of causes of good and poor performance.

Essentially, the procedure was to obtain first-hand reports, or reports from objective records, of satisfactory and unsatisfactory execution of the task assigned. The cooperating individual described a situation in which success or failure was determined by specific re-ported causes.”

The results of the critical incident technique should be measured against an optimal performance standard. Such a benchmark can be obtained through research on the workforce structure of an optimally performing organization in order to generate further information about the knowledge, skills, abilities and other personal characteristics (KSAOs) that are critical to performing the various target jobs.


The Population Analysis

Collecting demographic information on the people to be developed is not only useful but necessary to best tailor a competency building programme with maximum results. It is also critical to get their input through focus groups, interviews and/or surveys to better understand their needs. Furthermore, an organizational climate survey provides insights on employee perceptions about their working environment and how this affects their own individual performance.

Planning for Growth

As much as looking at the background is critical, forward-looking organizations must take into account their future needs when analysing a performance gap. This would require looking at any upcoming projects, all forthcoming regulatory changes and strategic plans.

Implementation and Measurement Plan

Implementation and measurement are iterative processes that require adjustment along the way. It is also key to refer back to the organizational guiding principles, as well as the optimal competency profile.

The implementation plan incorporates recommendations for a variety of approaches to meet the competency building needs. It also identifies priorities in relation to the whole and its divisions. It indicates what competency building programmes need to be custom built, in addition to which learning and development programmes already exists, as well as optimal suppliers.

A measurement plan will take into account many aspects when assessing the success of a competency building strategy. Using a balanced scorecard approach, it should consider key performance indicators (KPIs) related to elements such as financial measures, customer satisfaction, internal business processes, and learning and growth. Most importantly, one cannot fix what they cannot measure, therefore the measurement plan must be defined at the project outset.

Impact on Mission and Bottom Line

While many factors interdependently affect an organization’s bottom line, the proper development of a measurement plan from the project offset can enable organizations to better pinpoint what degree the performance improvement initiatives have had on the bottom line.

  • Operational Performance: Improvements in operational performance can be observed rather easily, especially if a snapshot of performance is taken before and after all performance improvement interventions. In order to deem an intervention successful, changes must be visible and impactful.
  • Customer Satisfaction: Perhaps one of the best metrics for measuring success is the customer’s appreciation of improved performance and this can be done by comparing previous surveys and testimonials with new data collected.
  • Employee Satisfaction: If we consider that employee satisfaction impacts employee retention positively, and we recall that one key problem is to measure a competency building strategy on its impact and capacity to retain high performing talent, then this might be one of the most important measures.

Taking a Systemic and Integrated Approach

Organizations have become advanced in terms of developing master plans for infrastructure, as well as with acquiring state of the art technology and equipment. Equal planning efforts and investment are required to select and develop the people who will ultimately drive the organization forward. Talent management and development is a strategic issue which requires a systemic and integrated approach in order to ensure optimal organizational performance.


About the Author

Kristina Schneider is the Senior Director, Operations and Learning Services at Aviation Strategies International (ASI) in Montreal, Canada, overseeing the activities of the ASI Institute. She also manages the operations and educational technology for the Global ACI-ICAO Airport Management Professional Accreditation Programme (AMPAP). She holds an undergraduate degree in Communication Studies as well as a Master’s degree in Educational Technology from Concordia University, and has recently completed a Graduate Diploma in Integrated Aviation Management at McGill University. She joined the team of ICAO TRAINAIR PLUS Training Development Course Instructors in 2012 and Training Instructor Course in 2015.