Communicating Competencies for Information Professionals

In our knowledge economy, a clear understanding of your own competencies and how you can apply them will continuously accrue value.

By Deborah Everhart, PhD

This article appears in the November-December 2017 issue of Information Outlook.

In today’s knowledge economy, good jobs and career progression require ever-higher levels of rapidly changing skills (see Carnavale 2013). A single credential or a stable set of well-known job skills is no longer sufficient for career success. Most of us can expect numerous career transitions that will require “upskilling” and professional development. This is a challenge not only for individuals trying to navigate their career progression, but also for employers, many of whom are citing an inability to find people with necessary skills as a critical business concern (SHRM 2016).

The world of information professionals is no exception; in fact, the level and complexity of knowledge and skills required for career progression in this field are arguably escalating faster than in other fields. In the scramble to keep up, employers, educators, professional associations such as SLA, and especially information professionals themselves need effective ways of articulating the knowledge, skills, and abilities that are professionally relevant. A shared language of competencies is a critical component in addressing this need.

In 2016, SLA revised its Competencies for Information Professionals, the goal of which is to “provide a common platform in which each information professional is able to find his or her unique competencies represented” (SLA 2016). In practical terms, this competency set provides—

  • Clear, shared statements to describe what an individual knows and can do;
  • Building blocks for describing what’s entailed in a role at a specific organization;
  • A framework for designing an effective, competency-aligned curriculum and training materials;
  • A map to define the relationships between these competencies and other competencies, such as specializations; and
  • A template individuals can apply as they collect and curate their own evidence of competencies.

The competencies document provides a shared framework for stakeholders to communicate the knowledge, skills, and abilities that are relevant in the field of information management. Employers can use it to understand the skills that information professionals contribute to achieving business goals. Educators can use it to design a curriculum that is applicable to specific professional responsibilities. Prospective information professionals can use it to understand the profession and what will be expected of them. Current information professionals can use it to articulate their own competencies and navigate their career progression.

THE PROFESSIONAL ‘CURRENCY’ OF COMPETENCIES

To make effective use of competencies, we need to understand why a particular set of competencies is valuable. Competencies don’t have value in and of themselves; they accrue value as stakeholders use them to represent “currency” in “exchanges.” Therefore, we need to understand the relationships among the stakeholders as well as what they are exchanging. In general terms, the stakeholders are as follows:

  1. Individuals who have mastered competencies (they hold the currency of their own competencies);
  2. Education or training organizations that help individuals master competencies and verify that mastery (they help individuals generate and hold more currency);
  3. Employers who seek individuals who have mastered competencies (they “consume” the currency); and
  4. Endorsers who vouch for the validity of competencies (they reinforce the currency).

Information professionals can refer to specific
SLA competencies in their résumés and include evidence
to back up their claims.




The practical exchanges among these stakeholders include, among other things, getting a job or advancing a career, hiring or promoting a valuable employee, and paying for education or training for the purpose of acquiring competencies. When competencies are defined and used in ways that are transparent, relevant, and valid, stakeholders benefit from shared, understood value in their exchanges. This value takes many forms:

  • Individuals understand which competencies they need for a specific job or career path.
  • Individuals and employers can invest in educational and training programs that lead to mastery of specific competencies that are needed.
  • Educators can verify the mastery of specific competencies and provide transparency with regard to what’s included in their credentials.
  • Individuals can articulate their own competencies and provide evidence.
  • Employers can find employees and verify that they have the necessary competencies.

Applying this logic to the information management field, we see that the Competencies for Information Professionals provides a basis for investing in the currency of competencies for information professionals. Stakeholders in this field can increase the value of these competencies by using them effectively in their own areas of influence, as the following examples reveal:

  • Employers can refer to specific SLA competencies in their job descriptions.
  • Educators can refer to specific SLA competencies in their curriculum and design their assessments to provide valid verification of mastery of these competencies.
  • Educational and training organizations can explicitly document mastery of specific SLA competencies in their credentials.
  • Information professionals can refer to specific SLA competencies in their résumés and include evidence to back up their claims.
  • Employers, educators, professional and governmental organizations, and others can endorse the SLA competency set.
  • SLA and/or other organizations can map the SLA competencies to other relevant competency and skill taxonomies, such as the U.S. Department of Labor O*NET occupations.
  • SLA and/or other organizations can provide guidance for using the SLA competency set in effective ecosystems, using strategies such as those set forth in the American Council on Education’s Communicating the Value of Competencies (Everhart, Bushway, and Schejbal 2016).

UNDERSTANDING YOUR OWN COMPETENCIES

How can you, as an information professional, derive the most value from the SLA competencies? The first step is to gain a better understanding of the competencies you have mastered; by extension, you will also gather useful insights into gaps you might want to address.

Start by reviewing the SLA competencies in light of your own experience. Take notes on your own experience and abilities in each of the specific areas, including where, when, and how you learned the competency and applied it in a relevant context. Did you learn it in a course or training program? On the job? From a colleague? Did you take a formal assessment or pass a certification exam? Do you have a credential or some other verification of what you learned? Have you applied this competency in your current job? Prior jobs? Do you have work samples or other evidence demonstrating how you applied the competency?


Review your competencies in light of . . . other positions
to consider how you could advance and/or move into
higher levels of responsibility in your current position.




You might find it useful to go through questions that are geared toward self-assessment, such as the Global Learning Qualifications Framework. These questions will prompt you to think about your education and experiences and how you articulate your own learning achievements.

You will also need to understand your own competencies in the context of occupational categories and job requirements. Review the skills required for your current position and consider how they are related to the SLA competencies. Talk to your human resources associate about the job descriptions for positions related to yours that you might want to advance into, including any lateral moves that interest you. Review your competencies in light of these other positions to consider how you could advance and/or move into higher levels of responsibility in your current position. You can also explore occupations and job requirements more broadly at career sites like the U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop.

This investment of time and reflection will help you understand not only your own competencies but also your readiness for job opportunities, your interest in areas of specialization, and skills gaps that you might want to fill through education, training, or on-the-job experience.

CURATING YOUR OWN EVIDENCE OF COMPETENCIES

As you take notes and reflect on your own competencies, you can also begin to collect evidence to back up your competencies. Actual evidence, along with an explanation of how it demonstrates your competency, concretely shows an employer your capabilities. It helps you and others visualize how you can apply this competency in a work environment, including demonstrating your value in your current position.


Think creatively about ways to make . . . evidence [of your
competencies] useful and relevant for yourself and others.




For example, for the SLA competency titled Information and Knowledge Services: Teaching, training, and developing information literacy and associated skills for stakeholders, your evidence could be training materials and the assessment results of those you trained. For the competency titled Information and Knowledge Systems and Technology: Coding using appropriate scripting and other tools, your evidence could be code samples. For the competency titled Information and Data Retrieval and Analysis: Interviewing and consulting with community members to identify and clarify information and knowledge needs, your evidence could be an interview template and description of your methodology. Think creatively about ways to make this evidence useful and relevant for yourself and others.

Specific work products from your job might not be appropriate evidence in some circumstances; for example, they might include proprietary or sensitive information that you cannot store or share for legal or ethical reasons. If you cannot collect specific work products, explanations and/or descriptions of the artifacts you produced and your methodology for producing them can still provide valuable concrete information about your competencies.

In some cases, the evidence will be credentials, including degrees, certificates, certifications, licensures, and badges issued by authorized educational institutions and professional organizations. These might not explicitly include information about the competencies you mastered to earn these credentials, so you should request from the issuing institution a detailed description of the credential to find information about the competencies included, which are sometimes called “learning outcomes.” You might also find this information in course descriptions or syllabi from the courses you took.

If this type of information is not available, you can decipher an understanding of the competencies you mastered using the same strategy of reflection you’re using in other areas. (If you are considering investing in an education or training program to fill competency gaps, request detailed information from the institution about the competencies included in the program so you can make sure the course or program meets your needs.)

As you collect evidence, keep in mind the difference between self-reported evidence and verified evidence. Verified evidence from an authorized organization is more powerful than evidence that’s backed up only by your own assertion that you produced the artifact. The more trusted the organization that’s providing the verification—for example, an industry organization that’s endorsed by the employer—the more valued the currency of the competency.


Employers generally value employees who can apply their skills
in a variety of circumstances, so don’t discount the work
you’ve done as a volunteer and/or in non-work environments.




Verified evidence can now come from a wide variety of sources because digital credentials are becoming more common. These include digital transcripts, certifications, and badges from education and training providers, assessment organizations, professional associations, and community groups. Employers generally value employees who can apply their skills in a variety of circumstances, so don’t discount the work you’ve done as a volunteer and/or in non-work environments. A collection of these different types of evidence provides a well-rounded view of who you are and what you’re capable of doing.

As you gain awareness of your own competencies, you’ll find it useful to collect digital evidence and artifacts continuously. Ongoing curation of evidence not only avoids the problem of trying to gather and retrieve materials in a rush when there’s a timely opportunity, it also encourages you to be constantly aware of your own competencies and what you’re learning and achieving. Curation of your own evidence is important for building confidence and keeping an ongoing professional development mindset.

Remember, your ability to articulate and describe your own competencies is evidence as well—it reflects your detailed understanding of the field, your knowledge of what it means to be professionally capable, and your clear-eyed analysis of your own strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations. The time and effort you spend documenting and communicating your own competencies is a solid investment that will help you successfully navigate the maze of career opportunities ahead of you.

THE BENEFITS OF COMMUNICATING COMPETENCIES

Information professionals understand quite well the importance of ongoing development of knowledge, skills, and abilities. In our knowledge economy, a clear understanding of your own competencies and how you can apply them will continuously accrue value. This value is relevant for individuals and for other stakeholders as well, and conveys the following benefits:

  • Enhancing an information professional’s ability to clearly communicate readiness for a specific position or career advancement;
  • Helping employers and employees visualize career pathways;
  • Increasing employers’ efficiency and accuracy in the hiring and promotion processes;
  • Assisting educators in the effective design of education and training programs that are transparently aligned to competencies; and
  • Heightening the ability of professional associations to provide relevant services to members.

Improved communication about competencies for information professionals builds the currency value of these competencies and strengthens the profession. Start using the SLA competencies to communicate your value and further your career.

REFERENCES

Carnevale, Anthony P., Nicole Smith, and Jeff Strohl. 2013. Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Employment and Training Administration. 2017. CareerOneStop. Website. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Labor.

Everhart, Deborah, Deb Bushway, and David Schejbal. 2016. Communicating the Value of Competencies. Washington, D.C.: American Council on Education.

Everhart, Deborah, and Deborah Seymour. 2016. “Challenges and Opportunities in the Currency of Higher Education.” In Handbook of Research on Competency-Based Education in University Settings, ed. Karen L. Rasmussen, Pamela T. Northrup, and Robin Colson. Hershey, Pa.: IGI Global.

Everhart, Deborah, Evelyn Ganzglass, Carla Casilli, Daniel Hickey, and Brandon Muramatsu. 2016. Quality Dimensions for Connected Credentials. Washington, D.C.: American Council on Education.

National Center for O*NET Development. O*NET OnLine. Retrieved November 12, 2017, from https://www.onetonline.org/

Society for Human Resource Management. 2016. The New Talent Landscape: Recruiting Difficulty and Skills Shortages. Alexandria, Va.

Special Libraries Association. 2016. Competencies for Information Professionals. McLean, Va.

State University of New York. 2017. Global Learning Qualifications Framework. Saratoga Springs, N.Y.: Empire State College.


Deborah Everhart is vice president of design and innovation at Learning Objects, an educational technology company developing competency-based, interoperable learning environments and credentials. She has served as a strategic advisor for the American Council on Education and is a leader in the IMS Global working groups defining standards for competencies, extended transcripts, open badges, and digital credentials. She can be reached at everhart@georgetown.edu.

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