Developing a Competency Identification System

Last Updated: 14 December 2021

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This piece is largely influenced by the teachings and research of Ms. Donna Wright, a professional development specialist and Ausmed educator. Find a list of her lectures here.

All healthcare providers and organisations know that well-educated staff are the key to the successful provision of best-practice care.

However, many organisations' education departments use what Donna Wright calls the ‘Spray and Pray’ method when dealing with continuing professional development. (Wright, 2020 (1)). ‘Spray and Pray’ describes non-targeted assigned learning, meaning educators spray education resources across the whole organisation and pray that it sticks.

This is ineffective largely because it’s highly unlikely that all workers need to cover the exact same information. In fact, if you have low performers and high performers regarding a certain skill, forcing all of them to undertake the same learning module will have negative effects and be ineffective. The low performers will likely skim through the module, as they haven’t been told they’re the ones who need it the most, and the high performers will have their time wasted and perhaps even doubt the skill they thought they’d mastered (Wright, 2020 (2)). In the end, the retention rate will likely be incredibly low: Wright recalls an instance of 2% retention in one large hospital group’s ‘Spray and Pray’ scenario (Wright, 2020 (1)).

So how do organisations ensure effective education is being delivered to their healthcare professionals and workers? They must instate a Competency Identification System that includes targeted instances of learning that result in long-term retention of prioritised and relevant information.

What is competency and how does it differ from education?

This is a good question. Competency is a level of ability or skill that someone may possess regarding a certain activity. For example, Virginia Woolf was very competent at writing fiction. Education, on the other hand, is a means by which one can gain competence in a skill. For example, Virginia Woolf was taught to read, and this helped her to improve her competence at writing fiction.

However, education is only one of many ways someone can increase their competency – other ways include engaging with case studies, practical examples, work experience and critical workplace discussions.

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What is a Competency Identification System?

A Competency Identification System is a means by which organisations can identify learning areas within their employee base that lack competency, and subsequently action these areas as learning opportunities (Wright, 2020 (2)).

Wright splits the identification of competencies into two sections: brainstorm and prioritise.

To brainstorm, figure out if the learning area is:

  • New
  • Changing
  • High risk (risk of harm, death or litigation for either the patient or the organisation)
  • Problematic (response to an instance of incorrect practice, can be identified using quality indicators)

Once an organisation has brainstormed, they can begin to prioritise:

  • Does the learning area fall into more than one of the above categories (e.g. new and high risk)?
  • What is the outcome for your customer?
  • Is the item time-sensitive?

Who is involved in the Competency Identification process?

Wright clearly – and firmly – asserts that organisation executives (such as the director of education) are not in control of identifying competencies: that is the job of individual teams and departments. Team managers and a few influential team members should meet to identify ongoing competencies, as they’re the ones that are working day-to-day in the area and see the gaps or high-level competencies in action. Even then, however, Wright highlights the need to empower the employee and give them ownership of their learning: they should be expected to – and feel empowered to – bring forward areas of competency that require further development.

Why do organisations need a Competency Identification Model?

Often, organisations prescribe to the idea that effective continuing professional development is assigned from the top down. While the attitude toward and culture surrounding continuing professional development may be influenced by the attitudes and culture of the organisation’s executive team, the actual areas for development can only be identified by the individuals and teams themselves (Wright, 2020 (2)).

Team leaders not only have a better understanding of their team’s dynamics and competency gaps, they also are able to reinforce training while on the floor. For example, a team manager may be able to ask certain colleagues to do a certain task more often, thereby training them through repetition.

Thereby, a team should be feeding information up to the director of education, mainly keeping them abreast of compliance levels and time-sensitive training issues, but otherwise the Competency Identification System should be built upon the views and decisions of the team manager and members.

Learn more

Donna Wright is a leading voice in the field of continuing professional development. That’s why we have multiple resources hosted on the Ausmed platform that educate both individual healthcare providers and organisations. The following three lectures explain Competency Identification Systems – and competency in general – in far more detail.

  • What is Competency and How Do You Assess It? (Wright, D. 2020, ‘What is Competency and How Do You Assess It?’, Ausmed, 16 January, viewed 10 November 2021,
  • Using Education Wisely: Avoiding ‘Spray & Pray’ (Wright, D. 2020 (1), 'Using Education Wisely: Avoiding 'Spray and Pray'', Ausmed, 21 January, viewed 10 November 2021,
  • Wright’s Competency Model in Practice (Wright, D. 2020 (2), 'Wright's Competency Model in Practice', Ausmed, 23 January, viewed 10 November 2021,

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