By Sarah Pittman

August 8, 2018

Calgary’s economy may be finally turning the corner: four in ten companies in the city are looking to hire more staff as business owners grow more optimistic.  

At this pivotal time, it is more important than ever to hire the best people. The people employers hire can help or hinder their growth, so it is essential they find someone who fits like a glove in the role and the organization. A new approach to hiring has the potential to upend the traditional approach of sifting through resumes and to reshape Calgary’s labour market in a way that is cheaper, more efficient and can potentially put the city’s workforce on a more even keel, regardless of any future dips in the economy. 

Called a competency-based approach, this way of hiring focuses on the things that potential employees can really do and that may apply across a range of different jobs, and possibly different industries. 

Part of the problem with the traditional approach to finding the best new employees is that it is not effective. Even though there are thousands of skilled Albertans who were laid off during the period of plunging oil prices who are still looking for work, finding the right people for the right job is proving difficult. In the first quarter of 2018, there were about 38,000 vacant private sector jobs in Alberta. The problem has been growing for years. A 2014 survey found that 72 per cent of executives struggle to find the right people, with 36 per cent of executives feeling that it has become more difficult in recent years. According to, 86 per cent of tech employers find it challenging to find the people with the competencies they need. An astounding 93 per cent of surveyed CEOs said they need to change their strategy for finding and maintaining talent. 

It should not be this difficult for employers to find the right person for the job.  

This is why employers should consider making the move to a competencies-based approach for hiring as a more efficient and cheaper way to find – and keep – the right people.  

Competencies are the knowledge, skills, and attributes required to do the various tasks required for different jobs. Some competencies are occupation-specific, but many, such as management and communication competencies, apply to a wide range of jobs.  

To hire on a competency basis for a given job, an employer identifies specific competencies at specific levels, along with consideration of degrees and experience. For example, if a company needs someone who is highly competent at information management and is a skilled writer, typically hiring managers would look for people who have worked in related fields for a number of years and hope that their experience translates into what they are looking for. Using a competency approach, they would search for people who have been assessed as highly competent in information management and writing – experience that could have been gained in different industries. This can be done using a competency-based platform (like Global Talent Utility). It is a concept that the Canada West Foundation and our partners are currently testing in a project looking at how to help out-of-work oil and gas professionals get back in the workforce. The approach is more straightforward, and far more likely to land employers the person that they need.  

Hiring based on proven competencies is both easier and cheaper. Easier, because it takes much of the guesswork out of hiring someone new; and cheaper, because employers will know up front what initial training they will need to do, and there will be fewer rehires due to fewer wrong fits. Looking at potential employees in this new way can take some getting used to. In the long run, however, it will give employers a deeper understanding of what the people in those positions do. As Calgary’s economy continues to mend, this approach could be another win for employers as they staff up their organizations. 

– Sarah Pittman is a policy analyst at the Canada West Foundation, which is leading a project with several partners on how transferable competencies can get job-seeking oil and gas professionals back to work. If you’re interested in dipping your toe into the competencies water, you will be interested in our oil and gas professionals’ competencies project, which is looking to match employers with strong, experienced candidates based on competencies.