What do talent acquisition and learning and development have in common? More than you might think.

In the technology industry, skill assessments are often thought of as a screening tool. They’re a way to find out whether job candidates have the skills needed to succeed in the position they’re applying for and, when done right, can give an in-depth view of how they approach a problem.

But skills assessment is useful beyond the hiring process. It’s also an essential part of mastering skills and a key element of effective learning and development (L&D). In fact, assessment is one place where talent acquisition and L&D cross paths.

Why L&D Is More Important than Ever

The tech industry is moving quickly. The startup scene shows no signs of slowing down, millennial workers move jobs more frequently than past generations, and there are constant changes in how companies build and manage products and software.

A company may hire someone based on the skills they need at the time, but those needs may not fit the challenges of the job later on. The skills software developers need to perform well in their role are constantly being reinvented. The most popular coding frameworks and languages today were developed less than a decade ago. L&D, then, is crucial for employees’ ability to stay relevant — and for companies to realize the full potential of their workforce.

Assessing Skills at the Top of the Funnel and Beyond

Assessments that fairly and objectively measure a candidate’s ability at a given moment in time are an effective method for predicting potential that eliminates interviewer and candidate bias. Great technical skill is not inborn; it comes with practice and iteration. When candidates demonstrate the discipline required to acquire and hone skills over time — and to “learn how to learn” — it’s a good indication that they will apply this same learning agility to future challenges.

We are not there yet, but the gold standard in hiring will be the ability to objectively measure a candidate’s progress over time. If you can measure change in ability, you can see how a skill set has evolved over time and assign a quantifiable skills growth percentage. Evaluating a candidate’s current skill level along with this growth rate will be a sound predictor of his or her future.

How can we start toward this future? By shifting to a model in which the candidate owns his or her own data and progress reporting over time. Take an English proficiency exam, for example. If a candidate has his or her historical data from the first and second occasion of taking the exam, that change in performance could be an indicator of future growth potential. This approach also empowers employees to be the steward of their own data and development.

The Future of Learning and Development

Despite its importance, learning and development is often less than ideal. The 2019 report “How the Workforce Learns” by Degreed and Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning found an average net promoter score for L&D of -25. At its worst, L&D is solely about compliance. In these cases, companies offer training out of necessity, with little concern if their employees actually gain anything from it. Even at companies that care about offering valuable L&D, employers often do not know whether their employees are learning and mastering skills.

To keep up with the ever-changing nature of the tech industry, L&D must couple content delivery with mastery-based learning, customizable assessments and real-time practice. Rather than just assessing skills at the talent acquisition phase, companies need objective ways to measure how an employee’s skills are evolving over the years.

A data-driven approach to L&D allows for data-driven promotion cycles — a good thing for both employees and employers. Being data-driven in talent acquisition is important, but being data-driven about how we measure talent, whether it’s during the acquisition phase or the development phase, is key to transformation.