Why the Magnitude and Scale of Time to Proficiency of the Workforce is Worrisome

Why the Magnitude and Scale of Time to Proficiency of the Workforce is Worrisome

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This article reveals, for the first time, some eye-opening numbers about time to proficiency of employees in different contexts and settings. An outcome of an extensive research study conducted on speeding up time to proficiency, this article describes why organizational leaders should act upon this burning business problem of such a large magnitude and scale.


Do you even know the time to proficiency of your employees or team members in a given job role?

If not, then this article is meant for you.

In a recent conference, I presented that time to proficiency of the workforce is so large a business problem that organizational leaders, learning designers, and performance consultants need to pay absolute attention to it. In this article, I provide some eye-opening figures from research in terms of how large is the “time to proficiency” of employees in different contexts. This is a burning business challenge of the modern accelerated world.

The problem

Previous research suggested time taken to acquire elite expertise on representative tasks in closed domains, such as chess, to be up to ten years (Ericsson & Towne 2010; Ericsson 2002, 2003). However, this time refers to altogether a different journey towards notable expertise or world-class expert performance.

However, in organizational contexts, we are not talking about making employees into world-class experts or demonstrating expert performance. We are dealing with time to proficiency which refers to the time taken by an employee to reach the point where s/he can do his or her job reliably and can produce consistent results. By definition (i.e. proficiency is not world-class expertise), time to proficiency is expected to be much shorter than the one suggested to become an expert (i.e. ten years). However, there are not many estimates or measurements available for time to proficiency. Only some books, case studies, and surveys provided some information on time to proficiency (Accenture 2013; Borton 2007; Fred 2002; Pollock, Wick & Jefferson 2015, p. 285; Thompson 2017, p. 169). One thing that stood out is that time to proficiency is indeed very long.

For an introductory understanding of time to proficiency, check out my previous article defining time to proficiency.

The research

Last year I conducted large-scale qualitative research on what it means to accelerate proficiency in organizations and why organizations would want to do so. 85 world-renowned leaders participated in this study who had proven experience in achieving a substantial reduction in time to proficiency of their employees. These experts came from 7 countries, 42 industries, and 20 business sectors. I conducted over 74 in-depth interviews, and 56 documents and gathered 66 start-to-end project cases. Just to give an idea of the spans of business and industries covered in this study is one of the largest qualitative research studies you may have known.

Table 1: Project cases included in the research study

Time to Proficiency Project Cases

Time to Proficiency Revelations

Never before such thorough research has been conducted on time to proficiency across such a broad spectrum of industries and organizations. All project cases were compared to each other and categorized by job type, economic sector, business sector or industry group to understand how big is the problem in different contexts. An extensive analysis of these interviews and 66 project cases revealed startling facts about time to proficiency of different roles in various contexts.

What I found is that across all the project cases, the magnitude of the time to proficiency may be as large as over three years in certain job roles just to become productive to required performance metrics and go as large as several years.

Two parameters described the scary side of this burning organizational problem.

Magnitude – the absolute value of time to proficiency in a given role

Scale – spread and impact of the problem across all the employees in a given job role


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About Dr Raman K Attri

Dr Raman K Attri is the world’s #1 authority on the science of speed in professional and organizational settings. He is the world's only professional speaker speaking on the topic of the science of speed. He is the author of 23 multi-genre books. As a performance scientist, he has been recognized as one of the leading ‘Transformational Business Leaders’ of 2022. He was named as one of the ‘Global 500 Leaders’ of 2021, alongside stellar leaders like Oprah Winfrey, Gary Vee, Jim Kwik, and Jay Shetty, to name a few. He has made his space as a true accelerated learning guru, earning over 100 international credentials and degrees, including two doctorates in the learning domain, apart from some of the world’s highest certifications. A corporate business manager, he has been featured and cited in over 125 media features in TV/radio shows, magazines, podcasts, and forums.

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