Good Practices and Critical Success Factors in the Use of the Online Skills and Competence Analysis Tool (OSCAT) Introduction The e-Assessment of Learning Needs in SMEs project, aimed to develop an online skills and competence analysis tool (OSCAT) (e-assessment software) that can be used by trainers in SMEs, training developers and business advisors. The prototype of the OSCAT was tested by a range of user target groups in a number of the project’s partner countries; the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, and Spain. As a means of learning from the testing process, good practices and critical success factors in use of the OSCAT have been analysed and can be considered within the context of approaches to learning needs assessment. Background Only about one third of those who are employed in SMEs actually work in the profession for which they once trained. The broad range of tasks and responsibilities in an SME often requires managers and employees to have competencies in additional fields. A lack of skills and competencies can quickly lead to quality problems in the company. Competencies are often acquired through formal learning, a significant cost factor for companies, however most people build knowledge and competencies through informal learning methods. As we do not receive certificates and qualifications for informal learning, it can be difficult for SME employers to gauge the skill and competence levels of their employees, and therefore it becomes difficult to identify their development needs. Bearing in mind the difficulties facing SMEs, we can see that the OSCAT can help to address their problems because it offers a low cost approach to direct and target-oriented qualification and skills development. Two different approaches to the assessment of learning needs are: • the running of personal interviews within the company; and • the use of pre-structured online-questionnaires. These methods imply different critical success factors. The advantages of the direct personal interview are its individuality and the possibility to adjust interview questions or to discuss matters in greater detail if something is not clear. On the other hand, interviews are time-consuming and tend to entail high costs, which are disadvantages. The use of online-questionnaires on a stand-alone basis can be an effective low cost option, which can be structured and evaluated easily. The disadvantages, however, are that they can be quite rigid, require IT competence, and do not allow the interviewer to intervene or adapt the questioning approach. The online skills and competence analysis tool may help to balance the advantages and disadvantages of the approaches described above. Potential users in the 5 partnership countries mentioned above tested the prototype tool between November 2006 and January 2007. 53 people participated in the testing process, 15 as authors and 38 as users. Companies from the following locations were involved: • 3 companies from the Moravian-Selesian region, Czech Republic • 3 companies from Kaunas and Vilnius, Lithuania • 2 companies from Szeged, Hungary • 3 companies from Castellón, Spain • 3 companies from the Turin area, Italy The companies (all SMEs, with up to 200 employees) represented the following sectors: • Machine building and plant construction • Education • Union of independent companies • Transport (taxi company) • Finance • Medical Services (hospital) The testers belonged to the following professional categories: Authors: Managers, general managers, HR managers, management consultants, administrators, professors and lecturers Users: Managers, department managers, management consultants, administrators, tutors, IT experts, bookkeepers, technicians, nurses and opticians Analysis and questions The main aim of the testing process was to assess the user-friendliness and the functionality of the tool. Once the testing process was complete, the partners who co-ordinated the testing completed a questionnaire from which good practice and critical success factors were evaluated. The findings of the testing process were as follows: • There had been good cooperation between the project partners and the test partners • There had been flexible communication between the parties involved, especially concerning the online creation of the testing questionnaires • There had been an immediate evaluation of the analysis • The testing schedule was realistic • There had been good cooperation with the responsible staff during the creation of the competence-related-questionnaires • The companies’ levels of motivation had assisted in the success of the testing process. • The software had proved to be reliable. • The software ‘user guide’ was easy to understand. Issues noted: • Managers were apprehensive about completing the test questionnaires. This may have been due to insufficient briefing before commencement of testing. • The managers had concerns that there might be resistance to the testing process from the users’ side • The managers in general were reluctant to fill in questionnaires. • The policies and the specifications concerning the use of the ICT in the various companies were sometimes a hindrance • Administrators and users need a level of IT competence to effectively use the tool. • Some involvement from IT experts was necessary (at least during the initial testing phase) Conclusion and recommendations We can conclude by commenting on an example of good practice from the test phase of this project and making recommendations of practices which will contribute to the successful use of the OSCAT. The project’s partner from Hungary, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Csongrad County, co-ordinated the testing process at an SME from which the testing process and results can be considered an example of good practice in use of the OSCAT. External consultants performed a competence evaluation with the help of the OSCAT. The management board helped to develop an online questionnaire which was then tested by managers and employees. The self-assessment questionnaires were followed up with interviews during which the answers given in the questionnaires were discussed. On the basis of the data collected, the company created a human resource development plan which defined the learning needs of each employee (including a schedule and training plan). The management endorsed this plan. All of the testing participants accepted the result. The company was satisfied with the services offered by the tool. Moreover, it became clear that the tool could also be used efficiently for human resource certification according to ISO. The company has confirmed its intention to use the tool in the future. Based on our findings during the testing phase, the partnership can recommend a number of practices to increase the likelihood of successful use of the OSCAT: • Have IT support specialists available to assist with any internet access/ICT related issues that might arise when installing and first using the tool • Users without ICT experience will use the OSCAT more effectively with an introduction into the tool’s navigation before completing a survey • Administrators (i.e. those working with the back office of the OSCAT) will find it easier to use the tool if they have some previous experience of windows based applications. • We recommend that users refer to the ‘user guide’ before and during use of the OSCAT. • Employers/managers may need to take into consideration employees’ attitudes to skills and competence evaluation. To gain most benefit from the use of the OSCAT, it may be beneficial to brief employees on the skills and competence analysis process, the use of the data collected, and the benefits the process can offer both the employee and the company. • Time pressures create resistance to survey completion. It may be beneficial to allocate specific time periods away from employees’ or managers’ day to day tasks for them to complete the surveys. The OSCAT may be used in conjunction with a system for competence certification in Europe: the Leonardo da Vinci pilot project ESO-CSA (CEMES). This project elaborated competencies, which are valid on a European level, in order to assess a manager’s competencies. The assessment and the analysis are carried out online on the basis of common questions, case studies, and assessment criteria. Independent assessors evaluate the competencies of the candidates (users). Both strategies (OSCAT and CEMES) could be combined in a process for competence assessment and analysis of learning needs: 1. Research and analysis of the necessary workplace and task requirements 2. Analysis of education requirements– gap between requirementsand competence level 3. Use of further education opportunities Competence development 4. Certification of compentence levelsgained from formal, non-formal and informal learning Personal interviews and online questionnaires may be combined in order to analyse individual learning needs. Online questionnaires enable us to collect data in a structured way and give the respondents an overview about the subjects that could be relevant for further training. Using the OSCAT, the competence areas are set by the administrators before the users answer the questions. This means that we have developed a “qualified” online-interview. This method is quick and comfortable thus providing the companies with an economic and cost-efficient solution for the assessment of learning needs. Source: “Compass for qualification. A guideline for the early assessment of qualification needs in small and medium-sized companies in the German region of Brandenburg“; Vanessa Franz, Hanne-Johe-Kelberg, Franz Seibert, Martin Zwick, (isoplan-Institut Saarbrücken, Berlin, Brussels) July 2002 This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
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