Effective testing, reporting and learning
Large organisations have tested the skills of potential employees at recruitment stage for many years. In an attempt to reflect the best practice of the biggest companies and recruit the very best employees, testing candidates is becoming more widespread in smaller companies. Yet even large corporations and companies whose branding attracts many candidates are not making the best use of entry testing. Many processes are poorly optimised or inefficient and as a result are unnecessarily costly.
In addition, companies are still widely failing to test the soft skills, such as communication and language skills that are vital to success in most roles. A candidate may have a certification in English, yet in reality their spoken English, particularly in a business context, may be so poor that there is no effective communication.
Learning and development professionals have a key role in ensuring that the workforce is fully prepared for their daily tasks. This translates to a need for recruiters to test candidate skills on entry – and to test existing personnel to ensure that skills are in place to develop new projects or sell new products. In one case in point, a global pharmaceutical firm faced the challenge of getting its multilingual marketing staff up to speed on new drugs as soon as they were released. More often than not, new research is published just once, in English. Yet sales staff with mother tongues in other languages needed to assimilate this information quickly. Six months after implementing web-based virtual classrooms to develop pharmaceutical sector specific language skills, the organisation’s employees showed massive improvements in their ability to read and understand complex scientific text and to present the information to potential clients.
Testing candidates and employees, and reporting the results effectively to individuals and managers, is fundamental if organisations are to put in place learning to address skills gaps that will drive productivity. Here are five tips to help with that:
- Ensure your organisation is working to consistent global standards for testing, particularly when it comes to language skills. The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is the most widely used language proficiency framework in the world. A local manager, for whom English is a second language, may assess the language competence of candidate more highly than a standardised test.
- Define KPIs for learning and development activities and use reporting facilities to make sure that individuals and learners can track progress. Valuing human capital is still a black box for strategic management in many organisations, despite human capital being the most valuable asset of almost every modern organisation. Create clear, concise job descriptions and measurable outputs. Put in place a system and procedure for performance reviews that is associated with crystal clear KPIs.
- Integrate language testing carried out at recruitment stage with the organisational-wide learning platform. That way, candidates who become employees will have a baseline from which to improve their skills.
- Tap into mobile technology. Language acquisition happens when employees have a real-life need for it. If they can access language training modules on their mobile device at the point of need, this will be highly effective. At the same time, language and communication skills development delivery benefits from a blended approach and is best combined with in-person coaching from a person with higher-level language skills.
- Create an open and transparent policy on testing and training. The aim should be to foster a culture where managers encourage continuous learning as well as supporting the employee in reviewing his or her performance and skills level. The process of identifying skills gaps should not be threatening for existing employees, while detecting skills that fit a candidate to a new employer should be presented as a mutually beneficial exercise.
There is a pressing need to improve practice when it comes to developing effective testing, reporting and learning for new skills. There is some evidence that organisations are taking an increasingly mature approach to the need for learning and development. More than half of respondents (55 per cent) to the recent Towards Maturity, 2016 Benchmark study1 believe increased productivity is one of three business outcomes that would justify a substantial investment in workforce development, while 72 per cent of CEOs are concerned about the availability of key skills and 94 per cent say that workforce development requires continuous investment and improvement. However there is no doubt that the C-suite are in greater need than ever before of the support of learning and development professionals to put in place sophisticated testing and reporting that drives learning and, ultimately, productivity.
1 Unlocking Potential – Releasing the potential of the business and its people through learning. 2016-17 Learning Benchmark Report. November 2016.
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