COMPETENCE CERTIFICATION THE WEB-BASED HR-COMPASS SYSTEM

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1 Grifo multimedia Srl Via Bruno Zaccaro, 19 Bari Italy Tel Fax COMPETENCE CERTIFICATION

2 Executive summary This article, after providing a brief overview of the most recent and authoritative studies concerning competence assessment, highlights the need of competency certification to help workers to be better equipped to enter the labour market. Grifo multimedia, an Italian global e-learning provider located in Bari, is working on the HR-Compass project ( This project is aimed to develop a Web-based competence certification system, specifically designed to fulfil the above need by conducting applicants through a guided certification process, managing the way they interact and exchange information with all the other actors in the process. The prototype to be produced by the project will be initially used to certificate Human Resources managers, but can be later extended to any other job profile. 2

3 , A STRATEGIC TOOL FOR BOTH ENTERPRISES AND WORKERS, AND 1. The Concept of Competence In the most recent debate about training and organisational change, the concept of competence is being more and more used as a new approach to the definition of roles and job profiles, taking also into account the changes currently occurring in the labour market, particularly in SMEs. In the context of lifelong learning, key competencies are defined as the set of complementary competencies that allow responsible and informed action, such as for example organisational skills, personal initiative, flexibility, ability to make decisions, creativity, problem-solving skills, team spirit etc. Therefore, key competencies, whatever are the skills covered by this expression, are considered useful for different applications. They can be used in HR selection, in identifying people who may be considered for promotion, in designing career plans. Key competencies can underlie the company salary system, and the information system for HR integrated management. White (1959) considers competence as the general human ability to effectively interact with the environment. Therefore competence is ability, possibility, capability and efficiency as well. Motivation to competence allows individuals to develop the general ability to effectively interact with the environment. Competence, according to White, is not a fixed property, on the contrary it entails the ability to organise cognitive, social and behavioural skills so as to be able to accomplish different aims. McClelland (1973) and Boyatzis (1982) have developed a new concept of human resources management based on competence. McClelland started from the assumption that a simple assessment of skills is not enough to identify the right person for the right position. After noticing that traditional aptitude tests cannot predict success in the position, he developed a technique designed to pick out those competencies really crucial to performing a specific job. This technique is called Behavioural Event Interview (BEI), and follows two main rules: first, it uses different sample groups to understand which variables may be associated to success in a job, and second, it tries to identify cognitive, operational and behavioural models randomly related to life or job success. Practically, the interviewer asks interviewees to tell what they did in critical situations occurred on the job. Then the different characteristics of the sample groups are analysed. According to Boyatzis, competence is an individual s intrinsic characteristic related to an excellent performance in a job, and is made of motivation, self-image, social role, knowledge and skills. Battistelli (1995) points out how much professional competence is the result of a complex and dynamic set of knowledge, skills, attitudes, self-images, motivation and personal characteristics, that allows individuals to understand job requirements and take the appropriate professional behaviour in response. 3

4 Faretto (1996) underlines how accurate self-knowledge, accompanied by precise skill assessment, allows individuals to develop adaptive skills: they can regulate their behaviour according to environmental requirements and avoid situations where they could feel inadequate. This opens up the way to the concept of self-assessment of professional performance, which is the psychological component of competence. The individual s self-assessment is directly related to their ability to take actions and achieve their aims. Lastly, the White Paper on Education and Training Teaching and Learning: Towards the Learning Society, published by the European Commission in 1995, points out how much a personal competence chart could help individuals in finding a job. Identifying and enhancing attitudes, motivation and skills allows a better social and professional placement. In particular, a personal competence record may allow to assess immediately an individual s qualifications at any moment of their lifetime. 2. Competence assessment Gaining self-consciousness is the preliminary activity to carry out before making any decisions concerning one s professional life. Taking stock of one s own competencies, that is, investigating into all aspects of one s personality in terms of interests, motivation, knowledge, attitudes, ambitions, means to make successful professional choices, in accordance with personal wishes and the surrounding work environment. This kind of detailed and accurate analysis is technically called Competence Assessment, and mainly consists in establishing relationships among four key elements: What you are (self-assessment) What you can do (personal and professional attitudes) What you may be able to do (potential) What you wish to do (aims). Once you have drawn up a map of yourself, the next step consists in comparing your personal characteristics with the labour market and particularly the sector of your interest, in order to define a detailed professional plan, possibly combined with a training plan. The Competence Assessment is therefore a professional check-up, and is the starting point for further progress. To be aware of one s own potential is a prerequisite for any possible change, both within and outside a firm. This assessment activity must be considered useful not only as vocational guidance, but also in view of further lifelong training activities. In fact it is well known that in the current knowledge age learning and training have become necessary along the entire human lifetime. 4

5 The Competence Assessment is a tool that allows to assess the difference between the skills required to fill a specific position and the skills actually possessed by the holder of, or an applicant to the same position. It starts therefore from an assessment of the required competencies, carried out through an analysis of the job description and interviews to managers and executives. The result is a list of the main skills required to perform a specific job. The next step is the choice of the most appropriate tools to evaluate at which level the person possesses these required competencies. Among these tools there may be interviews to peers, managers, supervisors etc. (360 assessment), group interview, psycho-aptitude tests, direct observation. The comparison between the required competencies and those actually possessed (skill gap analysis) allows to highlight the areas in which individuals can fulfil the requirements of their position (or the position they are applying for), the areas in which they are above the threshold level, and those in which they are below, and must therefore invest in training to close the gap. The aim of the assessment is not so much to predict the workers professional future, their success or failure in a specific position, as to represent an opportunity to apply their skills to autonomously manage their professional life. A competency self-assessment in view of an outplacement or career advancement may help practitioners to deeply reconsider all their professional life. Led by an expert consultant, they must reflect on their actual skills and current competencies, look for skills also outside their job life, find out new attitudes, new skills possessed but possibly never applied. While assessing their competencies, workers define their interests, aims, personal motivation. They highlight their knowledge, skills and abilities, enhance their experiences, check their potential, develop their professional plan. The Competence Assessment is often used to decide whom to promote to a higher position. It is very important in this case to assess in advance whether they possess some competencies that are not always evident in their current position, and therefore cannot be identified by managers. For example, a bluecollar worker may be a good worker even though he does not possess good leadership skills, because such competence is not required in that position. If he wants to be promoted to foreman, however, leadership skills become essential. Since it is not possible to observe such competence in use, it is necessary to find a way to assess whether to worker possess it or not. Sometimes competence assessment is used when it is necessary to make some workers redundant, so that management can carefully choose which workers to keep, as the most suitable to the new company organisation. At the end of the assessment process, guided by a professional consultant, each worker can develop their own professional plan, including aims (related to characteristics, interests and competencies) and 5

6 concrete actions to take to achieve them. The consultant draws up a final report (only accessible to the worker) containing all information collected during the process. Thus the workers can put together a competence portfolio, that is, a report containing all elements or evidence of their competencies, that can be updated later by entering new data whenever necessary. 2. Grifo multimedia s experience: the HR- COMPASS project Over the last years in Italy there has been a growing interest in the development of a national competence certification system that may allow the recognition of training credits, to be spent in the professional lifetime. An Italian law passed in 2001 (no. 174) states that certification is needed in order to guarantee transparency of training paths and recognition of acquired competencies and related qualifications, so as to allow to enter or re-enter the educational and vocational training system, and to make job demand and supply meet more easily. Moreover, this law defines the object of certification, that is, competence, and when it can be certified, that is, at the end or in the midst of a career path, after job or training experiences, when required by applicants in order to proceed to further education or training levels or to acquire a qualification. Already the White Paper Teaching and Learning Towards a Learning Society published by the European Commission in 1995 underlined how the changes occurring in our society, while increasing opportunities for everyone to access information and knowledge, at the same time have modified the competencies required to access the work system, and as a consequence our position in the world will be more and more the result of the knowledge and skills we possess. The greater flexibility in acquiring knowledge therefore must invite us to find out new ways to have our competencies recognised. Why not to imagine a personal competency card, which should record the holder s knowledge and skills? In this way young people, even without academic qualification, could apply for a job position, relying on their cards which record competencies such as written expression, linguistic abilities, editing skills. Such card may allow to immediately evaluate one s qualifications at any moment in their lifetime, unlike diplomas which expire over the years. Grifo multimedia, an Italian global e-learning provider located in Bari, has paid particular attention to these issues, and is participating in the HR-COMPASS project, funded within the Leonardo da Vinci 6

7 European Programme. This project is aimed to develop a new Web system supporting processes and procedures able to assess and certificate professional competencies. The prototype to be produced by the project will be piloted to certificate HR managers. The general idea is to set up a Web-based centre that sells this certification service to practitioners and/or organisations. But how is this Web system working? Users who wish to certificate their competence must go to a Web site where they can find all information needed to understand what the certification process is and how it works. After registering to the system and receiving username and password, they can enter the system and request a certification against a given job profile, selected among the available ones. Each applicant is assigned a personal advisor, who is in charge of accompanying him/her along the entire process. The Web system allows applicants to contact via their personal advisor at any time. Moreover, each applicant has their own personal Library, that is, a repository of the documentation produced by applicants themselves and by their examiners during the certification process. The applicant must go through a preliminary Diagnostic Meeting, an interview aimed to check if they possess the prerequisites to gain the certification. Prior to the Diagnostic Meeting applicants must submit a set of preliminary documents required by the personal advisor, concerning their education and current job position. Such documents are uploaded into the applicant s library and made automatically available to the personal advisor. The latter evaluates the documents before meeting the applicant, and then discuss such documents with him or her during the interview. After the Diagnostic Meeting the personal advisor draws up a report communicating to the Certification Centre whether the applicant is qualified or not to enter the certification process. This report will be stored in the applicant s library in a file only accessible to the Centre staff. Once the applicant has passed the Diagnostic Meeting, he or she actually enters the certification process. Each applicant is assigned an examiner, who is in charge of assessing the applicant against the selected job profile. 7

8 Who defines the job profiles and related competencies in order to establish whether the applicant is qualified or not? Currently in Italy there is no official organisation providing standard profiles, therefore the HR-COMPASS project, which involves also partners from the United Kingdom, refers to the standards set by the British Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD - The job profiles are described in terms of activities (which practitioners must carry out during their professional lifetime) and competencies (which must be possessed by practitioners in order to be able to carry out the activities listed in their profiles). This is an example from the HR Manager profile: Activity Competencies Manage business processes Basic Managerial Activities Manage information Coordinate a professional team The applicants will find in their Library a checklist organised by activities and competencies and, for each competence, they must provide one or more evidences, that is, documents proving their skills related to that competence. The checklist is dynamically structured so as to automatically show activities and competencies related to the job profile selected by the applicant. The applicants submit to the system their evidences by selecting from their computer the relevant files, which will be automatically uploaded and related to the respective competencies. Examiners can access the applicants libraries in read-only mode, and can select their evidences by clicking on the single competencies, so as to evaluate their contents. If needed, examiners can contact the applicant to discuss his or her evidences under evaluation. 3.1 Questionnaires: self-assessment and 360 assessment The questionnaire is an assessment method that allows to collect and compare the assessments coming from one or several respondents. The Web system submits a questionnaire to the applicant for selfassessment, and to his or her managers, colleagues and peers for a 360 assessment. The latter are given username and password valid to access the system only for the period needed to fill in the questionnaire. 8

9 The applicant cannot view the results of the 360 assessment, but only the weighed average of the results he or she got in the questionnaire filled in by their managers and colleagues. The examples below show that both types of questionnaire are actually the same, and refer to the same activities and competencies included in the job profile. self assessment Basic managerial activities Can you [0 not at all 5 perfectly] Manage business processes Manage information Coordinate a professional team assessment Basic managerial activities Do you think your colleague can [0 not at all 5 perfectly] Manage business processes Manage information Coordinate a professional team Management Research Report (MRR) Once the Certification Centre has checked that the material submitted is complete, the applicant produces a report (Management Research Report) on a topic related to the selected job profile, agreed with the examiner. Such report, stored in the Library, is evaluated by the examiner together with the evidences and the questionnaire results. The reasons for the examiner s final evaluation must be well detailed in a report, which is saved by the 9

10 Web system in the related file (not accessible to the applicant) in the applicant s library. 3.3 Process result In order to guarantee transparency and correctness of the examiner s final evaluation, all documents (applicant s evidences and examiner s reports) are submitted for a second evaluation to two other examiners: another person in the Centre and an external consultant. If they both agree with the first examiner s evaluation, the Centre communicates the result (positive or negative) of the certification process to the applicant. For further information and contacts go to the Web site What are the benefits that may be achieved by using this Web system? First, an online certification process means that applicants don t have to go to the Certification Centre at all times (except for the necessary meetings with the examiners). Second, this system will be beneficial to both workers and employers. In fact, if this competence certification is recognised within the EU, workers will be more mobile and with better chances to successfully enter the labour market. They will be able to demonstrate their competencies to employers, who, in turn, will benefit from an easier and more effective HR selection process. 10

11 Bibliography AA.VV., Learning Organization, Internal report ISVOR-FIAT, 1993 AA.VV., Comunicare organizzando. La competenza comunicativa nell organizzazione condivisa, Seam, Roma AJELLO A.M., MEGHNAGI S., CEVOLI M., La competenza esperta:sapere professionale e contesti di lavoro, Ediesse, Roma, 1992 ALESSANDRINI G., Manuale per l esperto dei processi formativi, Carocci editore, 1995 ALTOMARE P., Teoria e prassi nei modelli di competenza in Banca in formazione, 1997 AMIETTA P.L., Valutare la formazione, Unicopli, Milano MARASCHINI F., Concetti di competenza, strumenti analitici e strumenti gestionali: un problema di coerenza, Università degli Studi di Udine, 2002 NAVANTIERI F., Internet: Ambiente per l apprendimento collaborativi e la formazione, 2002 REGIONE EMILIA ROMAGNA, ASSESSORATO SCUOLA, FORMAZIONE PROFESSIONALE, UNIVERSITA, LAVORO, PARI OPPORTUNITA, La certificazione delle competenze, novembre 2002 SOMIGLIA A., Formazione aziendale in rete, Università degli Studi di Roma, 2002 White Paper on Education and Training - Teaching and Learning - Towards the Learning Society, published by the European Commission, 1995 Reference Web sites:

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