Assessments – are they worth the paper they’re written on? Part 1 – New Starters

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Part 1 – New Starters in our Organisation

Paprika Software Consultant Kent | Travol International Consultants

We have previously looked at the importance of training our staff and how to set up an internal training programme.  The next question is – how do we assess competence and progress along the training pathway?  In this article, we are going to look at the training and assessment of new starters in our organisation.

Having worked in teaching and training for more years than I’m prepared to admit, it is my belief that assessment is a critical part of a good training programme. In my opinion there is absolutely no point in training but failing to assess.  If we consider the following points, we should be on the right track.

Why do we Assess?

When we bring new recruits into our organisation, a lot of time and cost has often gone into finding them.  But this is just the start.  We now need to get them up to speed by using resources to train them, which is again costly.  How often do we find someone and then they don’t work out for one reason or another?  How can we adapt our programme and methods to help people if we don’t know whether they are retaining what they are learning?  They probably aren’t going to be very forthcoming if they are struggling because they are anxious about being on probation.  So we need a mechanism for assessing their progress in order to spot where they are doing well, where they are struggling and where we need to give them additional help.

In addition to this, looking at the other side, we have invested time and money in our recruits and they will have been employed on a probationary basis.  Therefore we need a way to see quickly whether they are going to make the grade or not.  It would be wonderful if every new recruit worked out, but it’s a fact that this isn’t always the case.  Sometimes we will have to let someone go, and it will be better for all parties to realise this sooner rather than later.

How do we Assess?

Financial Software Kent | Travol International Consulting

It is important to consider the type of assessments we plan to use.  By this we don’t just mean written, oral, multiple-choice etc, we need to look at a higher level before coming down to the detail and ensure that we are using both formative and summative assessments:

  • Formative Assessments take place throughout a training programme, ideally at regular intervals and after key modules
  • Summative Assessments take place at the end of a course or programme and are often used as a “Pass” or “Fail” mechanism of a course

Typically, in former years, summative assessment was often the only method used to determine whether a student or trainee had made the grade.  However, thankfully, in more recent years it has been acknowledged that assessment should be continual, and formative assessments have been incorporated widely into education mechanisms.

There is absolutely no point in waiting until the end of a course only to find out that someone didn’t grasp session 1 or 2.  Most programmes of learning will have modules that build on the previous modules.  Therefore, if trainees have not got to grips with earlier sessions it will be harder, it not impossible, for them to understand the more complex modules as they move on.

Overcoming the Fear

Everyone hates “tests”, “exams” or assessments of any kind, so the first thing we should do is to consider why we are doing them and then ensure we make it clear to our trainees.   The following tips should help:

  • Avoid surprises – always state up front that there will be progress reviews and checks along the way – never spring a “test” on a group without warning
  • Mix it up – ensure that the assessments come in lots of different formats, both formal and informal
  • Make it fun – have quizzes, group challenges and practical tasks that trainees will enjoy.  They sometimes won’t even realise that they are being assessed!
  • Testing you is testing us – Make it clear to trainees that we are not “trying to catch them out”; rather that we are looking at our own performance as trainers and how effective it has been in helping them to progress.  It is our responsibility to give them the skills, knowledge and support they need, not just theirs to learn them.
  • Praise, praise, praise!  Everyone needs to know they are doing well, so even if there are some areas which are lacking, praise what they have done well and then support them in understanding the areas they need to improve in.  It may just give them the confidence to try that much harder next time.

Using Assessments Correctly

Once we have the assessments incorporated into our training programme, as well as reassuring the trainees and overcoming the fear, we need to make sure we use them correctly.  There is no point in assessing and not taking the appropriate actions and correctional measures

  • Always give results on a one to one basis and ensure there is time to go through anything that wasn’t understood
  • Be prepared to repeat modules on a group or one to one basis if necessary.  If the whole group, or a large part of it didn’t understand then there was probably something wrong with the structure, delivery or content and we have to take responsibility for this and put it right.
  • Be prepared to re-work the training course modules and update them based on results – remember that there are lots of different learning styles and therefore different trainees require different training styles
  • Keep in touch with line managers and the HR manager and discuss any concerns over progress.  It will be much easier to make those difficult decisions if there is a solid basis for coming to them and not just “gut feel” of how a new recruit has progressed.

Working in Internal Staff Development over many years and as the Internal Training Manager for a Software House just before setting up my own consulting business, being responsible for designing and delivering detailed training to new recruits in all the programmes that make up a Software, has brought me to this conclusion; The role of an internal trainer is not just to train, but to guide, mentor, support and nurture new talent as well as improve on training structures and delivery.  Without assessment, this cannot be done effectively. 

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