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Volume 36, Number 1
Fall 1998


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Assessing Training Needs of Manufacturing Employees in Rural Minnesota: A Model and Results

K. Peter Kuchinke
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
James M. Brown
University of Minnesota
Howie Anderson
Pine Technical College
Joseph Hobson
Pine Technical College

The role of an educated and trained workforce for the economic well-being of individual organizations and the country as a whole has received much attention over the past 15 years. Beginning with reports of declining high school students' scores on standardized tests in the mid 1980s (e.g., National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1984), many recent educational reform efforts have focused on providing students and employees with the skills, knowledge, and attitudes required to perform in a fast-paced, rapidly changing technological and economic environment.

Research has shown a clear correlation between employees' level of workplace skills and their productivity in the workplace. Increased workplace basic skills, defined as proficiency in reading, writing, mathematics, and communication skills, lead to more instances of employees using these skills on the job, higher employee participation in meetings, employees asking more questions and making more suggestions, improvements in job attendance and safety, and significant gains in supervisory ratings (for a summary see Bergmann, 1995).

Estimates of the percentage of employees with insufficient levels of basic skills range from 20 to 40% (Bergmann, 1995; National Center for the Educational Quality of the Work Force, 1995), and this problem is expected to worsen as new labor market entrants will come increasingly from economically disadvantaged populations who traditionally have had poor success in school and inadequate access to formal education (Hull, 1991). As a result, vocational educators and business owners alike have become involved in workplace based basic skills programs. According to a nationwide survey of over 13,000 private organizations in the United States (Training, 1997), 36 percent of U.S. companies' $58.6 billion training budgets $21.1 billion in 1996 is spent on training for production workers, service workers, and administrative employees (the remainder on managerial and professional employees.) One in five organizations with 100 or more employees provide remedial training, focused on the three Rs: reading (40% of companies provide training), basic math/arithmetic (50% of companies provide training), and writing (52% of companies provide training). Fifty-one percent of companies also provide training in English as a second language.

Given the size of training efforts and the scope of the problem of insufficient skills among the incumbent workforce, methods to identify and assess the skills needs, provide requisite education and training, and improve public education as a feeder system for future workforce entrants are of paramount importance to vocational educators. Identifying the specific needs of students in an initial assessment of training needs is an important first step in bridging the gap between students' knowledge, skills, and attitudes and students' future job requirements The literature contains several reports of needs assessment projects in the mining sector (Cole, 1994), among manufacturing employees (McKeag, 1993), and among carpenters, joiners, and construction workers (McKeag, 1994).

The purpose of this article is to add to this body of research by describing and reporting on a training needs assessment model that was developed with a group of small manufacturing organizations in rural Minnesota. While the model has not been applied to other populations, it presents a comprehensive approach to gain reliable information about training needs from various stakeholders and can serve as a basis for future assessment projects. The results of the assessment provide information about the specific training needs required by the employees in this population and guide the training providers at the technical college in the development and delivery of skill training at the participating organizations.

Background

The assessment model was developed as part of a worker training project for production level employees in small, family-run manufacturing organizations, a largely overlooked and under served population (Training, 1997). The Human Resource Development Partnership Project (HRDP) was a collaboration between a technical college in east central Minnesota, a group of local manufacturing organizations, the Minnesota Job Skills Partnership (a division of the state's Division of Trade and Economic Development), and staff at the University of Minnesota's Research and Development Center for Vocational Education (MRDC). Major objectives of the project were to identify the current job functions, assess the training needs of present workforce members, modify present curriculum to meet the needs of business and industry, and provide training to current and future workforce members.

The rural setting was important to the project. The dramatic and far-reachingtechnological changes in American business and industry have been well documented, as has the resulting need for a new educational paradigm with a "system of credentialing that communicates real information no matter where the learner is in age, educational level, or geographic location" (Ferguson, 1976, p. 34). The need for educational reform is pressing in urban settings, but even more so in rural areas that are characterized by low population density, a concentration of single industries, and lack of access to the educational opportunities typically available in metropolitan settings (East Central Minnesota Labor Force Committee, 1996). East central Minnesota, because of its proximity to the metropolitan Minneapolis and St. Paul areas, is expected to experience the fastest rate of growth in Minnesota's six regions in six of eight occupational groups and in manufacturing employment in particular. Nearly three-fourths of manufacturing job growth will be in durable goods industries, especially lumber and wood products, electronic equipment, and fabricated metal products (East Central Minnesota Labor Force Committee, 1996). The demand for adequately skilled workers is expected to outpace supply in this region. While demographic information shows a 51% increase in the labor force demands between the years 1990 and 2010, the population of east central Minnesota is expected to grow at a slower rate of 42% during the same period (East Central Minnesota Labor Force Committee, 1996).

Against this background, the HRDP was initiated and the project vision focused on developing partnerships to create, develop, and maintain a qualified labor force for east central Minnesota was developed. The project was supported by a grant from the Minnesota Job Skills Partnership and was awarded jointly to the local technical and community college for the training and development of participating local businesses which had pledged varying amounts of direct and in-kind contributions. The assessment was planned and carried out in a collaborative effort between the MRDC, the HRDP, the technical college, and a group of local small manufacturing firms.

Assessment Methodology

Early on, project leadership committed themselves to a broadbased needs assessment approach, systematically involving and gathering information on the needs of employers and employees as trainees. This included determining the needs and expectations of business owners and employees and identifying critical gaps in employees' abilities to perform as expected on their jobs. The assessment methodology was developed by the researchers in close cooperation with staff from the technical college, the HRDP, and the participating employers. The assessment was intended to serve two major goals: (1) to provide systematic information about the expectations and needs of the participating firms, the business owners, and employees that could be used to determine the training needs and guide training curriculum development and implementation, and (2) to serve as a pretest for the subsequent evaluation of training effectiveness once the training was completed. Because the training effort is still underway at this time, the evaluation results will be reported in the future.

Population

The population of this study consisted of five small family owned businesses participating in the HRDP with a total workforce of 300 employees, ranging from 12 to 123 employees. As small organizations, large percentages of employees were directly involved in production with only a small number of employees in management, sales and marketing, and other administrative capacities. The project was targeted specifically towards production employees. Business owners designated those employees who, in their judgement, would benefit from the assessment and possible training. Participation in the assessment was voluntary, but all but three employees selected by their employers participated in the assessment phase. The three employees who elected not to participate cited family and schedule-related reasons. The number of production workers who did participate in the assessment ranged from 9 to 37 per business totaling 109 employees. The businesses, located within a radius of 50 miles from the technical college, were in the light manufacturing metal or plastics fabrication industry and enjoyed a high level of familiarity, openness, and collaboration with one another, despite the fact that several competed directly with one another. The job titles of the incumbents were welder, tool-and-die maker, machinist, assembler, CNC operator, and other related jobs. Hourly wages for these jobs ranged from $6.00 to $17.00, with an average pay of $9.96 per hour (excluding premiums and overtime pay).

Measures

In order to identify the expectations of participating employers, a meeting was convened by the first author shortly after the beginning of the project. Using the Nominal Group Technique (AT&T, 1988), the business owners were asked to generate ideas for successful outcomes of the training. In particular, the owners were asked to identify the project's critical success factors and to envision the end state of a successful HRDP. The group generated a large number of ideas that were recorded and subsequently clustered into groups using the affinity diagram technique (AT&T, 1988). After the meeting, the researcher transcribed the list and mailed it to the business owners asking them to review the list for completeness and to rank order the factors by importance for their business.

Employee's training needs were assessed with the WorkKeys system, measuring the level of proficiency in eight job-related skill areas. WorkKeys is a proprietary training system which was developed by the American College Testing Program (American College Testing, 1995) in the early 1990s to address "those workplace skills which apply to a wide range of jobs, are teachable in a reasonable period of time, and can be defined for purposes of job analysis" (p. 8).

For the purpose of assessing training needs, the system includes a job profiling component in which trained personnel use a structured process to analyze a specific job or a range of jobs within a company. Job profiling involves subject matter experts (job incumbents and/or their supervisors) who select the tasks most important to the job and identify the skills and the level of skills required for effective performance. This process results in a job profile that specifies (on a numeric scale) the minimum required skill level for eight specific areas which have been clustered into three groups.

Problem Solving Skills

Problem solving skills are applied mathematics, applied technology, and observation. Applied Mathematics are mathematical reasoning related to work-related problems. This includes setting up and solving problems and performing calculations actually occurring in the workplace. Calculator and formula sheets are provided. Applied Technology is skill in solving problems of a technological nature, including the understanding of basic principles of mechanics, electricity, fluid dynamics, and thermodynamics as they apply to equipment and machines in the workplace. It includes the ability to identify relevant aspects of problems, analyze and order those aspects, and apply existing materials or methods to new situations. Observation is the ability to follow steps in work processes based on observation of behaviors, such as adhering to safety requirements and maintaining quality control.

Communication Skills

Communication skills are reading for information, writing, and locating information. Reading for Information is understanding of work-related reading materials, based on actual demands of the workplace, such as memos, bulletins, notices, letters, policy manuals, and government regulations. Writing is recording work-related messages received verbally from customers, co-workers, or superiors. Writing down these messages to communicate effectively with others. Listening is understanding work-related messages given verbally to the employee. Locating Information is skill in using information taken from workplace graphics such as diagrams, blueprints, floor plans, forms, charts, and instrument gauges. It includes ability to locate, insert, compare, and summarize information contained in one graphic or in a group of graphics and also the ability to make decisions and draw conclusions based on such information.

Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal skills is teamwork. Teamwork is skill in choosing behaviors and/or actions that support team interrelationships and lead toward the accomplishment of team work tasks. This includes the ability to recognize team goals and ways of achieving such goals in complex situations and where needed resources are not readily available.

Job profiles were completed by a team of technical college personnel who had received training in this technique and had been certified by ACT as qualified job profilers. Profilers spent an average of 1.5 days with each company, completing formal job profiles for each relevant job category. These profiles represented the minimum required skills. The job profile for a stamping press operator in one company, for example, was as follows: Reading for Information: Level 3; Applied Mathematics: Level 3; Listening: Level 2; Writing: not applicable; Locating Information: Level 4, Applied Technology: Level 4; Teamwork: Level 4; Observation: Level 4. Job profilers forwarded the results of their work to an administrator at the Technical College who collected the information for future research purposes. After completion of the job profiles, each employee designated by an employer as a potential training participant underwent a performance-based assessment to evaluate his or her skill level in each of the eight areas. This was done by administering a series of written tests at the employers' sites and at the technical college. Prior to the administration of the tests, a trained assessor would explain the nature of the test and direct its administration. The scores were again forwarded to the administrator at the technical college.

For each participating employee the assessment scores in each of the eight skill areas were compared against the standards established during the job profiling (criterion-referenced testing). Where an individual's performance fell short of the standard, training was indicated. Job skill requirements and assessment results were expressed in normed levels of the corresponding training needs in units. An employee working as a stamping press operator, for instance, who was assessed at Level 3 in Observation skills but whose job profile required Level 4, would need 1 unit of training in this area to remedy the deficiency. Units of training are defined by ACT as increments in skill complexity equivalent to 12 hours of specific and targeted instruction and training using ACT approved curricula.

The WorkKeys system has received much attention in the research literature in recent years: The psychometric properties of the scales were validated with over 6,000 high school students and adult employees by Vansickle (1992) and Brennan (1995); summaries of available validation studies are available from the publisher (American College Testing, 1992; 1996; 1997). The system has been adopted by several states, among them Ohio, whose vocational competency assessment program (OVCA) is based on the Work Keys system and has resulted in a library of job profiles for 39 occupations (The Ohio State University, 1995).

To measure employees' attitudinal and motivational factors, the researchers reviewed relevant literature, consulted with the employers and technical college staff, and selected a written survey to measure relevant facets of employee job satisfaction. The instrument selected was the Job Description Index (JDI) which has been used extensively by organizational behavior researchers and industrial psychologists and has been shown to have very robust psychometric properties (Bateman & Strasser, 1984). This instrument consists of six scales with four Likert-scale multiple choice questions each; for this study, the researchers modified the instrument by deleting two scales (satisfaction with supervisor and coworker) and adding a satisfaction with training scale. These aspects of job satisfaction were measured because of employers' clear expectations that the training would increase the level of job satisfaction and reduce employee turnover. By measuring job satisfaction, project evaluators will be able to compare pre and post training scores and detect any changes in the satisfaction variable that might be correlated with the training or training outcomes, such as enriched jobs (Hackman & Oldham, 1980).

A second written survey instrument, Brown's (1997) questionnaire, was selected to assess the level of employee motivation for training. This instrument has been validated in previous research studies and also has robust psychometric properties (Brown, 1997). The choice to measure motivation for training was based on an understanding that trainees are active participants in the education process, and their attitudes toward training constitute important factors in designing and delivering effective training. Early involvement of trainees is crucial for the success of a project.

The researchers also developed three open-ended questions that probed for more qualitative information of employees' expectations related to this particular training, their concerns, and their suggestions for training delivery. This approach contrasts with other needs assessment methodologies, such as Swanson's (1995) Training for Performance System, which fail to explicitly focus on the needs, expectations, and concerns of the trainees as an important group of stakeholders in the process.

The written surveys and the three open-ended questions were administered by the researchers following a 1-hour orientation session conducted at each employer's site during which the researchers introduced the training project, described its purpose, answered questions, and solicited suggestions regarding suitable logistical arrangements for the training, such as location and scheduling. At this meeting, the researchers also introduced the assessment and evaluation plan and stressed the importance of gathering employees' input and concerns. At the end of each session, the researchers handed out the two written surveys, stressing that completion was anonymous and voluntary, but indicating the importance of getting valid and complete information to design and deliver the training in an effective manner.

Results

The owners of five small light-manufacturing organizations in rural Minnesota and 109 production level employees participated in this assessment. The results in this section are presented in the following order: (1) employer expectations for training, (2) employees' skill needs, (3) employees' motivation for training, (4) employees' expectations and concerns related to training.

Employers' Expectations for Training

The expectations of the five business owners concerning training outcomes were assessed in individual interviews and a group meeting at the beginning of the project. Because the success of the training was ultimately decided by the business-level results and because the owners carried a substantial portion of the training in the form of direct tuition payments and wages for time in training, it was considered important to determine their expectations. The expectations for the project were, in rank order: (a) increasing gross profits, (b) increasing productivity, (c) reducing rework and reject rates, (d) increasing job satisfaction, (e) reducing employee turnover, (f) improving the flexibility of the workforce to perform new and different tasks, (g) improving the quality of decision-making by employees, (h) improving collaboration within the organization and levels of motivation, and (i) improving product quality. There was a clear expectation that training lead to increasing profitability and higher levels of productivity and product quality but also to improvements in the internal operation of the organizations through higher job satisfaction and motivation, better decision-making and collaboration, and a more flexible work force with longer job tenure.

Employees' Skill Needs

Table 1 shows the results of the skill assessment conducted with the 109 employees at the five companies (response rate: lOO%) and the gap between the employees' required and extant skill levels in each of eight areas (Table 1).

The results of the needs assessment indicated that, as a group, 84% of the employees needed some form of remedial training, and these employees needed a total of 406 units of training. Individual companies ranged from 69% or 63 units of training for Organization D to a high of 95% or 101 units for Organization A. The largest training needs were in Observation Skills (50% of employees needing training), Applied Technology (46% of employees needing training), and Locating Information (39% of employees) needing training. Reading for Information and Applied Math were the two lowest skill areas with 20% and 18% of employees respectively needing some form of training to meet the requirements of their jobs. If skills are ranked by the number of training units needed, Applied Technology ranked highest, followed by Observation and the other six skill areas followed in the same rank order as when ranked by percentage of employees needing training.

Table 1
Percent of employees need ing training and number of training units needed in eight skill areas (N = 109)

Org. Read
%
(Units)
Math
%
(Units)
Info
%
(Units)
Tech
%
(Units)
Observ
%
(Units)
Team
%
(Units)
Writing
%
(Units)
Listening
%
(Units)
All
%
(Units)

A
(n=20)
15%
(6)
25%
(8)
65%
(17)
60%
(20)
60%
(12)
55%
(15)
35%
(8)
70%
(15)
95%
(101)
B
(n=17)
6%
(1)
18%
(3)
6%
(1)
18%
(3)
71%
(13)
12%
(2)
0 0 76%
(23)
C
(n=9)
11%
(1)
0 33%
(3)
44%
(4)
33%
(3)
11%
(1)
89%
(9)
0 89%
(21)
D
(n=37)
32%
(15)
24%
(12)
54%
(37)
65%
(34)
46%
(27)
54%
(30)
30%
(20)
38%
(23)
92%
(198)
E
(n=26)
19%
(6)
12%
(4)
23%
(7)
27%
(13)
38%
(13)
0 38%
(14)
12%
(6)
69%
(63)
All
(n=109
20%
(29)
18%
(27)
39%
(65)
46%
(74)
50%
(68)
31%
(48)
33%
(51)
28%
(44)
84%
(406)
Rank by % of
Employees
Needing Training
7 8 3 2 1 5 4 6  

Read: Reading for Information; Math: Applied Math;

Info: Locating Information; Tech: Applied Technology;

Observ: Observation; Team: Teamwork

Employees' Levels of Job Satisfaction and Motivation for Training

Determining the level of job satisfaction and motivation for training among employees was a key component of the assessment, because the employees were seen as important stakeholders in this project. To asses the level of motivation for training and current levels of job satisfaction, a survey was administered to incumbents at the end of a one-hour orientation session conducted by the researchers and technical college staff and prior to the beginning of training.

Fifty-five of the 109 employees (50%) assessed for skill needs participated in the training orientation sessions and completed the questionnaires. This was explained due to the fact that employers had originally appointed a smaller number of employees from each organization to participate in the training and only this first group received the orientation. During subsequent months, employers appointed additional candidates for training, some of them newly hired employees. The second group received a more informal orientation as the researchers conducted the needs assessment and job profiles for this group. This limited response rate presents a limitation to this study suggesting that the survey results may not generalize to the 109 employees who participated in the skill assessment.

The motivation for training among the 55 employees who completed the surveys was generally high and uniform (mean = 3.06 sd = .35 on a 1[low] to 4[high] Likert scale), and varied little by organization (mean range = .45, sd range: .46). An analysis of the scale reliability (Chronbach's alpha) showed a satisfactory value of .76. The job satisfaction survey addressed four facets of satisfaction related to training, the work itself, pay, and promotion. Satisfaction related to pay ranked lowest (mean = 2.28, sd = .45), followed closely by low levels of satisfaction related to promotion (mean = 2.32, sd = .42). Satisfaction related to the work itself was moderate (mean = 2.81, sd = .34), as was satisfaction training (mean = 2.72, sd = .34). These results are displayed in Table 2. The reliability coefficients (Chronbach's alpha) for these scales were .71, .69. .76, and .81 respectively.

Employees Expectation, Concerns, and Suggestions for Training

The 55 employees who completed the written attitudinal surveys were also asked to respond to three open-ended questions about their criteria for successful training, specific concerns related to the training, and suggestions for training delivery. Forty-four employees responded to these open-ended questions. Brief one-on-one interviews were subsequently conducted with the 54 employees who had joined the training group later and had not participated in the formal orientation. Their verbal responses were recorded and are included in the following sections. Content analyses (Babbie, 1986) of the written and verbal answers yielded a large amount of qualitative information that augmented the quantitative data.

Table 2
Employee pre-training job satisfaction and training motivation (N = 55, 4 = high, 1 = low)

  Satisfaction with Pay Satisfaction with Promotion Satisfaction with Training Satisfaction with Work Motivation with Training
Organization M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) M (SD)

Org. A
(n=17)
2.82 (.35) 2.31 (.48) 2.69 (.43) 3.00 (.10) 3.02 (.40)
Org. B
(n=6)
1.67 (.52) 1.83 (.26) 2.75 (.42) 2.92 (.20) 3.39 (.33)
Org. C
(n=6)
2.00 (.45) 2.50 (.45) 2.75 (.42) 2.67 (.68) 2.94 (.57)
Org. D
(n=13)
2.10 (.46) 2.35 (.58) 2.45 (.37) 2.75 (.35) 3.05 (.23)
Org. E
(n=13)
2.11 (.65) 2.32 (.42) 3.00 (.60) 2.61 (.58) 3.03 (.11)
All
(n=55)
2.28 (.45) 2.32 (.42) 2.72 (.34) 2.81 (.34) 3.06 (.35)

The first open-ended question was related to employees' expectations for successful training outcomes. Asked to respond to the question "The training will be a success for me if …" employees gave responses that fell into three broad categories: improvement of current job performance and proficiency, increases in pay and further opportunities for promotion, and increases in general career prospects. The most frequently expressed expectation for successful training outcomes was that it would augment their current levels of job performance. A typical answer to this question was: "The training will be a success for me if I become more efficient in my job."Another answer was "The training will be a success for me if I get better knowledge of the skills required for my job."

A second theme related to employees' expectation that completion of the training would result in improved career and promotion opportunities with their current employer, including higher levels of compensation. Two answers exemplify this.theme: "The training will be a success for me if I get a better position with my company.", and "The training will be a success for me if Iget a promotion and a raise."

The third theme was expressed as employees' expectation to improve their career prospects not with their current, but with a future employer and in the job market in general. Two examples demonstrate this theme: " The training will be a success for me if I can go anywhere in the job market as a result of what I learned," and "The training will be a success for me if it is useful for my future job."

Other responses expressed employees' attitudes about education in general ("The training will be a success for me if I better myself through education,") and the perceived need for remedial education ("The training will be a success for me if I can make up for what I was lacking in high school").

The second open-ended question probed for employees' fears regarding the training. Thirty-six employees responded to the question "If there is one think that makes me nervous about this training, it is that … ". These answers were content analyzed. There were three major themes that emerged from the answers: fear that the training is not useful, fear of failure in training, and fear that the employee will experience negative consequences as a result of not performing well in training.

The first theme was related to the fear that the training would not be relevant. This is exemplified by the answer of one employee who wrote "If there is one thing that makes me nervous about this training, it is that the training might not be focused on the exact skills that I need." A related comment expressed a lack of trust in the technical college that provided the training: "If there is one thing that makes me nervous about this training, it is that the school will benefit more from the training than my company."

A second major theme that emerged from the answers to this question was fear of failure in training. Answers here sometimes appeared to reflect an employee's high school experience ("If there is one thing that makes me nervous about this training, it is that it will be intense like high school, and I won't complete.") or more generalized apprehension of academic performance, expressed by employees as follows: "If there is one thing that makes me nervous about this training, it is that you have to be a good reader to complete the training." and "If there is one thing that makes me nervous about this training, it is that there 71 be too many tests and problems."

The third theme related to this question was related to fears of negative consequences from the employers. Answers such as the following represent this theme: "If there is one thing that makes me nervous about this training, it is that my employer will find out what my score is, and this will effect my job. " … that I might get fired if Ido not well" [sic], and "… that the results of the tests will go against me."

Employees were also asked to provide suggestions regarding the training ("The most helpful thing that the trainers can do to help me learn is …", and 45 employees provided answers to this third open-ended question. Answers clustered around suggestion for lesson content ("The most helpful thing … is to provide good explanations how to do things.", "… to make the training concise and not long and drawn out.", and "… to make the training hands-on and practical, not boring").

A second cluster of answers centered around providing hands-on and visual training materials, and a third theme focused on logistics. The answers to two employees exemplify this last theme: "The most helpful thing that the trainers can do to help me learn is to keep flexible hours for training and have convenient class locations." and "… to make enough time for math and otherparts ofthe test and start training soon."

Conclusions

Prior research has clearly established the relationships between workers' job-related skills and their productivity levels (Bergmann, 1995). Unfortunately, approximately one-third of the workforce has levels that have been estimated to be inadequate for the skill requirements of their jobs (National Center for the Educational Quality of the Work Force, 1995). The high priority assigned to overcoming these skill deficits is substantiated by the $21.1 billion that U.S. businesses are estimated to have spent on training production level employees during 1996 (Training, 1997).

This study reported on the results of the assessment phase of a worker training project using a comprehensive model that involved business owners and employees. By measuring job skill requirements and corresponding worker skills, it was possible to identify training needs and thus, to determine the type and level of training need and to establish a baseline for assessing.training effectiveness.

As a group, 84% of the targeted workers were found to need additional training in one or more of the skills areas examined. This large number of workers with insufficient skills was surprising, given that all were presently employed and performing their assigned tasks. A likely explanation was that although workers were performing their job duties, they were not as fully effective as they could and, indeed, should be, given their job descriptions and the expectations of their supervisors who had participated in defining the skill level required for each job category. The assessment results indicated that employees were especially underskilled in areas related to observation of correct behavior, such as adhering to safety requirements and maintaining quality control; in using work place graphics such as diagrams, blueprints, charts, and instrument gauges to locate important information; and in solving technological problems that required understanding basic principles of mechanics, electricity, or fluid dynamics. Thus, the results of the assessment indicated that the large majority of job incumbents were likely to underperform in their present jobs because of the skills gap. Although the assessment did not measure actual job performance, this opinion was confirmed by the business owners and selected supervisors who reviewed the results of the skill assessment. They decided to invest money and time in subsequent training to equip employees to more fully perform their present jobs and to gain the skills to cross train and to add new proficiencies for changing job roles in the future.

This assessment also showed that employees were most lacking in applied skill areas, such as observation skills, information locating skills, and applied technology, rather than the more academic skill areas of math and reading. While this finding may reflect the skill sets needed in these specific organizations and may represent a characteristic of the population under investigation, it runs counter to the commonly held assumption that workers largest skills gap is in basic academic skills (see National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1984). These findings had implications for curriculum offerings at the technical college and the local high schools whose graduates are likely to seek employment with one of these five organizations or ones similar to them.

The survey of the business owners revealed that they clearly perceived the training as an investment that was expected to yield results in terms of business objectives. Not surprisingly, increased profitability and productivity led the list of expected training outcomes, but so was the need for a more flexible, multi-skilled work force that collaborates well and is able to make quality decisions. Employers also supported the training because they saw a need to increase job satisfaction and job tenure, issues clearly of concern to business owners when faced with a lack of skilled employees in a tight labor market. Since "upskilling" or broadening employee job related skills constitutes a prerequisite for enriched jobs with the potential of higher levels of job satisfaction and tenure (Hackman & Oldham, 1980), these employers appear to be on the right track.

While employers viewed the training as an investment with expected rates of return to their organizations, employees had a wider range of expectations. Many did, indeed, consider their own enhanced opportunities for contribution to the business as a key criterion for success, but an equal number expected personal outcomes, such as increased pay and opportunities for promotion. These personal outcomes were considered criteria for successful training, despite the fact that the training was wholly financed by the employers: tuition was paid by the employers and a state grant, the training was scheduled during working hours, and training was 'on the crock' with employees receiving normal wages for time in training. Apparently employees considered participation in training a personal investment and expected a financial return for it, as would be described by Becker's (1975) human capital theory that views education as a form of investment tied to specific rates of return. In fact, several female employees expressed doubts over the value of training during the interviews, because they viewed their prospects of advancement in their company as slim regardless of the amount of additional training in which they might participate. This suggests that employers who want to motivate employees to participate in training would be well advised to clearly outline career paths that more highly skilled employees can take. A third employee expectation was that it would benefit a future job with a different employer and enhance their general marketability and career mobility. Here employees appear to perceive training as a benefit without any connection to the present job. Goldstein (1993) described this situation as a primary reason for the lower expenditures of U.S. employers in training. Without mutual assurances of job longevity, employers are unable to recoup the costs invested in training employees and will, thus, tend to minimize this expense.

Employees' anxieties regarding the training revealed a number of concerns related to training that might not be useful for their jobs, that might be too difficult and would lead to personal failure, and to possible negative consequences in their employment relationship in case of poor training performance. Some employees appeared to hold negative associations with education that may reflect their personal negative experience in the public school system. Employees also offered concrete suggestions for a helpful learning envionment. These were related to providing a practical and concise curriculum, using visual and hands-on training materials and teaching strategies, and scheduling the training at convenient times and locations.

Partnerships between private employers and public education can be powerful agents for change in regions that are traditionally underserved by training and education providers. Time and again, the researchers were astounded by the degree of cooperation, energy, and good-will among business owners who invested their time and resources to offer their insight and experience to other companies. In an age when global organizations capture much of the public's attention, these small, family run businesses demonstrated good corporate citizenship by becoming actively involved in their community and working toward the short- and long-term well-being of their companies and their employees. The active involvement of these business owners ensured the improvement of performance for their current and future performance needs, helped to build community, and contributed to public school reform by demanding that their performance needs be met by the public education partner.

Authors

Kuchinke is Assistant Professor, Human Resource Education, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Brown is Associate Professor, Department of Work, Family, and Community Education, University of Minnesota.

Anderson is Manager, Workforce Development, Pine Technical College, Minnesota.

Hobson is Manager, Curriculum Development, Pine Technical College, Minnesota.

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