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Analyzing export training needs for company staff.

To improve their job performance, persons working in export firms may need further training. How to assess these needs.

Staff working in export companies sometimes require individualized training to accomplish their duties more effectively. The form and content of any tailormade training for them will depend on their special training needs. To determine those needs, an analysis should be made in each case of the tasks that the person concerned already carries out in his or her work, and the additional skills and knowledge required to reach a higher standard of work. The gap between the two can then be filled by appropriate training. The process of identifying individual export training needs is therefore directly related to particular functions or jobs. Several steps are involved in developing a tailor-made training programme for individual staff of export firms.

Performance capabilities

In a training needs analysis for a specific company employee, the person conducting the analysis (who will usually be a qualified trainer) should be able to describe what that employee is able to do in the job in sufficient detail to be understood by all those concerned with the training process, such as the trainees themselves, the eventual trainers and the company management.

The word "competence" is key for specifying the nature of the person's training needs. Competence is a performance capability needed by employees in a given occupational group. It can be related to either a job or a particular task in a job.

A text outlining the "competence" should be drawn up for each job being analyzed covering three elements: the precise behaviour or skills required, the maximum criteria for success in the job and conditions for performing the job.

Thus, for example, for an export costing clerk in a small export office who prepares draft export quotations, one of the capabilities or competencies required to do the job is typing. In a "competence statement" for the skill of typing, the precise performance requirements would be specified in terms of the typing speed needed, the length of time that the clerk should be able to continue typing at a given speed, the accuracy required and the conditions under which the typing should be carried out. The competence statement for this example could read: "The employee should be able to type at least 25 words a minute for five minutes, with a maximum of two mistakes per 150 words using an electric typewriter."

Although it may be relatively simple to establish a statement of competence in this example of typing skills, in more complex types of export marketing jobs at a higher level in the company, it is far more difficult to isolate the required competences, let alone define them precisely.

Kinds of competencies

The typing example above illustrates a simple "competence." Most jobs and tasks in export marketing however involve a combination of activities. An easy way to categorize them is to focus on three basic activities: thinking, doing and behaving. These are related to three corresponding elements: knowledge (thinking), skills (doing) and attitudes (behaving). When identifying training needs to achieve better job performance, it is often useful to classify those needs as either knowledge, skills or attitudes.

From a training point of view, it is helpful to be aware of these three elements because they represent varying degrees of difficulty for trainers. Providing knowledge is the easiest of the three -- through oral, written or visual information. Skills are more complex to convey to the individual being trained. The particular skill has to be communicated to the trainee at the appropriate standard, and acquiring the skill requires considerable practice. The development of or a change in attitudes is perhaps the most difficult to achieve of the three types of training.

These three elements could be applied to the job of export trainer. The minimum knowledge requirements for such a job are the broad concepts associated with each export topic. Skills needed include organizing training programmes, monitoring and evaluating them, and so on. The attitudes that a good export trainer should possess include being alert to learning difficulties of trainees, being aware of the need for praise in learning situations and wanting to ensure the participant's satisfaction with the training programme.

Defining a given job

Different ways can be used to find out what a particular job entails, such as job descriptions, interviews, observation and activity diaries.

Job descriptions:

A job description is perhaps an obvious starting point, but for many positions in companies no written job description exists. The posts may have developed gradually in the organization over time. Even if descriptions do exist, they are frequently out of date and may bear little relationship to the current tasks.

Interviews:

Interviews are also a fairly obvious approach to finding out about any particular job. Interviews with the person concerned and his or her supervisor can help establish the main tasks of the post.

Direct observation:

Another way to learn about a specific job is to observe the work that is being done. This is however a time-consuming approach requiring long periods with the jobholder and note-taking of the main tasks performed.

Activity diaries:

The entries on an employee's daily schedule can be a useful way of gaining insight into the routines associated with a job and at the same time can provide an accurate record of the different tasks carried out (and the time taken to do them). The jobholder must maintain a diary of his or her activities over a given period, noting daily the time spent on each function.

Although these methods can be helpful in learning about a job, they provide only a limited insight into the kinds of activities that the employee undertakes.

Example

For instance in the example above of the clerk in the export office who is responsible for turning customer inquiries into export quotations, suppose that the company management has decided to offer training to that person to upgrade performance. A trainer has been called in to assess the employee's training needs, and through a process of interviews and observations, has identified six main tasks and functions for that job, as outlined below:

1. Receive and classify incoming inquiries from potential customers asking for quotations for export orders.

2. Obtain detailed cost estimates for potential orders based on ex-works product cost and including transport, packing, documentation and insurance costs.

3. Calculate price quotations using the company's export costing sheet.

4. Prepare price quotations using proforma invoices.

5. File correspondence, estimates and quotations alphabetically by country.

6. Maintain a correspondence follow-up system and take action accordingly.

From this information, the elements needed for the export clerk to perform the job competently can be identified. A list of the capabilities required to do the job based on the factors of knowledge, skills and attitudes can be drawn up:

1. Knowledge elements:

* Product cost structures.

* Pricing procedures of the company.

* Incoterms.

* Nature of export costs.

2. Skill element:

* Calculation of the various cost elements of an export transaction.

* Use of the firm's export costing sheet.

* Liaison with other staff and obtaining relevant information.

* Preparation of price quotations.

* Writing businesslike covering letters.

* Filing correspondence systematically.

3. Attitude elements:

* Be alert to customer interest.

* Be conscious of the need to present correspondence attractively.

* Be conscious of the need for a quick reply to inquiries.

On the basis of this list, requirements for the export clerk to perform the job competently can be identified. A comparison with that person's current knowledge, skills and attitudes will indicate any training gap. A provisional training plan can then be developed to fill it.

Spin-offs

The training needs analysis in this example can also bring to light other training needs for the company and the employee that can help the firm improve its export performance. For instance the list of duties and functions of the job reveals that the enterprise appears to be basing its price quotations on what is essentially a "cost-plus" export pricing policy. Over and above the issue of whether the jobholder possesses the capabilities required to operate this policy is a more fundamental point -- whether the company is following the most appropriate pricing policy. A training need has therefore been identified that goes beyond the simple training gap -- training in market-related pricing, retrograde pricing techniques and so on.

Equally, there may be other training needs that could be identified on the basis of future competencies expected of the job. For example, no mention is made of telefax inquiries and quotations in the list of duties and functions above, but these might become the main type of correspondence in the future. Furthermore, it may be possible to computerize some of the job elements. Again, this might give rise to an additional training need.

The example therefore illustrates that the identification of training needs is not a simple mechanical process, but rather one that requires the judgement and experience of the trainer to go beyond mere procedures.

Sample guide

A sample guide for identifying export training needs of key personnel in a company is given on page 24. The guide should be used flexibly, as it is only a tool for a structured discussion and for noting comments and ideas. It is designed to be used during the dialogue between the trainer and the interviewee. It is not a questionnaire to be left with a respondent to fill out later.

The guide is divided into two sections, with each section containing a number of parts. It is recommended that section 1 (parts A, B and C) be completed by the trainer in consultation with the interviewee. That discussion should take no more than one hour. Section 2, which can raise more confidential matters and relies upon the trainer's experience and judgement, is a personal assessment and identification of training needs, competency requirements, expected benefits of training and preliminary recommendations for training. The trainer should complete section 2 alone, after the interview.

Section 1 (Parts A, B and C):

The purpose of section 1 of the guide is to establish some key facts about the interviewee and then to undertake a brief task analysis of his or her job. An essential ingredient of the process of task analysis is to identify some of the key problems that the interviewee has experienced with the different tasks performed, as well as the trainer's initial diagnosis of those problems. A further element of this part is to consider, aside from current problems and issues, what the respondent thinks are likely to be new training needs in the short to medium term (over the coming two years or so). A preliminary review of training needs by topic follows, which can be related to the assessment of problems encountered in the preceding part. Particular comments relating to each part are as follows:

Employee details: The first part of the guide is designed to establish some basic information on the interviewee and also provide an opportunity for a "warm-up" session. It is important, from the beginning of the interview, to establish its overall purpose, namely the analysis of the individual's export training needs.

This purpose can create a number of problems that the interviewer should be aware of:

* The fact that the trainer is undertaking a needs analysis suggests that training will be forthcoming to meet those needs. Unless it has been confirmed that a training programme will be created on the basis of the analysis, the interviewer should make it clear that the present exercise is one of a training needs analysis only and that no guarantee exists that training itself will provided.

* A second issue is an expectation on the part of the interviewee that, in some way, training can provide solutions to all of his or her task-related problems. It is important to stress that not all such problems lend themselves to a training solution.

* For practical reasons it is unlikely that an individualized training programme or course can be organized to meet all of the needs identified comprehensively. Care should therefore be exercised in any discussions about the eventual form of training to avoid raising expectations unrealistically.

The first part of the guide thus serves as an introduction to the interview. Obtaining background on the employee is a process that can, of course, be helped by discussion with the person's immediate supervisor who, in most cases, will be involved in the training needs analysis exercise. But even if the interviewer knows some of the basic details, it is still important to run through them formally with the interviewee. It is assumed in this guide that the interviewer has already obtained general information on the company itself.

Task analysis: An important element in the first section of the guide is an analysis of the interviewee's main job. The guide provides for a review of a series of task elements. The identification of these factors requires a discussion with the interviewee on the main activities associated with the post. The interviewer will have to pick out those aspects of the work upon which the job is focused.

It is not always wise to rely on job descriptions for this information; as mentioned earlier, these are often outdated and do not reflect the interviewee's current activities. It can often be useful to ask the interviewee to outline his or her activities during a typical week as a means of drawing up the set of tasks that has to be performed.

The second part of the task analysis involves identifying obstacles that stand in the way of effective implementation of the various task elements. The purpose of this problem assessment is not to consider general difficulties in the company's export development but instead to isolate the specific problems that are related to the interviewee's own tasks.

The listing of these problems is essentially a joint process between the interviewer and the interviewee. The interviewee should be reminded that not all identified difficulties can be overcome. In fact, many difficulties facing export-oriented small and medium-size enterprises are not related to qualified staff but to other factors such as lack of financing, inadequate production facilities, insufficient transport services and so forth.

The final element of this part of the guide provides an opportunity for discussing with the interviewee the likely development of the job in the short to medium term. In many cases, the respondent may not have a clear idea of his or her future professional possibilities in the company.

Discussion with the immediate supervisor may be helpful in this context, although the interviewer should be careful to respect any confidentiality.

In any event, it is important to get some idea of possible future tasks of the interviewee, because these will give rise to training needs.

Initial analysis by topic: The final part of the first section of the guide provides an opportunity for a discussion, on the basis of the analysis of tasks, on the likely training needs of the individual by broad topic. It is important for this analysis to be undertaken jointly by the interviewer and the interviewee and that this analysis be related to the task analysis. It is not advisable for the interviewer to ask the interviewee directly what he or she thinks the training needs are, as often the reply will not be precise. Rather a dialogue should take place.

The topics listed on the form are merely indicators of possible training subjects.

Section 2:

It is recommended that this section of the guide be completed by the interviewer following the interview. It provides an opportunity to reflect upon the training needs of the individual concerned and identify them more precisely. This part is designed to allow the interviewer to make a preliminary assessment of the requirements, based on the results of the individual discussions and any other basic information obtained, including background from the immediate supervisor. The interviewer is required to determine by topic the particular knowledge, skills and attitude mix of training needed to enable the individual to perform his or her tasks more effectively and be prepared to undertake identified future tasks.

It is in this part of the guide that the interviewer's skill as a trainer in identifying training needs is most relevant.

The next to the last part is an important element of the guide because it calls for the expected benefits and results of any training provided to meet the identified needs. The interviewer should think precisely what changes training will produce in the individual's performance and the impact of those changes on the company. Where possible, the interviewer should indicate the impact of the training in terms of results that can be seen and measured.

The final part of the guide provides a base for the trainer from which to note some preliminary recommendations on training required by the interviewee.

Wider context

The procedure for analyzing export training needs for individuals who play key roles in the development of the export potential of a company should be seen in the context of a broader analysis of training needs at the enterprise level, for the company staff as a whole. The two procedures are interdependent. Priorities for export training for the enterprise on an overall basis should be related to the identification of key individuals for whom export training should be provided. (For a discussion of a company-wide training needs analysis, see FORUM, April-June 1989, page 8.)

Once the individual training needs are identified, management, together with the trainer who conducted the interviews, should discuss a plan of action. Depending on the training required, either an individualized training programme can be designed or the trainee can attend an existing programme offered by a local training institution. When an existing training programme is considered, it is important to ensure that the individual needs identified match the objectives and expected benefits stated in the course or seminar announcement.

Steps in identifying individual training needs

1. Identify what knowledge, skills and attitudes the person needs to be able to do the job competently.

2. Identify what the person can already do in his or her particular job or role.

3. Determine the training "gap" between the two steps above.

Claude Cellich is chief of ITC's Training Section. Alan Roberts is a lecturer at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. This article is based on a new ITC publication, Handbook for Trainers in Trade Promotion.
COPYRIGHT 1993 International Trade Centre UNCTAD/GATT
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Author:Cellich, Claude; Roberts, Alan
Publication:International Trade Forum
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Words:3057
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