You are on page 1of 13

487124

research-article2013

PPM42210.1177/0091026013487124Public Personnel ManagementWu

Article

The Study of CompetencyBased Training and


Strategies in the Public
Sector: Experience
From Taiwan

Public Personnel Management


42(2) 259271
The Author(s) 2013
Reprints and permissions:
sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav
DOI: 10.1177/0091026013487124
ppm.sagepub.com

Jui-Lan Wu1

Abstract
In the private and public sectors, competency-based training is a popular method
that focuses on improving employees knowledge, abilities, skills, and organizational
performance. Yet, working in complex organizational environments, training
practitioners often neglect certain steps and principles. This article examines
competency-based training and strategies in Taiwans public sector, from the
concept to the critical success factors in competency-based training. It then suggests
some practices for training practitioners in the public sector.
Keywords
core competency, competency gap, competency-based training

Competent employees dont remain competent forever. Skills deteriorate and can
become obsolete. Thats why organizations spend billions of dollars each year on formal training (Stephen, 2001, p. 480). The term training, according to The ASTD
Reference Guide to Workplace Learning and Performance (American Society for
Training & Development, 2000), is intended to build on individual knowledge, skills
and attitudes to meet present or future work requirements. Competency comprises the
specification of knowledge and skills. The application of knowledge and skills to the
standard of performance requires completing a task.

1Civil

Service Protection and Training Commission, Taiwan, Republic of China

Corresponding Author:
Jui-Lan Wu, Civil Service Protection and Training Commission, No. 1-3, Shihyuan Rd., Wenshan District,
Taipei 11601, Taiwan, Republic of China.
Email: juilan_wu@yahoo.com.tw

Downloaded from ppm.sagepub.com at Monash University on May 27, 2015

260

Public Personnel Management 42(2)

In the 1980s, human resource development (HRD) introduced competency-based


training, which was implemented worldwide later. Competency-based training aims to
not only improve employees knowledge, abilities, and skills, but also upgrade their
organizations performance. In both the private and public sectors, competency-based
training is a popular method. However, since training often takes place in complex
organizational environments, it is common for training practitioners to neglect certain
steps and principles, especially in the public sector.

Purpose and Statement of the Problem


Based on a literature review and content analysis, this article examines four research
problems related to competency-based training and strategies in the public sector:
Research Question 1: Why is competency-based training important? Why not traditional training?
Research Question 2: What are the critical success factors in competency-based
training in the public sector?
Research Question 3: What are the strategies for competency-based training in the
Taiwanese public sector?
Research Question 4: How can critical success factors and competency-based training strategies be linked in the public sector?
The purpose of this article is to provide some practical suggestions for training
practitioners in the public sector by examining competency-based training and strategies in Taiwans public sector. It consists of four sections: The first presents the concept and critical success factors of competency-based training, the second section
examines competency-based training and strategies in Taiwans public sector, the
third section demonstrates the research findings concerning the link between critical
success factors and practice strategy, and the last section elaborates research suggestions for training practitioners in the public sector. Future research is also discussed in
this section.

Method and Data


This article is based on a literature review and the government documents that it uses
to analyze competency-based training and strategies in the public sector. The literature
used in this article was identified through a search of previous related studies.
The data selected from government documents comprise (a) official documents in
Central Personnel Administration1 (CPA) websites, (b) interviews with two practitioners in Taiwans public sector who deal with government training affairs, (c) internal
meeting data provided by meeting participants, and (d) research reports commissioned
by the CPA and available in the library.

Downloaded from ppm.sagepub.com at Monash University on May 27, 2015

261

Wu

Literature Review
The Concept of Competency-Based Training
As the concepts and practices of competency-based training have recently been applied
to HRD policies in the private and public sectors, it is first necessary to understand the
definition of competency-based. When searching for the origin of competency,
researchers generally cite McClellands (1973) Testing for Competence Rather Than
for Intelligence, an article that appeared in American Psychologist (pp. 423-447).
McClellands concept of competency has been the key driver of the competency
movement and competency-based education. The term competency comprises the
specification of knowledge and skills, and the application of that knowledge and skill
to the standards of performance required in the workplace (Electrotechnology Training
Package [UEE07], 2011). In other words, it is important to know that competencybased training not only improves employees knowledge, abilities, skills, and attitudes, but also prepares employees for reaching their organizations goals, and aligns
training and strategies with performance intervention.
To understand the differences between competency-based training and traditional
training, this paragraph introduces the definitions of both kinds of training. Training
differs from education and employee development, both of which prepare people for
work and daily life. There are various types of training, including remedial/basic
skills, orientation, qualifying, second-chance, cross-training, retraining, and outplacement. Training may be unplanned or planned. According to Dubois and Rothwell
(2004), when training is unplanned, it is rarely effective, because people cannot learn
how others perform. When training is planned, it probably follows an approach based
on the instructional systems design model (ISD). The ISD model, which is a traditional training approach, has several important features in common with competencybased training. There are nine steps in ISDStep 1: applying the ISD model to analyze
the performance problem, seeking to determine the underlying cause; Step 2: involving only problems that are rooted in a lack of individual knowledge, skills, or attitudes;
Step 3: conducting a thorough training needs assessment; Step 4: writing instructional
objectives; Step 5: deciding whether to make or buy training content to achieve the
instructional objectives; Step 6: deciding how to deliver the training; Step 7: conducting a formative evaluation; Step 8: delivering the training, also known as the implementation phase; and Step 9: conducting a summative evaluation. The ISD model of
traditional training has been proven to be effective in getting results in improved job
performance. Unfortunately . . . learners and their supervisors may lack ownership of
the training offered (Dubois & Rothwell, 2004, p. 50).
Besides these definitions, the differences between competency-based training and
traditional training are also important to know. According to Naquin and Holton
(2003), competency-based training, which is built around the fundamental principles
of demonstrating capability, usually requires employees to first demonstrate their ability to perform specific tasks. Competency-based training focuses on behaviorally
stated and measurable objectives. Competencies are gained in multiple ways, such as

Downloaded from ppm.sagepub.com at Monash University on May 27, 2015

262

Public Personnel Management 42(2)

life experience, on-the-job training, and training and development programs. Dubois
and Rothwell (2004) state that competency-based training is an attempt to make
training a joint venture or place greater responsibility on the learner for taking initiatives. Yet, traditional training is attentional to work requirements, not to discover
differences between exemplary and successful performers. Basically, these training
approaches are not mutually exclusive, but they do represent different emphases.
Competency-based training takes a broader view. This means that competency-based
training is more than just to provide knowledge, build skills, or improve attitudes.
There are two different emphases: (a) competency-based training to guide self-directed
training and development, emphasizing an individuals duty to accept increased
responsibility for his or her own learning, and (b) competency-based training for
work-team development (Dubois & Rothwell, 2004).

Critical Success Factors of Competency-Based Training


The development and implementation of competency-based training is merely one
facet of ensuring the success of the training program. But Hylands (1994) critique is
that competency-based training is a theoretically and methodologically vacuous strategy. Also, Collins (1983), in his critical analysis of competency-based training as a
system in adult education, argues that competency-based training is excessively reductionistic in attempting to explain complex phenomena through discrete standardized
concepts (Kosbab, 2003). Despite contradictory views on the effectiveness or otherwise of competency-based training, it continues to be used as an approach to learning
(Smith, 2000). In studying competency-based training, five factors have been identified as critical success factors in competency-based training processes (Figure 1):
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

alignment with the organizations strategic goal and plans,


based on a high performance system,
competency model development,
individual competency gap, and
training on the gaptraining package.

Ignoring any of these factors can significantly impair success or produce failure. To
assess a persons competence, a department needs to demonstrate the ability to perform tasks and duties to the standard expectation in employment. Competency-based
training focuses on the development of the skills, knowledge, and attitudes required to
achieve that competency standard. The competency standard needs to align with the
organizations strategic goal and plans, and be based on a high performance system.
One of the primary competency-based training features is that each learners achievement is measured to see whether they reach the competency standard. Under the
competency-based training approach, each learner is assessed to find the gap between
the skills they need (as described in the training package) and the skills they already
have. The difference between the two is called the competency gap. A training program is then developed to help the learner acquire the missing skills and close the gap.

Downloaded from ppm.sagepub.com at Monash University on May 27, 2015

263

Wu

Strategic
Goal & Plan

High
Performance

Individual
Competency

Competency
Model

Gap
-Training Package-

Figure 1. Critical success factors in competency-based training.

Competency-Based Training and Strategies in Taiwans Public Sector


Human resources play a key role in administrative effectiveness and quality. To make
the Taiwan government more efficient, responsible, and responsive, it has formed the
Government Reform Committee to integrate civil service human resources. In Taiwan,
the CPA, a professional staff agency of the Executive Yuan in human resource management, is responsible for overall personnel administration (including training and
appraisal of civil servants) of all the ministries and agencies under the Executive Yuan.
The CPA also deals with competency-based human resource practices such as those
used by the U.S., the U.K., and the Canadian and Australian governments.
Competency-Setting Process. The CPA initially applies a competency concept to deal
with human resource management and development. The steps involved are discussed
below (sourced from the CPA website).
Policy research by an external expert. According to the related competency concept
applied in the private sector, competency-based training has seldom been applied in
the public sector. To introduce the concept, in 2002, the CPA commissioned an external expert to conduct policy research. The conclusion of his research suggests using
(a) a competency model, (b) a competency scale list, and (c) a competency-setting
process (Lin, 2003).

Downloaded from ppm.sagepub.com at Monash University on May 27, 2015

264

Public Personnel Management 42(2)

Foresight
Planning
High level (e.g.Grade 12)

Personal
Interaction

High

Low

Middle level (e.g.Grade 9)

Middle

Middle

Strategic
Oriented

Executive
Practice
Low

High

Operation
Oriented

Figure 2. Duty analysis for middle- and high-level civil servants.

Setting principles. Although external experts provided some suggestions, in practice, the CPAs executive meetings suggested that some principles still needed to
be defined. (a) Competency includes personal attitudes and management skills for
achieving the organizations goal. (b) To focus on the importance of competency, the
CPA requires that competency should be no more than five to six items. (c) There
should be a focus on duty analysis for middle- and high-level civil servants.
Duty analysis for middle- and high-level civil servants. There are 14 grades in Taiwans
civil service system. Grade 14 (e.g.Vice Minister) is the highest and Grade 1 is the
lowest. At a high duty level (Grade 12, Director General level), civil servants are more
strategic oriented, while at the middle level (Grade 9, Section Chief level), they are
more operation oriented, as shown in Figure 2.
Questionnaire investigation.All middle- and high-level civil servants and their colleagues are to investigate the opinions and views on management competency cognition.
Dynamic competency analysis. For reaching the organizations goal, the competency
needs dynamic adjustment.
Competency Items. The CPAs vision is to maintain an honest, competent, and fair
administrative team, as well as to provide citizens with first-class public service.
Based on this vision and the principles set out above, Table 1 summarizes the core
competency items for high- and middle-level civil servants, as defined in 2004 and
edited in 2009.
Competency Gaps Between the Civil Servant and Competency. Gaps are defined on an
organizational level as well as at an individual performer level. The organizational

Downloaded from ppm.sagepub.com at Monash University on May 27, 2015

265

Wu
Table 1. Competency Items for High- and Middle-Level Civil Servants in Taiwan.
2004
High level (Grades 10-14) 1.Modeling vision with
creativity
2. Strategy analysis
3.Change and crisis
management
4.Team stimulation and
leadership
5.Interdepartmental
coordination
6.Performance management
Middle level (Grades 6-9)

1.Customer-oriented
service
2.Knowledge management
and utilization
3.Process and time
management
4.Conflict mediation and
communication
5.Coaching and passing on
experience
6.Goal setting and
execution

2009
1.Foreign-domestic environmental
and situational analysis
2.Goal visualization and strategic
thinking
3.Leadership and coordinated
cooperation
4.Risk management and crisis
management
5.Performance management
6.Cultivating legal capability
7.Cultivating Humanism quality
1.Goal and performance
management
2.Knowledge management and
passing on experience
3.Innovative service and process
management
4.Question tracing and solving
ability
5.Expressional ability
6.Emotions management
7.Cultivating legal capability
8.Cultivating humanism quality

level helps to target what is needed across the enterprise to create the right skill sets.
The individual level helps each employee develop important skill sets for their current
role, as well as with career planning, which increases their understanding of where
they stand and precisely what is needed to serve in other roles. Competency helps
organizations understand and focus on the key factors that actually drive performance.
Competency-based training needs to identify the gap between the civil servant and
competency in the public sector, and then carry out training to close that gap.
In Taiwan, there are about 900 agencies in the public sector. For investing needs,
the CPA (2004) designed a management core competency scale and online evaluation
system for high- and middle-level civil servants. This scale enables these agencies to
evaluate their employees competency. All middle- and high-level civil servants, their
superintendents, colleagues, and subordinates, take part in the system and then receive
individual competency evaluation results. The evaluation methods include 360-degree
feedback, focus groups, and assessment centers.
Competency-Based Training and Strategies.Annual training needs and plans were
devised, based on the conclusions of the evaluations made at the 900 agencies, and
then the CPA (2009) designed a general management plan as shown in Table 2. All the
workshops are open to civil servants attending, if their agencies agree.

Downloaded from ppm.sagepub.com at Monash University on May 27, 2015

266

Public Personnel Management 42(2)

Table 2. 2009 General Management Plan and Competency Related List.


Competency related
Workshop

Objectives

Government
Service
Innovation

Workshop

Objective

Audience

To strengthen the innovative


Executives with junior
management capacity of
rank and Staff with
middle- and high-level civil
senior rank in central
servants, help them understand
and local government
the real practices involved
under Executive Yuan.
in government service
innovation, and also find feasible
applications through case
discussion.
Civil servants who
To understand the concept of
directly serve the
serving people sympathetically
public at central and
and the practice of serving
local government
people with convenience
departments under
to improve the quality of
Executive Yuan.
government service.

Civil staff at central and


Project Planning
To understand the process
and Management
of project planning and
local governments.
management. To study how
this should be considered in
project planning and execution.
To increase practical training to
enhance knowledge and project
management ability.
Policy Planning and To understand the meaning of
Civil servants
Performance
KPI and the practical concept of
responsible for policy
Management
KPI application in performance
planning, performance
management to guide the
management,
integration of policy planning,
and budgeting
budgeting, evaluation, and
management and
performance. To reach the goal
related work at
of government effectiveness.
the central and
local government
departments under
Executive Yuan.
Risk and Crisis
To understand the theory and
Civil staff of junior
Management
application of risk and crisis
rank or higher at
management and to enhance
the central and local
the ability to handle risk and
governments.
crises.
Leadership and
To make executives understand
Executives with junior
Motivation
their key management ability,
rank and Civil staff
management style, and
with senior rank at
communication ability. Also
the central and local
to motivate subordinates
governments under
to improve the efficiency of
Executive Yuan.
administration.
Communication
To strengthen the communication Executives with junior
and
capacity of middle- and highrank and Staff with
Coordination
level civil servants and increase
senior rank at central
(executives with
their ability in coordination and
and local governments
junior rank and
cross-division cooperation.
under Executive Yuan.
staff with senior
rank)

Service for People

Target audience

(continued)

Downloaded from ppm.sagepub.com at Monash University on May 27, 2015

267

Wu
Table 2. (continued)
Competency related
Workshop

Objectives

Communication
and
Coordination
(general civil
servants)

To understand the principles and Civil staff at the central


practice of communication and
and local governments
coordination, and know the
(executives with
obstacles and solutions to them.
junior rank and civil
staff with senior rank
excluded).
To learn the concepts and
Executives at junior rank
skills of coaching and use the
at local governments
appropriate coaching behavior
under Executive Yuan.
at the right time.
To understand the meaning
Civil staff at the
central and local
of benchmark learning. To
governments.
improve the efficiency of
the organizations operation
through sharing experiences of
excellent organization.
Executives with junior
To understand the importance
rank and civil staff
of team building. To respect
with senior rank
the differences between team
at central and local
members, and use the different
governments under
roles and contributions of
Executive Yuan.
members to create team
performances.
To understand the principles
Civil staff at the
of time management and
central and local
take advantage of time
governments.
resources to set priorities for
enhancing work efficiency and
effectiveness.
To understand the basic
Civil staff at the
components of a successful
central and local
briefing. To improve the
governments.
presentation of briefing content
and oral skills for briefing.
To understand the principles
Civil staff at the
and methods of press release
central and local
writing and to improve writing
governments.
skills.
To learn the theory and
Civil servants with
practical skills of bargaining
junior rank who
and negotiation, and create
need to improve
a win-win situation between
their bargaining and
government and the general
negotiation skills
public.
at the central and
local government
departments under
Executive Yuan.
To identify problems and
Civil staff with junior
understand the processes and
rank or higher at
the central and local
methods of problem analysis.
To study and use all kinds of
governments.
strategies to solve problems to
enhance the ability to make the
right decisions.

Coaching

Benchmark
Learning

Team Building

Time Management

Briefing Skills

Press Release
Writing

Bargaining and
Negotiation
Skills

Problem Analysis
and Solving

Target audience

Workshop

Objective

Audience

(continued)

Downloaded from ppm.sagepub.com at Monash University on May 27, 2015

268

Public Personnel Management 42(2)

Table 2. (continued)
Competency related
Workshop

Objectives

Project
Management

To understand the process


Civil staff at the
of project management, to
central and local
explore issues that should
governments.
be considered during project
planning and execution, and to
use practical drills to enhance
project management capability.
For the implementation of File
New staff in file
Law and related law, to improve
and information
the understanding of file
management at central
management and professional
government under
ability through practical learning
Executive Yuan.
and experience exchange.

File Management
of Central
Government

Target audience

Workshop

Objective

Audience

Note: KPI = key performance indicate. means competency related and means no competency related.

Research Analysis
In Taiwan, introducing a new and different training model to the government organization is difficult, and sometimes the new training model may be misused. In other
words, employees may treat the new method as just the latest fashion. Although, as
seen from the literature review, competency-based training focuses on five critical
factors (organizational goals, high performance, competency model, competency gap,
and training package), in training practice, there are some problems when competencybased training is conducted. These are described below.

Competency Setting Without a High Performance System


The basic competency-setting processes in Taiwans public sector have involved policy
research by an external expert, definition of principles, duty analysis, a questionnaire
investigation, and dynamic competency analysis to match the competency concept in
literature and practice. Yet, the key point of the competency standard is based on the
high performance system, generated by high performance employees who have certain
distinctive personal characteristics. In the duty analysis and questionnaire investigation
process period, however, all civil servants were involved, whether they were high or
low performance employees. Hence, the competency-setting results may display only
an average level standard, not a high performance standard.

Competency-Based Training Without Integrated Checking of the


Competency Gap and Individual Differences
Checking gaps helps to target what is needed across the enterprise to create the right
skill sets. In Taiwan, the CPA has designed a management core competency scale for

Downloaded from ppm.sagepub.com at Monash University on May 27, 2015

269

Wu

high- and middle-level civil servants. This scale enables about 900 agencies to evaluate their employees competency. Yet, when the CPA interviewed practitioners in the
public sector, these agencies could not understand the function of the evaluation
method because the competency concepts and skills were new and difficult. The CPA
did not double check whether the agencies had completed the evaluation properly. In
addition, the CPA did not integrate its checking of the competency gap with assessment of individual differences.

Annual Training Plan Without Effective Linkage With Competency


Model
In the Taiwan government, there is a Government Employees Training and
Reorientation Law, which legislates that each agency must set an annual training plan.
The CPA deals with annual training for middle- and high-level civil servants. Without
identifying individual differences in the competency gap, the CPA annual training
plan requires all civil servants to attend, regardless of whether they have a gap.
Moreover, while the annual training plan has 18 workshops, only 4 of them exactly fit
the competency model and the designs for middle- and high-level civil servants. Some
workshop objectives are not management competencies but general competencies,
such as Briefing Skills and Press Release Writing. This means that the annual
training plan does not consider the association between competency and individual
competency deficiencies properly.

Research Suggestions
For Training Practitioners in the Public Sector
Competency-based training is not a fashionable term. However, as shown in this article, competency-based training is an effective training approach for both the private
and public sectors. Because there are so many government employees who need training, it is difficult to manage class design and time schedules to meet every individuals
needs. With reference to Dubois and Rothwells (2004) emphasis on increased
responsibility for his or her own learning, here are some suggestions concerning
competency-based training: (a) understanding what high performance in the public
sector is, (b) identifying the best civil servants and their attitudes, (c) evaluating different individual training needs, (d) designing training packages for individual gaps,
and (e) developing a training roadmap for self-directed learning.

For Future Research


In fact, human resource management and development in Taiwans public sector does
emphasize competency setting and competency-based training, and revised competency items were issued in July 2009. But in the implementation period, the CPA is
still meeting obstacles. Suggestions for future research to address these are as follows:
(a) conduct research on the obstacles and why these obstacles occur, (b) focus on other

Downloaded from ppm.sagepub.com at Monash University on May 27, 2015

270

Public Personnel Management 42(2)

countries implementation period, (c) design a training package and roadmap that is
effective for those agencies that have too many civil servants to operate the training
successfully, (d) conduct an experimental study to understand the results after
competency-based training has been given.
Authors Note
This paper was presented at The 8th International Conference of the Academy of Human
Resource Development (Asia Chapter), Manama, Bahrain, in December 2009.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests


The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.

Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of
this article.

Note
1. In 2012, Central Personnel Administration changed its name to Directorate-General of
Personnel Administration. But its function and work did not change. The DirectorateGeneral of Personnel Administration is still responsible for the training of civil servants.

References
American Society for Training & Development. (2000). The American Society for Training
and Development reference guide to workplace learning and performance. Amherst, MA:
HRD Press.
Central Personnel Administration. (2004). Core value and core competency in middle and highlevel civil servant. Retrieved from dpa.mof.gov.tw/public/Data/610101654746.doc
Central Personnel Administration. (2009). General management plan. Retrieved from http://
www.hrd.gov.tw/e_content/public/Public02in.aspx?Pid=4
Collins, M. (1983). A critical analysis of competency-based systems in adult education. Adult
Education Quarterly, 33, 174-183.
Dubois, D., & Rothwell, W. (2004). Competency-based or a traditional approach to training?
T+D, 58, 46-57.
Electrotechnology Training Package (UEE07). (2011). Volume 2, Part 1. Retrieved from http://
www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/syllabus_hsc/pdf_doc/electrotechnology08/Appendix-4Definitions-Glossary.pdf
Hyland, T. (1994). Competence, education and NVQs: Dissenting perspectives. London,
England: Cassell.
Kosbab, D. J. (2003). Dispositional and maturational development through competency-based
training. Education & Training, 45, 526-541.
Lin, J. (2003). Research report: Management core competency and professional competencysetting for middle and high level CPA civil servants. Taipei: Central Personnel
Administration.

Downloaded from ppm.sagepub.com at Monash University on May 27, 2015

271

Wu

McClelland, D. C. (1973). Testing for competence rather than for intelligence. American
Psychologist, 28, 423-447.
Naquin, S. S., & Holton, E. F. (2003). Redefining state leadership and management development: A process for competence-based development. Public Personnel Management, 32,
23-46.
Smith, P. I. B. (2000). Preparing for flexible delivery in industry: Learners and their workplaces. Geelong, Australia: Deakin University.
Stephen, P. R. (2001). Organizational behavior (9th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Author Biography
Jui-Lan Wu, PhD, graduate institute of human resource management of National Central
University, Taiwan, is the director of the Department of Training Assessment, Civil Service
Protection and Training Commission, R.O.C. (Taiwan).

Downloaded from ppm.sagepub.com at Monash University on May 27, 2015