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University of Silesia in Katowice

Interdisciplinary Centre for Staff Development

Prof. Olaf Flak Telling About the First Tool to Analyse the Competencies of Future Staff for Polish Science

24.04.2020 - 14:53 update 17.06.2020 - 17:08
Editors: MK

Zdjęcie portretowe prof. Olafa Flaka
Assoc. Prof. Olaf Flak, Professor of the University of Silesia | Coordinator for Research Initiatives | Deputy Dean for Internationalization and Organization, Krzysztof Kieślowski Film School

Grafika: zaangażowanie (motyw liści)   “We may solve some problems intuitively, but we will minimise the risk of failure, if we rely on the data which can be provided by a professional tool. We are involved in searching for such soutions”

The Interdisciplinary Centre for Staff Development was established with the idea to support individuals associated with higher education in Poland. The goal of one of the projects implemented within the unit is to create a tool allowing to analyse the competency level of university employees. This will be the first such model adjusted to the Polish reality, taking into consideration e.g. provisions of the document entitled „Human Resources Strategy for Researchers”.

Assoc. Prof. Olaf Flak, Professor of the University of Silesia, one of the project members responsible for designing the competency model for the university employees, has told us about the support that individuals involved in strengthening the research position of Polish universities may receive.

Tools for assessing employee competencies have been applied for a long time not only in different companies, but also at the foreign universities. However, there is no model that would be developed specifically for Polish higher education, and this is the field where a lot has recently changed. Therefore, you have attempted to fill in the gap…

Every unit, regardless of whether we talk about a company or an university, has a certain organisational structure. At each level, i.e. at faculties, in libraries and administration, we should have employees with competencies appropriate for their positions. Some of them are required to work effectively in a team; others are to be capable of noticing and solving conflicts, while others still should have skills related to working time organisation, etc. Each of us, as an employee, has their own competency profile, regardless of whether it has been measured or not. I think it’s good to get to know this profile. Such tools are mainly used by HR departments in large companies. Competency models support the employment of appropriate individuals on particular positions, they also allow to plan their career paths and define the training needs.

The problem is that we do not have a tool dedicated to the Polish higher education sector.

There are many models available on the market that allow to analyse the employee competencies, as well as software used for employee competency management. However, it would be difficult to apply them in the reality of Polish universities. It’s a specific sector. This is why we have taken action that will result in developing a tool to analyse the competencies of individuals associated with higher education, and more precisely – research employees, research and teaching employees, and support staff.

How are you going to design this tool?

We represent the higher education and science sector, so we are immersed in this reality ourselves. Some of us cooperate with business and we are familiar with the solutions applied in commercial companies. We will use this knowledge. To develop the competency model for university employees, we will conduct the scientific research taking into consideration e.g. experience and practice of several hundred researchers associated with the selected Polish universities. We will also take into account the development strategy for Polish science resulting from the provisions of documents which are binding for us, such as the Law on Higher Education and Science.

You have mentioned the research employees, research and teaching employees, and support staff. Why did you choose these particular employee groups?

First of all, we want to create a tool intended to strengthen the research potential of Polish universities. Secondly, in order to meet the challenges of the Polish higher education reform, it is necessary to put a greater emphasis on teamwork, and particularly on cooperation between researchers and administrative support employees. Therefore, the competency model is prepared with these two specific university employee groups in mind. When it comes to research employees and research and teaching employees, each of them will sooner or later become the leader of a research team or project. A question may arise whether they will be capable of doing so, because the research team management skills are a completely different competency area than the competencies connected with conducting research in a particular scientific discipline. Therefore, the tool developed by us will allow us to test the level of key competencies. A university employee will find out something about themselves and, most importantly, see what competencies they should improve to manage well the work of a research team or conduct research within it. As a researcher, I can say that when we have the actual knowledge about our skills, we have a greater sense of control over the task that has been entrusted to us. The same applies to support staff, which is necessary in the process of strengthening the research potential of the university.

It is not a secret that individuals who are at the beginning of their scientific path usually observe and imitate the styles of practising science by their lecturers, tutors or supervisors. In such reality you need to be a little lucky to meet the appropriate individuals who can combine many roles. 

Perhaps this is the right moment to decide together who should be the leader of a team or research project. In practice, this is usually a person with the biggest scientific achievements, sometimes with the longest professional experience, or somebody who has already worked in a specific senior job positions in the university structure. It often turns out that such role could also be performed by somebody else, a person who may have higher team management competencies. On the other hand, such an experienced researcher could act as the science and knowledge expert in a research project. Dividing roles in this way may provide much better effects due to relieving the person with the greatest scientific achievements of the routine and arduous managerial activities, such as setting goals and task schedules, preparing budgets, reports, etc.

Let’s assume that we were subjected to a competency test. We have learnt our strengths and we know what else we should work on. What’s next?

Diagnosis of situation is only the beginning. Next we should take the appropriate improvement actions. First of all, this is a signal for the university that specific training needs have been diagnosed. If it turns out that there is a language barrier preventing effective research project management, the employee can be offered language courses adjusted to their needs, whereas if the research project leader finds it difficult to motivate their team members, they can improve their competencies in the field of group psychology. Secondly, an employee may search for methods to develop selected competencies on their own. They already know how to invest their valuable time to improve the comfort of work. After some time they will be able to repeat the analysis in order to check their progress.

It’s worth emphasizing once more that we are not creating a solution that would be universal, and, consequently, not appropriately tailored. The competency model and diagnostic tool created by us will be rooted in our Polish reality.

Firstly, we don’t like to be assessed. Secondly, trainings themselves may seem to be a challenge. Some treat them lightly, while others regard them as a cure for everything.

We found ourselves in a situation where individualists are forced to play in the team. It’s as if they had to constantly run between the basement and the attic in their house, searching for Lego blocks to build the structure of their dreams. Such operating mode would be very demanding. It’s similar in the case of practising sciences and combining individualism with teamwork. This requires flexible thinking and ability to change the perspective from the bird’s-eye view to focusing on details and vice versa. Therefore, it is not easy to build a well-functioning team in which people want to work and feel that they are needed. A good researcher should develop such competencies, because – we can say – the age of garage inventors is long gone. On the other hand, if the research project leader knows the competencies of their employees, they know to whom particular tasks should be entrusted. We may do it intuitively, but we will save some time and minimise the risk of failure, if we rely on the data which can be provided by such a tool.

So the employees must, in a way, trust in the designed model.

This trust will be based on our current knowledge and empirical studies conducted in the project. We are taking up this challenge. We will carry out the literature analysis, pilot studies, broad empirical studies, and consult the progress of work with the relevant experts on an ongoing basis. Let us remember that such models are successfully operated in foreign academic centres. We are in contact with the individuals who use them on a daily basis.

Moreover, in future we would like the competency model developed by us to certify the competency level of the employees of Polish universities – including research employees, research and teaching employees, and support staff. The labour market is increasingly dynamic: nowadays, scientists get associated with various academic centres during their scientific career, like any other professionals. I believe that such a certificate would make it easier for them to find a job position that fully uses their potential, knowledge and skills.

Thank you for the interview.

|By Dr. Małgorzata Kłoskowicz|

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