Tailor-made test aids speedy take-off

A training and enterprise council has slashed drop-out rates on its Modern Apprenticeships by three-quarters after introducing psychometric testing for applicants.

In 1995-96 the Modern Apprenticeship leaver rates for Hertfordshire TEC stood at 27.5 per cent. Leaver rates fell to only 7 per cent After the introduction of the Morrisby (pyschometric) test, which incorporates an aptitude test, a personality test and a questionnaire. The results provide measurement: level and type of ability; practical ability; potential for development in specific areas; personality characteristic s; workstyles; learning styles; and manual dexterity. The aim is to identify applicants' occupational strengths and discover where they need extra support

"Modern Apprentices who had taken the test were much more likely to continue in their chosen career-study path," said Clare Bowen, a spokeswoman for the TEC. "This screening of applicants also helps to ensure optimum use of time and money through fewer inappropriate placements."

Many of the 87 Modern Apprentices who took the Morrisby tests in a TEC pilot project welcomed the opportunity for personal insight and thought it would help them when they were considering their future career.

The tests identified some young people with high levels of previously unrecognised academic ability. This helped to explain problems such as boredom leading to disruptive behaviour. Other candidates were identified as requiring additional help with language or numbers.

"We wanted to find an objective way of measuring the skills and attributes of our trainees in order to gear individual training programmes to meet their needs," said Martin Cooke, head of youth programmes at the TEC. "We produced evaluations and we were able to discuss these with the trainees and their parents, and consider different options."

As a result of the pilot, testing has been extended to all Modern Apprenticeship s. Mr Cooke said: "It is not a weeding-out process but it does enable us to say, for example, that it might be appropriate for someone to take a level 2 qualification and move on later to a level 3. It has given us a head start in developing the appropriate support mechanisms."

Terry Murphy, apprenticeship scheme manager at Nissan's training centre in Watford, which trains technicians for Nissan dealerships, is impressed with the accuracy of pyschometric testing.

He said: "Testing, if carried out at the right time, ideally before a trainee starts work, can help us identify where an individual needs more help, and where we can expect them to make the most significant progress.

"The tests might even show that they may not be capable of training at that level or that the individual's abilities lay in another vocational area."

He explained that many people tried out various vocational routes before hitting on the right one - if they are lucky. If they never quite reach their full potential, the employer suffers as well as the individual.

He gives examples of two technician trainees for whom, without the testing, things might have turned out differently.

"The first had his expectations unrealistically raised - his level of learning was low and his skills below average. He had a tendency to be disruptive and was a little immature, but because he was a good communicator and very personable he was getting by. In short he thought he was doing well, but there were some fundamental problems - letting this carry on unidentified could have been very damaging to him in the long run.A smaller company might eventually have terminated his employment because he was slowing things down.

"We were able to identify that his attitude to the work ethic and behaviour, which was more at place in school than at work, could easily be altered and that with extra applied effort, he could make the grade required.

"The other individual was way off the scale in terms of technical ability - bright, quick and very able. Unfortunately he was not a good communicator, being introspective and not likely to push himself forward. Any employer might have assumed at interview stage that he lacked initiative and was not going to be an asset to the company.

"The test shows he is more technically biased than many other trainees that I have met, and that by helping him to develop his interactive skills and his confidence we have revealed his potential to go a long way."

Mr Murphy said that the tests had allowed Nissan to draw up very specific individual training plans. "A great deal of time and energy can be saved if we can see from a battery of specially designed tests, the type of work styles, the general attitude, aptitudes and abilities of an employee, before they go off on the wrong route. Unrealistic aspirations can also get in the way, and the tests can show, in a non-threatening way, that a person may be better suited to another vocational choice - which ultimately will make them feel more fulfilled," he said.

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