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|An Assessment of Personnel Development and Training Needs in Kazakhstan’s Civil Service|
A. K. Kadyrbekova,1 G. B. Raisova2
Any state undergoing continuous democratic development is inevitably confronted with questions about the development of its activities. These questions are just as inevitable and perhaps even more topical for the new, independent states that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet superpower. What kind of state do we need, how do we establish a market economy, what kind of civil service should there be? How can these provide economic growth and national security, contribute to the competitiveness and social unity of the country? These are the issues that puzzle scientists specializing in administration problems, practitioners engaged in personnel management, and everyone who is not indifferent to the destiny of his country, his own life and that of his children and grandchildren.
The former Union Republics, thrown into independence overnight, came up against the complicated problems of renewing public administration, developing a civil service, and modernizing the administration. What should we be like in the new millennium? What does it depend on? Who and what will define the quality of our lives? The answers to these questions are directly connected with personnel decisions. In order to move irreversibly towards the renewal of the government, it is necessary to clarify the significance and role of civil servants as the main agents of government modernization.
1 The role of personnel management
It is obvious that a country is as strong as its human resources: on those who plough and sow as much as those who lead. The future of the country and the success and sustainability of reform are directly dependent on the availability of appropriate personnel and intellectual potential. A lack of well-trained and able leaders can threaten the Kazakhstani state. The importance of a well thought-out personnel policy for the country is beyond doubt.
High intellectual potential is more important for the country’s security than strong armed forces. It is impossible to establish a state without an intellectual and professional elite.
The main force behind any power is a personnel that can think globally and act locally. These people should neither lag behind a constantly changing present, nor forget the experience of the past—although this is sometimes hard.
It seems that our recent past was such a burden to us that with the acquisition of independence, we have hastened to deny both good and bad. We consider our history to be unacceptable and obsolete, symbolizing dependence and a lack of freedom. This denies the thoroughly developed personnel policy system and the methodology of personnel training. Top government positions were given to young people, who were trained abroad and spoke English. This was not bad. A young state must have young personnel. English can be picked up, but the methodology of personnel management, the methods of cooperating with people, and the skill to lead a team are not acquired easily.
The new perspectives of Kazakhstan as a sovereign state and the transition to a market economy require new approaches in public administration. It demands adequate training for personnel, in particular for civil servants, who are responsible for the quality and durability of the social-economic transformation.
When we study public administration and personnel management in Western European countries and Japan, we are surprised to discover something familiar. It turns out that we got it right in the Soviet system of personnel management: continuous personnel training and retraining, etc. Why did we deny all this so quickly, without suggesting anything new? No one can deny that a new state is not created from scratch; all of us come from the past with our mistakes, pains, losses, dreams and achievements. There is an old saying: ‘sand thrown into history returns as a stone.’
It seems that we need a new model of personnel provision for public administration, one that connects traditions and modernity and is adapted to the tasks of Kazakhstan. In the process of creating a new state system it is necessary to take into account that the people of the republic were generally brought up and educated in the Soviet era.
Against the background of rapid and complicated changes worldwide, the concept of human resources development and management has changed considerably during the last 10-15 years (Krasnova and Kiseljova 1995).
In Kazakhstan there has been increasing interest in personnel management since 1997-98, mainly at private companies. This is indicated by a few new developments: the establishment of personnel departments with extended functions and authorities in Kazakhstani companies; the abruptly increased demand for personnel managers; the prosperous activity of recruitment agencies; the popularity of training courses on management; etc.
Analysts note a growing interest in personnel management both abroad and in Kazakhstan, not only as an administrative activity, but as an activity of strategic significance. In the post-Soviet era these changes occurred first in the Russian labour market, in 1995–1996. They found expression in different selection principles, personnel development and appraisal, and a booming demand for personnel managers as a highly paid profession (Mordovin 1999). The Russian civil service did not remain unchanged, either. There was great scientific and institutional interest in this issue, indicated by the establishment of the Russian Academy of Civil Service, scientific and practical conferences, and a wide network of schools for training and retraining throughout the whole country (Afanasjev 1995).
2 Reasons for interest in personnel management
Many surveys carried out among successful entities show that the effectiveness of any organization depends on three factors: a favourable business environment, a correct strategy, and the quality of human (especially managerial) resources. In fact, the first two conditions can also be said to be a result of the third. At present, human capital is increasingly seen as a key resource among other organizational resources (technical, material, financial, etc.). Global economical changes and corresponding cardinal changes in management and organisational structures highlight an urgent need for rapid adaptation. As practice shows, well-elaborated management concepts, along with human resources development, are the strongest instruments of adaptation. In contrast, the traditional forms of personnel management can only be obstacles.
In the present situation, human resources management policy in the private sector is more concrete, effective, and operationally better elaborated than in the state sector. Virtually all civil services suffer from low productivity, low willingness to work, overstaffing, lack of elaborated personnel planning in the hands of a limited number of people, and career development that is not based on merit but on personal relations with bosses (Prokopenko 1994). Thus, in the state sector there is an urgent need for strategic changes. Nobody doubts that people are the key resource in the public sector, as well.
Concerning the civil service in Kazakhstan, the ability of the state apparatus to settle complicated social and economical tasks in the current period of crisis depends directly on the managers, or, in other words, on the personnel potential of the country. Before this time there was no unified independent civil service, according to the modern understanding of the term; correspondingly there was no unified, approved system of entry to the civil service, no system of promotion or appraisal, no effective system of training at any level. Even the notion of a civil service itself appeared only in recent years.
The present status of the government apparatus can only be characterized as unsatisfactory, measured against social-economic development. This results from situations that undermine the prestige of the civil service: for example, frequent reorganizations, fights against ‘red tape’ and ‘nomenklatura’, and decreasing real wages. This has led to the departure of qualified personnel, a decrease in motivation, and the serious problem of corruption.
Many civil servants have lost any understanding that the government exists for the people. Their main concern is their responsibility toward higher authorities, rather than the interests of the population; the civil servant is more oriented to the wishes of superiors than the actual aims of his or her organization.
The civil service—as the personnel core of public administration—should be the centre of a flexible and effective civil engine, guaranteeing stability and adaptability. The function of the civil service in comparison with the private sector is more complicated. The state civil service is not oriented to profit, but to the laws of the state and the interests of the people. Civil servants need a knowledge of ethic norms and an understanding of their special responsibilities, which can be summed up briefly as: ‘I should justify the trust the people place in me’.
Thus, for the present there is no doubt that there is a need for a new qualitative level of civil service. The question is how to achieve this goal. There is a demand for highly professional personnel, and the need to train and take care of them.
In our opinion, attaching strategic importance to human resource management can raise the civil service to an international level. This implies a systematic relation of the following elements: personnel planning, selection and recruitment, training, promotion, remuneration, performance appraisal, administration and controlling, and the establishment of a database. Moreover, this implies a thorough work-over on the corporate culture of the civil service, its value system and norms of behaviour. We should start with managerial positions.
In this context, the introduction of modern approaches to personnel management, as elaborated both in the private and public sectors of various countries, can be useful for accelerating the solution of many current problems.
3 The ‘learning organization’ concept
As modern practice shows, one of the major tools for preparing an organization for changes is the development and training of its staff. The elaboration of a training strategy for Kazakhstan’s civil servants should take into account modern tendencies in this field and decide how they can be applied to the public sector in Kazakhstan. An example of this is whether the recently elaborated idea of a ‘learning organization’ can be applied to the civil service.
The ‘learning organization’ concept emerged in Europe in the 1990s. Because it is not possible to transfer the applicable management skills to a quickly changing situation through traditional training methods, international corporations started to search for solutions. They began to elaborate training plans and strategies that rapidly increased the effectiveness of training. As a result, the principle ‘x managers participated in y courses’ was radically transformed. What emerged was a new strategic problem-solving approach tuned to the actual problems confronting management. The basic ideas of contemporary training are listed below.
In this way the overall paradigm of personnel training changes from the principle of ‘education for your whole life’ to the principle of ‘learning throughout life’. Under this principle people acquire knowledge or skills not only at a certain age or for a certain position, but continuously develop their knowledge. This concept is an integral part of the ‘learning organization’. It does not turn people into universal experts, nor does it provide them with all the skills required for any activity. Training primarily concentrates on key qualifications and key competencies (e.g., managerial and personal qualities such as leadership, ability to study, selection of information, decision-making, communication skills, and the ability to cooperate, initiate, be responsible and flexible, and so on). Furthermore, training programs are free from academic ballast; they are designed in modular form and are oriented towards concrete results (Vasilenko 1996).
This approach is quite new. Only a few international organizations (both on the demand and the supply side of training) already use it. According to this concept, a training process is required that leads to a constant concentration and orientation of resources toward solving problems. In Kazakhstan we are currently investigating whether our civil service can become a ‘a learning organization’, wherein public administration will become an area that develops training concepts based on the practical tasks civil servants face every day.
We recently conducted a survey into the situation of training in administrative bodies at the central level and in three areas (oblasti) on the extent to which officials need further training, the general attitude to planning training, and how training relates to career development. Hopefully the results of this assessment will help answer some questions.
4 Some results of the training needs assessment of the Kazakhstani civil service
The training needs assessment was carried out from March to June, 1999, by specialists from the Tacis project ‘Support for the Development of a Unified Civil Service in Kazakhstan’. This project has been ongoing in Kazakhstan since April 1998, in close cooperation with the Presidential Administration and the newly founded Agency for Civil Service Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The activities performed by the project emphasized the significance of civil service human resource development and management for Kazakhstan.
The training needs assessment was the first in-depth research performed in the Republic of Kazakhstan (RK) civil service regarding these matters. The research had to fulfil the following tasks:
We believe that the results can be used to sketch out training modules for civil servants and trainers; to elaborate a strategy and plans for civil service training; to make methodological recommendations on the assessment and consideration of training needs assessments in the civil service system.
We used the following research methods:
The survey of civil servants was performed in selected central state bodies. Statistical data processing was performed with support from the Republican Center of Public Opinion Research in Almaty. In total, 580 people took part in the research. At present, Tacis project specialists are continuing with an analysis of a similar training needs assessment performed at the regional and local level.
Some results of the research obtained in central state bodies are presented in the following section.
4.1 The present situation: the training of civil servants and their attitude to the current system of initial and ongoing training
About half of the civil servants (49.7%) who participated in the poll had had no full-time training at all during the past three years. The highest percentage of persons without training during the last three years was found: a) in the age group from 21 to 30 (more than 60%), and b) among civil servants in the lowest positions in central government bodies (chief and leading specialists). The groups with the biggest workloads, groups that urgently need training and development, are particularly left out.
Comments made by the participants, like ‘training is a big help for the job, but sometimes the knowledge provided is too general, and insufficient for practice’, point out that training should contain sufficient applicable content.
The situation is even worse with respect to in-service training. Again, more than a half of the persons questioned had had no in-service training. Some did not even know what it was, or whether there was such training in their organization. The distribution of answers per age groups shows that the age bracket of 21-30 years is least involved in this form of training. If we consider in-service training as a method of introducing a special attitude towards work, then this young group most urgently needs such training, in order to preserve continuity in the civil service and to create a specific corporate culture of the state body. Presumably due to the non-systematic character—and sometimes complete lack—of in-service training, civil servants consider that this form of training is least important and has the least influence on effectiveness. According to the majority of respondents, the most effective forms of training touch on the improvement of day-to-day work skills, followed by full-time training. Less importance is attached to self-education.
These answers enable us to highlight the major attitudes of civil servants to various forms of training. In our opinion, the widespread stereotypes about the low effectiveness of in-service training and self-education are based on the bad organization of these forms of training. In addition, civil servants often do not associate further training with promotion; they rather suppose that in practice it does not influence their career. Sometimes they even attach negative results to this kind of training, based on situations when those who left for training lost their positions as a result of another restructuring of the administration.
We regard it important to develop a complex of measures that will motivate civil servants to constantly engage in self-education and qualification improvement. In-service training is especially important for newcomers. From the statistics on the composition and fluctuation of personnel in 1998 we learn that on average only 36%–44% of those working in ministries have been in the civil service for more than one year. In some ministries up to 80% have been working there for less than one year. This is a worrying symptom, and must be taken into account when elaborating training curricula.
Other comments are also quite revealing:
‘The biggest effect is reached through a combination of all types of training.’
‘Without working experience, young staff members turn into technical executors.’
‘Training should be encouraged materially and morally.’
Attitudes towards training can also depend on the degree of awareness of the organization’s development and training plans, and whether the offered training is seen as necessary and systematically selected for their peculiar needs and abilities. Our research revealed that only 15.4% of the participants in the poll were acquainted in detail with their organization’s development and training plans, with 41.1% acquainted in general, and 43.1% not acquainted at all.
Only 2% of the respondents from the age of 21-30 were well aware of this information. Young civil servants in particular need information on training plans and career development perspectives, because this will motivate them to continue in their career. To a certain extent, it will also provide for continuity in the civil service and the effectiveness of the entire organization.
Some comments that were made in this context:
‘Frequent changes of superiors entail the loss of the middle layer of civil servants (so there is no sense in elaborating plans and programs of personnel development).’
‘Civil servants with greater workloads cannot participate in training.’
‘Training should be individual for each category of civil servants.’
The following statistics are just as remarkable: 42.9% are not interested in training and development plans, regarding planning as a task for their superiors and the personnel management department. To put the question this way indicates a passive attitude towards their own training, and an expectation of administrative directives from above regarding their personal development.
In this context, the respondents’ estimates of the currently existing civil service training system are remarkable. Only 7.7% assess it as effective. More than half assess it negatively, noting that training should be as close as possible to the conditions prevailing at their workplace.
Only a very small group regards training as a direct responsibility and not simply for the purpose of getting a certificate. The motive of the majority is improving effectiveness and finding success in their personal careers. Some civil servants regard making professional contacts through training important. It was also mentioned that training allows ‘getting out of routine work’, it ‘gives self-confidence’, and ‘the organization should support civil servants’ desire to study’.
4.2 Respondents’ assessment of their and their subordinates’ level of knowledge
The participants in the poll assessed their own level of knowledge for the qualified performance of their duties quite highly: about 90% consider it sufficient, and only 10% insufficient. They are more critical about their subordinates: 22.2% of them consider their subordinates’ knowledge insufficient for the execution of their duties.
4.3 The major problems civil servants face in their work
Regarding the problems civil servants face in their work, the participants stated that the most significant problems are: uneven distribution of work, unrealistic time planning, frequent changes in tasks and responsibilities, and an inability to organize themselves. Problems like an unfavourable working atmosphere and lack of supervision are mentioned less frequently. Difficulties resulting from a lack of general knowledge in public administration and lack of special knowledge are not considered very significant, but are noted occasionally. In addition, problems such as low salaries, the indecisiveness and incompetence of superiors, the lack of social security and protection, and the instability of the civil service are mentioned.
After analysing the stated problems we separated those that can be solved by training from those that depend on other factors. We reached a conclusion regarding the necessity of training programs on administrative skills formation in realms such as:
It is necessary to plan and elaborate various training subjects for different age groups and categories of civil servants, depending on their concrete demands and needs.
4.4 Assessment of the most required spheres of knowledge and skills
The priorities of the respondents in the field of knowledge are:
Less priority was given to courses in microeconomics, local government and self-government, marketing and public relations.
The priorities regarding skills and abilities were ranked as follows:
In addition to the abovementioned, the need for skills like stress management and conflict resolution was mentioned.
Thus, technical abilities and skills (computer skills, filing) are more topical for civil servants, while managerial skills (negotiating, leading meetings, presentation skills) are less important.
It should be noted that managerial and presentation skills are also important, but presently they are less necessary for the middle level of the administrative apparatus, which was the group that answered the questionnaire.
4.5 Major obstacles to initial and ongoing training
The opinion of the respondents is that:
It is worth mentioning that, as a rule, older civil servants are more critical about these obstacles than younger ones.
The results suggest the necessity of a thorough development of curricula based on regular training needs assessments. In particular, trainers’ courses should pay special attention to the topic ‘Curriculum Development’, and they should orient trainers towards practical tasks and problems.
4.6 Most effective methods and forms of training
The answers concerning the most effective methods generally mentioned the following: study tours (especially to economically developed western countries and CIS countries), case studies, and lectures from trainers experienced in the civil service. As least effective, they mentioned self-study and lectures from trainers without experience in the civil service. In-service training is also considered to be one of the least effective methods.
Obviously, there are deep-rooted stereotypes in civil servants’ perception of training forms like in-service training and self-education, which require a higher effort from the trainees themselves. This perception comes together with a tendency to prefer more passive training forms, such as study tours abroad and lectures. This preference for passive training is likely to be connected with the generally low motivation for training at all, due to the fact that they face no risk of losing their position or being demoted if they fail a performance appraisal. The problem of inefficient time management and uneven workloads plays a role here as well, leading to the result that civil servants have no time for self-education. This confirms the already mentioned thesis that civil servants presently do not connect training with career advancement and work results.
Modern research shows that the effectiveness of training and its influence on concrete work results can be felt only if the emphasis is shifted to the activity of trainees themselves. They must be actively involved in the training process. They must concentrate not exclusively on the simple transfer of content, but on the training process itself. Modern approaches to training emphasize the necessity of training the ability to learn. In this context it is of special importance to train the trainers in such a way that they can elaborate the kinds of training and curricula that are oriented towards the generalization of experience and knowledge of trainees.
With respect to forms of training, the respondents consider full-time training for three months and extra-mural forms the most appropriate ones. They stress the necessity of variety and flexibility regarding forms and length of training.
The correlation and factor analysis applied to the data allows for the following conclusions: on the whole, civil servants are ready to acquire new knowledge, skills, and abilities. Needs in different fields vary, depending on age, position, and place of work (needs are different according to ministries and offices). This points out the necessity of drafting individual programs and setting up a training process that is tailor-made for various groups of civil servants, and of introducing flexible training programs of various lengths and forms.
The persons questioned made the following suggestions:
They also emphasized the necessity of elaborating and introducing a new strategy and system of initial and ongoing training for civil servants.
On the basis of the results of the survey, and taking into account modern tendencies in personnel development, we can make several conclusions. The conception of a ‘learning organization’ meets the requirements of the present situation and is suitable for the civil service of Kazakhstan. Its application to the state sector is a new step, since currently only some transnational corporations are experienced in its implementation. To put these principles into practice, however, a thorough analysis is required on how to elaborate and adapt the concrete elements of a ‘learning organization’ in the context of a civil service human resource strategy. This task has to be fulfilled with the close cooperation of state bodies and training centres, as well as independent advisory bodies or, for example, international Technical Assistance projects. In order to target the real problems of the civil service it will be necessary to train both the trainers and the people who develop curricula, as well as the persons who administer the training programs. In this context, the activity of the newly established Academy of Civil Service under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan has special significance in terms of its role as a didactic and methodological centre.
On the other hand, the establishment of a civil service training system is impossible without a motivating policy that requires civil servants to constantly renew their knowledge and skills. This is possible only if a close connection is set up between training and career development, including objective appraisals of activity along with related remuneration.
Presently the Agency for Civil Service Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan is elaborating a new concept of human resource development, comprising a ‘Training Conception’ in which the principle of ‘civil service as a learning organization’ is stated as the basic principle. This is closely related to the important fact that a new law ‘On Civil Service’ will become effective from 1 January 2000. This new law will completely change the structure and functioning of the civil service in Kazakhstan. The Agency will supervise the competitive applications for entry into the civil service and a system of personnel appraisal. It has elaborated new classifications of positions and a corresponding remuneration system, as well as several other resolutions.
The current economic crisis, the necessity for external and internal security, and the deep social changes represent not only inconveniences for the government, but also the chance to modernize the public administration and increase its effectiveness. The same process forces politicians to think about the meaning of public activity and the role the state should play in it.
Afanasjev, M. N. (1995) “Sovereign’s yard or civil service? (Russian officials on the crossroad)” POLIS, No.6
Batiel, M. (1999) “The Role of Personnel Manager.” Journal CAMAN No.9: 33
Krasnova V. and E. Kiseljova. (1995) “Direction on the handle of personnel” Kommersant, No.20: 34
Kubr M. and J. Prokopenko. (1989) “Diagnosing management and development needs.” The International Labour Organization. Geneva: 59
Mordovin, S. K. (1999) “New comprehension of administration sphere in the new Europe.” Journal CAMAN, No.9: 15,21
Prokopenko, I. (1994) ”Management and Development of Human Resources—the major task of economics in transition to the market.” Geneva – Turino: 5,11
Russian Federation Civil Service. (1997) “Researches, elaborations, personnel training.” Information and analytical bulletin, No.1: 85
Straussman, J. “Strategic State Management/Problems of theory and practice of administration.” No.1 (1996)
Training in European Integration, under the direction of Robert Polet. (1998) European Institute of Public Administration: 22
Turino group report. (1998) “New Comprehension of administration sphere development in the new Europe.” European Education Foundation: 47,51,54
Vasilenko, I. (1996) “FRG: civil service as a sphere of administration/Problems of theory and practice of management.” No.1
1 A. K. Kadyrbekova is head of sector for the personnel policy department, President’s Administration of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
2 G. B. Raisova is advisor to the Agency for Civil Service Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, a specialist for the Tacis project ‘Support for the Development of a Unified Civil Service in Kazakhstan’.
3 Turino group report. "New Comprehension of administration sphere development in the new Europe" Euro-pean Education Foundation (1998): 47,51,54 and
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