Hi-Tech Security Systems - Human Factor Articles

Contributing Editor - Dr Craig Donald

Training, Abilities & Experience in a Competency Context - May, 1999, Vol 5 No 3.

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It is fairly common in business to hear people commenting that a specific aspect of their employees is responsible for poor output in their business operation. "We have a training problem", or "we have the wrong kind of people", or "Our people just don’t understand the business" are examples of this.

These are valid comments and this is indeed may be the case. However, a number of times these ‘problems" tend to be focussed on areas that people see as key to what they personally expect employees to be able to deliver in the work process. Alternatively, the problems relate to conditions beyond their control that they are frustrated with. When discussing the issue with all the parties involved and looking at the broader context, the major part of the problem is often in another area from that originally thought and the problem is there because it has been passed on or inherited. Security and surveillance is no different from any other aspect of business in this regard and given that we intend to focus on training issues in the next few articles, it seemed appropriate to cover what I refer to as the competency pyramid. Central to this idea is that there is a set of competencies that are the basic essentials for a person to do the job. Further layers of competencies including those of training are built on this base and all contribute in their turn to ultimate effectiveness and delivery of outcomes. These hierarchical layers are illustrated in Figure 1. What is important is that any weakness at any level of the pyramid will reduce the ability of the person to achieve the desired results.

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The base of the competency pyramid is the physical qualities that that the operator brings to the work situation – ie., the physical abilities such as their quality of vision and ability to recognise simple visual features. It stands to reason that if someone has difficult in seeing and differentiating between aspects of images they will be unable to observe anything effectively. From this, one progresses to how well they can process visual information, using observation skills, pattern identification etc. This level of competencies deals with skills of the operator in monitoring and recognising relevant incident and non-incident information. From this level, we move to whether the person has an appropriate personality to relate to the kind of work being done. The premise to this is that if a person is unable or unwilling to apply themselves to that kind of work, then no matter how much training you provide, you won’t get the level of performance you expect. The bridge between these personal qualities and standard training is how well the person can apply knowledge and learnt skills in making the most effective use of equipment and surveillance techniques that have been taught. Like any area in sports, work or academics, some people are able to apply trained knowledge more effectively, even when given the same training inputs as everybody else. The knowledge of and ability to follow operating practices is an important level, largely defined by training inputs. This would cover policies, standard operating procedures, equipment utilisation, legal requirements, incident conditions and behaviour recognition among other things. Finally, all of these competencies only lead to full effectiveness if the operator is sensitive to the environmental conditions which need to be viewed. This competency level would cover things like the physical features of the environment that affect surveillance, behaviour patterns, and how incidents develop. The levels of the competency pyramid are described along with the source of competencies for these levels in Table 1.

TABLE 1: COMPETENCY HIEARCHY FOR CCTV OPERATOR PERFORMANCE

COMPETENCY AREA DESCRIPTION SOURCE
ENVIRONMENTAL SENSITIVITY Knowledge and awareness of issues, physical qualities and behaviour patterns within environment. Experience and/or Training
PROCEDURES Policies, standard operating procedures, operating requirements and equipment familiarity. Training/Coaching
OPERATING SKILLS Application of knowledge and skill in optimizing potential of equipment, generating high quality and relevant picture. Training and personal qualities.
PERSONALITY Responsible, consistent and emotionally stable person with practical insights. Decisive and self confident, questioning and assertive. Personal quality - limited modification of behaviour.
INFORMATION PROCESSING Optimize observation skills, use of memory, pattern identification, on the fly comparison, anomaly detection, evaluation within rules base, and decision making. Personal quality - possible training enhancement.
VISUAL ABILITIES Simple recognition, colour differentiation, tracking, peripheral vision, movement detection. Personal quality.

The different competency levels vary in the degree to which they can be modified or improved by training or experience. At a personal level, the limitations of performance are defined more by the person’s natural abilities and capacity for such work. Things like observation skills and the detection of patterns and trends in information can probably be improved, but only if a person has a certain minimum ability to start with. At this stage there is also little available training that addresses these areas. Behaviour can be adapted and changed to handle the demands at the next competency level, despite someone’s personality. Stronger personality characteristics that are not appropriate will, however, lead to frustration, inefficiency and ultimately poor commitment and follow through. Operating skills are based on formal training input and this is currently a critical training area, but these skills also need to be supplemented by coaching and on-the-job feedback if they are to be realised in the work place. Finally, sensitising people to the issues and types of incidents they have to look for in the work place is essential, but is still no substitute for live experience.

I have tried to emphasise that we need to look at competencies in the broad context – for example providing training on equipment and CCTV procedures is no guarantee that someone will be able to be effective in CCTV surveillance if there are weaknesses in other areas. In reality we all have strengths and weaknesses and these will reflect themselves in how we fit the requirements at the different competency levels. For any particular position, however, we should expect some consistency across these levels and at least some kind of minimum ability. Weaknesses at the bottom of the pyramid tend to carry through and affect the impact of training and development at the upper levels and ultimately service delivery. A security department therefore needs to examine whether it has the selection, development and training resources to ensure that all levels of the competency pyramid are covered. This would avoid the "training problem" kinds of issues raised at the start of the article. Ultimately, however, the role of training is critical in realising performance outcomes. This training should go beyond simple formal instruction to realising people’s abilities and honing their skills on the job. In the next article we will look at a training model that includes the managers, support personnel and operators in CCTV facilities.

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