RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
IN HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

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Sunthonkanokpong, W., Jitgarun, K. & Chaokumnerd, W. (2011). Competence Development in the Electronics Industry in Thailand, Research and Practice in Human Resource Management, 19(1), 53-68.

Competence Development in the Electronics Industry in Thailand

Wisuit Sunthonkanokpong, Kalayanee Jitgarun & Weerachai Chaokumnerd

Abstract

Competence development is integral to human resource development. However, the lack of attention to competence standards in some countries combined with the need for skilled workers presents significant challenges for industry. The electronics industry in Thailand represents a case in point. A study of competence development in this country was conducted in order to: identify current practices related to competence development; and determine how companies provide competence development for their employees. The study included a survey of electronics industry managers at 60 companies in Bangkok and suburban areas as well as semi structured interviews and observations in five companies. Results revealed that the most commonly stated reason for respondents not working with competence development was that their organisation was not familiar with the concept (86 per cent). Only half the companies surveyed used competence instruments. Most respondents did not recognise the importance of integrating cultural differences. In terms of implications for human resource management in the companies surveyed, competency development will need to become more of a priority as will integration of intercultural competence.

Introduction

The electronics industry in Thailand is vital for economic growth and sustainability because it ranks highly in its contribution to the country’s Gross Domestic Product and to its exports. In fact, the Thai government has adopted a policy to make Thailand the electronics capital of Asia (Office of Industrial Economics 2010). According to the Danish Trade Council, Royal Danish Embassy, Bangkok (2006):

More than 370,000 people are employed in the industry. Foreign brands and manufacturers currently dominate this large and fast-growing sector. Multinational companies, mainly from Japan, USA, Netherlands and Taiwan, generally establish their production, testing and assembling facilities in Thailand. The government is committed to further developing this industry and consequently, the Board of Investment (BOI) has taken steps to ensure that the investment climate remains favourable and offers attractive incentives to foreign companies interested in setting up operations in Thailand. (p. 2)

However, the industry is both labour intensive and fast growing (Rasiah 2003), which intensifies the need for skill development. It is the most important consumer of skilled labour (Zeufack 1998). Additionally, the shorter product life cycles in the industry (Loch, Stein & Terwiesch 1996) mean that workers’ skills must be often upgraded. Market pressures, the growth and impact of international standards, as well as quality assurance systems create a need for competent workers and for a shift from “…labour intensive production with low-skill workers towards value-added production based on higher-level technical skills in the workforce and qualified managerial expertise.” (Wongboonsin & Rojvithee 2006: 43).

Compounding the problem is the fact that the demand for skilled workers in Thailand is not proportional to the supply. Economic growth in the last two decades has resulted in increased employment opportunities which, in turn, resulted in few workers seeking work abroad and a decreased incentive for skill development (Pozorski 2008). The supply of highly skilled workers such as engineers also presents challenges in Thailand. Mitarai (2005), comparing China with Thailand, observed that, although the former has access to a supply of inexpensive and qualified engineers, such is not the case in Thailand, where they are hard to find and expensive to hire.

Further complicating the matter is the fact that, as Zeufack (1998: 4) observed, the country’s achievements in education “…lag far behind that of other Newly Industrialized Countries.” Chisholm and Fennes (2006) noted from a summary of a UNESCO report on education in Thailand that only just over half of those aged 35–44 years old have some form of primary education, four per cent of 25–64 year olds have no formal education, 25 per cent of 45–54 year olds and 16 per cent of 55–64 have only primary education. Vocational education in Thailand has not played an important role in preparing workers for industry. Bhumirat (n.d.) explained that nationwide policies regarding vocational education are often not sustained because of frequent changes of government. The country lacks policy guidelines in relation to vocational education and, in general, has no master plan for human resource development. Vocational teachers often lack industry experience and there tends to be a lack of cooperation between vocational institutions and industry.

Bhumirat (n.d.) emphasised the need for vocational education to provide competence standards. In the European Union, competence standards have received much attention in vocational, technical education (Mulder, Gulikers, Biemans & Wesselink 2009). Competence development depends to a degree on one’s prior education since the more educated workers are, the more likely they will participate in workplace learning opportunities (Chisholm & Fennes 2006). Lans, Bergevoet, Mulder and Van Woerkum (2005: 82) noted that a focus on competencies assumes that “competencies are recognisable, assessable and relevant for practice, that they can be developed, learned and described on different levels, and it is supposed that there is a strong relationship between competence and organisational effectiveness”. Sun and Shi (2008: 354) also argued that “competency and competency development are integral to HRD …Competency comprises the specification of knowledge and skills, and the application of knowledge and skills to the standard of performance required to complete a task”.

Mulder and Collins (2007) caution that there is disagreement on the actual meaning of the term competence and that existing definitions are numerous and ambiguous. The present study relied on the following definition of competence as proposed by Mulder and Collins (2007):

Professional competence comprises integrated performance oriented capabilities, which consist of clusters of knowledge structures and also cognitive, interactive, affective and where necessary psychomotor capabilities, and attitudes and values, which are conditional for carrying out tasks, solving problems and more generally, effectively functioning in a certain profession, organisation, position or role. (p. 5)

For a theoretical and empirical review of competence and competence development, see Mulder and Collins (2007) and Mulder, Weigel and Collins (2007). The authors have conducted extensive studies of the concept with particular attention to organisations within the European Union. Mulder and Collins (2007: 18) note that studies in specific sectors with country comparisons are needed because “different contexts require different types of competence instruments and competence development.” The scope of the study reported on in this paper did not allow for comparisons, however, it presents a specific focus on one country in Asia, that of Thailand, and on the electronics industry. The lack of attention to competence standards in vocational education in Thailand coupled with the country’s need for skilled workers presents significant challenges for its electronics industry. For this reason, a study was conducted of companies in the electronics industry in Thailand. The findings of this study may be of relevance, not only to Asian countries, but to countries where skilled labour is in demand and where there is an interest in improving the competencies of industry workers, particularly those in the electronics industry.

This paper begins with a review of the literature of prior studies of competence development. It then outlines the research methodology employed to identify current practices related to competence development, and how companies in the Thai electronics industry provide competence development for their employees. The final parts of the paper comprises the findings, discussion, conclusions, and the implications for human resource management in the Thai electronics industry.

Objectives of the Study

  1. Identify current practices related to competence development in the Thai electronics industry;
  2. Determine how companies in this industry provide competence development for their employees.

Competence Development : A Review of the Literature

The word ‘competence’ originates from Latin ‘competere’ which means aptitude, expertise, experiences, and other characteristics of competence in performing an activity or in participating in a specific matter (Giraldo & Acuna 2005). Competence and competency and are likely to be used interchangeably. However, in terms of application, competence focuses on skill, standard of performance and on ‘what people can do’. In contrast, competency focuses on ‘how they do it’ (Rowe 1995).

One approach to competence development is to make it part of education curricula. Wesselink, et al. (2007) derived principles of competence based vocational education. These principles included creating a curriculum based on occupational profiles. The profiles are articulated in terms of the core professional problem, responsibilities and tasks. Assessment should take place before, during and after the programmeme of study. Learning activities need to be authentic and practical in order to motivate students. Competence is conceived as an integration of knowledge skills and attitudes. Students should be treated as self responsible and their self reflection should be stimulated. In competence based education, teachers are learning coaches. Lifelong learning is an important part of the curriculum because competence development does not end.

Another focus of competence development is the creation of models to define the competencies related to specific occupations and industries or to align organisational goals with workers’ talents (Ennis 2008). Models may consist of seven to nine competencies (Shippman, et al. 2000). Other models use a simple framework of novice, apprentice, competent, expert. Competence can also be conceptualised in terms of profiles. De Coi, et al. (2007) distinguished between required versus acquired competence profiles. Required profiles specify the competences needed by an applicant for a particular programme or job whereas acquired competence profiles detail the competences of employees (or learners).

Mulder and Bruin-Mosch (2005) conducted a pilot study of competence development in 900 private and public organisations in 13 European Union states. Their study relied on a survey with 28 questions (103 items) on a five point Likert scale from the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP). The survey focused on background information, the degree of competence development, perceived effects, and general views of the concept of competence. The 638 respondents from all European member states were included as well as 28 respondents from Asia, 13 from Australia, and fewer than 10 respondents respectively from each of Africa, South America, USA, and Canada.

Results revealed that 69 per cent of organisations were working with competence instruments. The authors found that organisations that invest in employee training and development pay attention to the concept of competence development and vice versa. Of those not using instruments, 42 per cent did not know the concept, 31 per cent knew but did not use the instruments, 49 per cent knew but did not value them, 38 per cent did not use instruments because of lack of time. More than one answer was possible, therefore, the percentages exceed 100.

Mulder and Collins (2007), building on previous studies (see Mulder 2001, Mulder & Bruin-Mosch 2005), reported on an online survey of competence development in 900 private and public organisations in 13 European Union states. They used the same instrument as in the 2005 study (see CEDEFOP 2006). Their objectives were to identify what competence instruments were in use and to discern the perceived effects of their use and the relationship between the perceived effects on diverse factors including organisational size, sector, training orientation, and experience with the concept. They also investigated how the factors relate to views of competence development.

The results revealed that, of the 1,022 respondents, 723 reported the use of instruments for competence development. The breakdown by country revealed that over 90 per cent of respondents from Sweden and Finland were working with competence instruments while more than 80 per cent were doing so in the UK and more than 70 per cent in the Netherlands. Greece ranked the lowest at approximately 50 per cent. The most used instruments were: “… 1. defining the core competence of the organisation; 2. arranging facilities for learning; 3. use of personal development plans. The lowest used instrument was using competence assessment in remuneration.” (Mulder & Collins 2007: 12).

In terms of the perceived effects of using the instruments, organisational effects included improvement of quality management, customer satisfaction, and customer orientation; human resource management effects included improving performance and motivation of employees and development opportunities; training and development effects included improved added value of training and development, stimulating learning and development, and improving learning culture in the organisation (Mulder & Collins 2007). The authors identified significant relationships between orientation towards training and development and perceived organisational effects, perceived human resource management effects, and perceived training and development effects. In terms of negative effects, Mulder and Collins (2007: 17) concluded that “the lower the perceived effectiveness at organisational, HRM and training and development level, the greater the negative perception of competence development, and vice versa, which is as expected”.

The study reported on in this paper makes use of the same survey as reported on in this review. However, the survey, in this study, was administered within one industry and in one country, Thailand. Additionally, the study reported on in this paper relied on interviews and observations to supplement its survey data.

Methodology

Sample

The study began with administration of a survey. The sample size for the survey was calculated as 319 companies. The companies were categorised as being small (less than 200 employees), and large (200–1,000 employees) (Department of Industrial Work 2010). The survey was to be completed by those dealing with competence development in the organisation. The proportion of the sample was drawn from the types of electronics production as follows: 146 general electrical and electronics from a total of 729; two Hard Disk Drive from a total of two; one integrated circuits from a total of one; four computers from a total of 20; seven electrical circuit boards from a total of 35; 19 radio and television receivers and components from a total of 97; 76 electrical appliances from a total of 378; two print circuit boards from a total of seven; 62 other types from a total of 313.

The study also relied on semi structured interviews (Patton 1990) to probe and inquire more deeply. The interviewees were selected from the survey respondents. Five large companies (200–1,000 employees) were chosen to participate because most large companies or 57 per cent of all the respondents (34 out of 60 companies) were involved with competence development. Also, the researchers were familiar with these companies or they were recommended by associates of the researchers. All of the five companies selected were in the Bangkok metropolitan area and suburban areas such as Nonthaburi, Nakhon Pathom, Pathumthani, and Samut Prakan.

The respondents for the interviews were classified into five groups for each of the five companies as follows: 1) an assistant training manager, a Quality and Environmental Management Representative and Quality Assurance manager, and an in house trainer; 2) a senior manager of human resources and a head of in-house training project, and a senior engineer; 3) an assistant human resource manager, and an assistant production manager; 4) a member of training staff and an engineer; and 5) a personnel manager and a factory manager.

Observations were conducted to complement the interviews and to gain a more holistic insight into competence management in the company and to corroborate data from the interviews. Observation allows for insights and understandings not possible through other methods (Patton 2002). The personnel who accompanied the researchers during the observation were the same people who had participated in the semi structured interviews. Five companies were observed and the personnel involved were as follows: 1) an assistant training manager, a Quality and Environmental Management Representative and Quality Assurance manager, and an in house trainer; 2) a senior manager of human resources and a head of in house training project, and a senior engineer; 3) an assistant human resource manager, and an assistant production manager; 4) a member of training staff and an engineer; and 5) a personnel manager and a factory manager.

Procedure

The survey was adapted from a previous survey of competence development in organisations (CEDEFOP 2006) which focused on the effects of competence instruments on organisational factors, as well as the overall picture of competence development in organisations. The CEDEFOP survey was translated into Thai. The translation was approved by a language expert. Six Thai content experts checked the survey for its cross cultural validity. These six content experts were from the fields of engineering, industrial management and administration, and industrial education and held a doctoral degree or had worked for over five years in the electronics industry. The register of the Department of Industrial Work for Bangkok metropolitan and suburban areas provided the names, location, and address of 1,582 electronic companies, as well as the types of electronics production. The sample was chosen through the selection process of using Yamane (Yamane 1967),
n = N/(1+Ne2)
when n = sample size, N = the total of population, and e = 0.05 or the standard error of the sample. Following this selection, the researchers issued official letters of invitation from the university together with the questionnaire and return envelope. The questionnaire was then mailed to the sample, along with a self stamped envelope to be returned to the researchers.

Once the surveys had been received, the research team extended invitations to the companies that had been involved in the survey to participate in semi structured interviews. Contact was first made with the companies by phone to request an appointment. The interviews were conducted one by one, and each lasted for two or three hours. Lincoln and Guba (1985) recommend against using recording devices because of their intrusiveness and because of the potential for technical failure. The interview data were, therefore, recorded using field notes (Lofland & Lofland 1984). They were recorded in a brief format initially and then in more detail following the observations.

To conduct the observations, the researchers visited the five companies which had identified themselves as the users of competence development instruments during the interview stage of the research. A manager and/or a representative of those companies accompanied the researchers. The observations involved a focus on observing the general status of the organisation and the working procedures of different divisions/departments. The organisations were visited over a span of three weeks and the research team spent approximately two hours at each company. At this time, field notes were taken.

Measures

The survey (CEDEFOP 2006) contained 75 items and was divided into three parts as follows:

Part I: General data of respondents;

Part II: General data of your organisation;

Part III: Competence development in your organisation.

Part III consisted of six sections as follows:

  1. competence development in companies that use instruments;
  2. companies not working with competence development;
  3. attitudes toward competence instruments;
  4. the effect of working with the concept of competence on organisations;
  5. the effect of working with competence instruments on human resource management; and
  6. the effect of working with competence instruments on training and development.

The interview protocol was adapted from CEDEFOP (Descy & Tessaring 2001). The four areas of focus were: 1) Policies for competence development; 2) Qualification requirements; 3) Training approaches; and 4) Assessment. Questions concerning policies for competence development in an organisation covered the following: the formulation of a master plan, guidelines, the budget, and the target group for competence development. Questions related to qualification requirements related to the new recruitment of employees. Questions concerning training approaches covered the steps of course development. Lastly, questions concerning assessment concerned training assessment systems and training follow up.

The observation protocol was adapted from the CEDEFOP (Descy & Tessaring 2001), and focused on four aspects of (a) policies for competence development; (b) qualification requirements; (c) training approaches; and (d) assessment.

Analysis

The quantitative survey data were analysed using frequency, percentage, mean, standard deviation, t-test, and Pearson’s chi-square test. The frequency counts were used to tally respondents’ gender, age, highest educational level, major field of highest educational level, working experience in present position, and job classification. Percentages were used to calculate the competence instruments of respondents working with competence development and the reasons for not working with competence development instruments.

The mean, standard deviation, and t-test were used to analyse the significant difference between respondents who use competence instruments and respondents who do not use competence instruments. The value of p < .05 was used to identify the level of significance. The mean, standard deviation, and Pearson’s chi-square test were used to analyse the significant difference between organisation size related to: 1) the effect of working with the concept of competence on organisations; 2) the effect of working with competence instruments on human resource management; and 3) the effect of working with competence instruments on training and development.

The qualitative data from the interviews and observations were aggregated and grouped into the four categories of: Policies for competence development, Qualification requirements, Training approaches, and Assessment. Some data were reduced in cases where there were similarities. Keyword analysis was used (Miles & Huberman 1994).

Results

Objective 1: To identify current practices related to competence development in the Thai electronics industry

In terms of the profile of the respondents, 24 were from Bangkok and 36 from suburban areas. A total of 34 respondents were working in an organisation of 200 to 1,000 employees while 26 were in organisations with less than 200 employees. A total of 27 respondents indicated that their opportunities for promotion and training were somewhat good, while 25 respondents described their opportunities at the good to very good level, and seven indicated that there were few opportunities and one respondent did not know. Table 1 provides descriptive data regarding the age, education levels, work experience and job classification of the respondents.

Table 1
Profile of respondents: Descriptive data (N = 60)
Age (years)
Under 30 20
30–35 12
36–40 8
41–45 10
Over 45 10
Highest educational level
Higher vocational certificate 3
Bachelor’s degree 38
Not stated 1
Major field of highest educational level
Business, marketing, labour relations, law and related fields 23
Science, engineering, technology and related fields 32
Others (e.g., languages, social sciences and humanities) 2
Not stated 3
Work experience in present position (years)
Fewer than 5 22
5–10 17
11–15 13
16–25 6
More than 25 2
Job classification of respondents
Staff: carrying out primary work processes 5
Support staff: carrying out support activities 1
Technical specialists or engineering, quality control 9
Middle management or line manager 30
Higher management or executive level 9
Other responsibilities 6

Note: Female N = 16.

Overall, the three most used instruments, as listed in Table 2, were (a) defining the core competence of the organisation; (b) using competence assessments for employee evaluation; and (c) having competence centres. These related to personnel management and placed an emphasis on employee evaluation for promotion, rather than on support for training and development. On the other hand, the least used instruments were (a) acknowledged informally acquired competence; (b) marketing products and services with competence on the label; and (c) appointed competence managers. In general, the respondents who nominated these least-used instruments neither knew about nor used competence instruments.

Table 2
Respondents’ use of competence instruments % (N = 45)
Competence instruments Yes respondents No respondents Do not know respondents
1. Defined the core competence of the organisation 93 2 5
2. Used competence assessments for employee evaluation 89 7 4
3. Had competence centres 84 9 7
4. Developed competence-based personnel management 82 7 11
5. Arranged facilities for learning 80 11 9
6. Used competence assessments in the selection of new employees 80 18 2
7. Developed competence profiles of job holders 78 13 9
8. Used competence assessment in remuneration 73 25 2
9. Assigned coaches to employees for competence development 71 24 5
10. Developed competence profiles of job families 69 22 9
11. Used personal development plans 69 18 13
12. Appointed competence managers 68 18 14
13. Marketed products and services with competence on the label 59 32 9
14. Acknowledged informally acquired competence 58 20 22

Table 3 reveals that the most commonly stated reason for respondents not working with competence development was that their organisation was not familiar with the concept (86 per cent). The ‘No’ respondents indicated that they knew about competence development, but they neither valued its impact (60 per cent) nor had time to focus on competence (60 per cent). However, the ‘Do not know’ respondents were familiar with competence development but had not made a decision about its use (14 per cent).

Table 3
Respondents not working with competence development (N = 15)
Reasons for not working with competence development Yes respondents No respondents Do not know respondents
Percentage Percentage Percentage
1. My organisation is not familiar with the concept 86 14 0
2. My organisation is familiar but has not made a decision about its use 64 22 14
3. My organisation knows about competence but does not value its impact 33 60 7
4. My organisation lacks time for focus on competence 33 60 7

Table 4 reveals that there were significant differences in attitudes towards competence instruments among respondents who used competence instruments and those who did not. Results of t-test analysis show that the difference was significant on each of the following statements: ‘working with competence instruments leads to more bureaucracy’ and ‘the definition of the concept of competence is ambiguous’, t = -2.94, p < .01 and t = -2.28, p < .05, respectively. However, attitudes towards the competence instruments of those who used and who did not use competence instruments were non significantly different, irrespective of positive or negative attitudes. The positive attitudes were the costs and the benefits of working with competence instruments and the cost of attention to performance improvement. In contrast, the negative attitudes indicated that: 1) the competence profiles are not valid or reliable; 2) there is resistance to the use of competence instruments; and 3) the assessment of competence does not indicate ways to develop them.

Table 4
Attitudes toward competence instruments
Attitudes toward competence instruments Respondents use competence instruments (n = 45) Respondents do not use competence instruments (n = 15) t
M S.D. M S.D.
1. Working with competence instruments leads to more bureaucracy 3.56 .97 4.13 .52 -2.94**
2. The definition of the concept of competence is ambiguous 3.22 1.00 3.67 .49 -2.28*
3. The costs of working with competence instruments are too high 3.16 .98 3.47 .83 -1.11
4. Working with competence instruments happens at the cost of attention to performance improvement 3.04 .98 3.33 .90 -1.01
5. The benefits of working with competence instruments are limited 2.71 .90 2.53 1.06 .64
6. Competence profiles are not valid 2.64 .96 2.73 .59 -.34
7. There is resistance against the use of competence instruments 2.62 .94 2.87 1.06 -.85
8. Competence profiles are not reliable 2.56 .69 2.80 .68 -1.19
9. The assessment of competence does not indicate ways to develop them 2.20 .89 2.47 .83 -1.02

Notes: a. M = Mean, S.D. = Standard Deviation, and t = t statistic value.
b. * p < .05, and ** p < .01.

Table 5 presents data related to the effect of working with the concept of competence on organisations and shows that there were no significant relationships among large, and small organisations, p < .05. However, when each item is ranked according to the mean, it can be observed that the respondents concentrated on quality management, customer satisfaction, and corporate governance in order to improve the efficiency of the organisation. Most of the respondents did not place an emphasis on increasing flexibility and integrating cultural differences.

Table 5
The effect of working with the concept of competence on the organisation (N = 45)
Organisational effect Organisation size χ2
Large (n = 29) Small (n = 16)
M S.D. M S.D.
1. Improvement of quality management 4.04 .74 3.75 1.13 3.74
2. Raising the level of customer satisfaction 3.82 .72 3.81 1.05 2.39
3. Improvement of corporate governance 3.79 .90 3.63 .81 2.09
4. Improvement of efficiency 3.79 .63 3.81 .98 5.83
5. Performance improvement of the organisation 3.76 .79 3.56 .96 2.54
6. Improvement of communication 3.69 .85 3.56 1.03 4.44
7. Improvement of customer orientation 3.68 .77 3.81 1.17 4.76
8. Decrease in the number of malfunctions 3.64 .95 3.31 1.20 3.42
9. Decrease in the number of customer complaints 3.54 .96 3.50 1.16 2.08
10. Integrating cultural differences 3.41 .69 3.13 .96 3.05
11. Increasing flexibility 3.39 .79 3.60 .74 .97

Note: M = Mean, S.D. = Standard Deviation, and χ2 = Pearson’s chi-square value.

Table 6 reveals that there was a significant difference between large and small organisations on the effect of working with competence instruments on increasing employee satisfaction, χ2 = 8.36, p < .05. However, when ranking each item according to the mean, it was found that, for large companies, the work with competence instruments in human resource management focused on the performance of employees, expectations of employees, assessment structure, and career management. Little attention was paid to the motivation of employees, the structure of salaries, and recruitment practices. In the case of small size organisations, there was a focus on employee satisfaction, selection practices and, rather than on the reduction of absenteeism due to illness and better development opportunities.

Table 6
The effect of working with competence instruments on HRM (N = 45)
Human resource management effect Organisation size χ2
Large (n = 29) Small (n = 16)
M S.D. M S.D.
1. Improving performance of employees 3.68 .82 3.69 .79 .07
2. Clarifying expectations regarding employees 3.64 .78 3.56 .73 3.45
3. Improving assessment structure 3.64 .91 3.69 .70 2.56
4. Improving career management 3.64 .78 3.56 .96 1.72
5. Improving the integration of organisation and personnel policy 3.57 .79 3.50 .89 1.65
6. Improving selection practices 3.54 .84 3.69 .70 1.60
7. Increasing employee satisfaction 3.54 .88 3.75 .68 8.36*
8. Offering better development opportunities 3.54 .92 3.31 .70 2.74
9. Alignment of personnel instruments 3.50 .88 3.69 .95 .68
10. Increasing employability of employees 3.37 .88 3.38 .96 2.20
11. Reduction of absenteeism due to illness 3.30 .99 3.19 .83 1.22
12. Improving recruitment practices 3.29 .71 3.62 .72 2.95
13. Improvements in the structure of salaries 3.25 .84 3.31 .87 3.12
14. Increasing motivation of employees 3.18 .86 3.50 .97 2.38

Note: M = Mean, S.D. = Standard Deviation, and χ2 = Pearson’s chi-square value.
b. * p < .05.

Table 7 reveals that there were no significant relationships in the effect of working with competence instruments on training and development among large, and small organisations, p < .05. Furthermore, when ranking each item according to the mean, it was found that all large, and small respondents agreed that the effect of working with competence instruments on training and development would lead to recognition of its value, and the willingness of employees to learn.

Table 7
The effect of working with competence instruments on T and D (N = 45)
Training and development effect Organisation size χ2
Large (n = 29) Small (n = 16)
M S.D. M S.D.
1. Improvement of the added value of training and development 3.97 .63 3.81 .83 2.17
2. Improving employees’ willingness to learn 3.86 .64 3.81 .75 .92
3. Improving the learning culture in the organisation 3.83 .71 3.31 .79 5.89
4. Defining assessment criteria for result measurement 3.79 .86 3.69 .79 1.63
5. Improving advice on participation in training 3.72 .70 3.69 .79 .28
6. Stimulating the learning and development of employees 3.72 .75 3.62 .81 .27
7. Optimising the learning potential of the workplace 3.69 .71 3.62 .72 1.66
8. Better alignment of training and development with organisational strategy 3.69 .76 3.81 .98 3.22
9. Better alignment of training and development with personnel management 3.66 .67 3.63 .89 2.99
10. Better basis for the selection of training activities 3.66 .86 3.50 .89 2.25
11. Improved basis for training and learning programmes 3.62 .56 3.56 .89 5.44
12. Making better use of informal learning 3.34 .72 3.38 .81 3.07

Note: M = Mean, S.D. = Standard Deviation, and χ2 = Pearson’s chi-square value.

Objective 2: To determine how companies in this industry provide competence development for their employees

The companies were large enterprises (200 or more employees), located in Bangkok and surrounding areas. Each company had determined a plan to improve the competence of workers. Management followed the regulations of the Board of Investment of Thailand (BOI), Employment Promotion Division, Ministry of Labour of Thailand, and/or the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO). The companies relied on motivation or performance management. There was also job skill training based on core competences and profiles for each position.

Qualification Requirements

Most companies hired: (a) production employees who had completed either middle or high school or held a vocational education certificate; (b) technicians with a vocational or higher vocational education diploma; and (c) engineers with a bachelor’s degree in a related field. All new employees must participate in an orientation training programme which covered such topics as introduction to the company, basic regulations of ISO, and/or general laws, and/or on-the-job training for equipment, device, measurement tool, and work safety.

Training

The managers planned the competence training for workers according to topics and the positions of workers. Courses were held in accordance with core competence as written in competence profiles. Models used were in house training, outsource training, and overseas training. In house training was held for employees in production lines or for daily workers. Topics were as follows: knowledge, skills, and habits such as safety at the workplace, waste reduction, ISO standards, social insurance, equipment operation, workshop, and general workshop as well as ethics in working and leadership.

Outsource training was held for staff and department heads such as technicians, engineers, and managers responsible for management and operation and production control. Topics were related to new technology, equipment, and production systems. Overseas training was held for engineers and supervisors who work with advanced technology. Most companies had activities to improve workers’ competence in the forms of orientation, on-the-job training, off-job training, project training, and/or rotating training. Generally, orientation was used the most with the newcomers whereas on-the-job training was used with newcomers who are engineers and technicians. Off-job training was used for safety and equipment repair.

Assessment

The companies evaluated competence and observed progress systematically using scores from training; questionnaires; test scores; and progress observation. Engineers and technicians were evaluated in order to observe their progress. If the training was knowledge related, a test would be used. For skills, operation results within one to two months would be evaluated. For habits or soft skills like communication and leadership, observation over time was used.

Discussion

Results revealed that only half of the electronics companies had used competence development and set it as their policies for training and development. Mulder and Collins (2007: 17) found in their survey of European stated that “most organisations surveyed were in the implementation stage of competence development”. Compared to other Asian countries, Zhong and Shi (2004) found that most Chinese organisations and enterprises did not know now the term competence and are not yet applying that nomenclature. Comparisons, however, may be difficult to make since this study focused only on the electronics industry, whereas for example, Mulder and Collins (2007) focused largely on educational organisations.

Mulder and Collins (2007) found that the competence instrument most used was Defining the core competency of the organisation. The results of this study also revealed that this item was the most commonly selected by the respondents. Also, Mulder and Collins (2007) found that the second item was Arranging facilities for learning, but in this study, this item was ranked as fifth. The second item was Used competence assessments for employee evaluation, and in study by Mulder and Collins (2007) this item ranked 10th out of 14, suggesting that employee evaluation may be more important in the Thai context. Furthermore, Mulder and Collins (2007) reported the item ranked last by the respondents, was Using competence assessment in remuneration. In the study reported in this paper this item was ranked 8th.

In terms of the perceived effects of use of competence instruments, results of the present study were similar to Mulder and Collins (2007) in that both sets of results ranked as number 1, Improvement of quality management and as number 2, Raising the level of customer satisfaction. The results of the present study indicate that Integrating cultural differences (10th for large organisations, 11th or the lowest for small organisations) and Increasing flexibility (11th or the lowest for large organisations) were perceived to be least important.

In terms of human resource management factors, respondents also ranked Improving performance of employees as number 1 (large organisations), and 2 (small organisations), which is comparative to the study by Mulder and Collins (2007) respondents. This result shows that managers in small organisations are more likely to perceive the positive effects of competence instruments on human resource management on employee satisfaction. Both ranked at a low level (13th for Mulder and Collins; 11th for large organisations, 14th or the least for small organisations for this study) Reduction of absenteeism due to illness, Increasing motivation of employees (14th or the least of large organisation, 9th for small organisation). Differences between the two groups of respondents were evident in Alignment of personnel instruments (9th), which ranked highly for this study (9th for large organisations, 2rd for small organisations), but low (12th) for Mulder and Collins (2007).

In relation to training and development factors, once again, the top ranked items were the same for both groups of respondents (this study) (1st for large and small organisation) and in the Mulder and Collins (2007) study. Both ranked as number 1 Improvement of the added value of training and development. Within this category, results revealed a number of differences. For example, whereas Mulder and Collins (2007) ranked Improving the learning culture in the organisation as number 3, this item ranked only as 3rd (large organisations), and 12th (small organisations) in this study. Defining assessment criteria for result measurement ranked highly (4th for large and small organisations) for the respondents of this investigation and low for the Mulder and Collins (2007) respondents. In general, the fact that both studies, conducted in very different contexts and with different industries, ranked as number one the same items, suggests that companies have priorities that are similar regardless of culture and industrial context.

In relation to Objective 2, results revealed that companies evaluated workers’ competence and observed their progress using training scores, questionnaire results, and observation. Wongboonsin and Rojvithee (2006) referred to the need for workers to participate actively and continuously in learning and training, and for competence development to incorporate a reward system based on salaries or promotions for workers.

In terms of the types of training provided to workers, results revealed that companies used different types of delivery of training such as in house, outsourced, and overseas training. A 1992 study of 26 service and industrial sectors in Thailand, Wongboonsin and Rojvithee (2006) found, that while larger companies relied on more formal training, smaller firms relied on more on-the-job mentoring. Zeufack (1998) used data from a 1997–1998 ‘Thai Industrial and Competitiveness Survey’ of 1,200 firms, and found that they relied heavily on on-the-job training. This lack of development is cause for concern given the low educational levels of many workers in Thailand. These conditions for workplace learning in Thailand in general make it imperative that industry plays a role in educating its workers.

In terms of activities related to a culturally relevant model of competence development, the use of learning circles, coaching, and working in a team represent newer and more collaborative approaches to competence development that move beyond simple lectures. Hardless, Lundin and Nuldén (2001: 2) argued that “new activities for competence development, based on learning through shared practices, shared goals and shared conceptualizations of work tasks are needed”.

Conclusion

The objectives of the study reported on in this paper were to identify current practices related to competence development in the Thai electronics industry and to determine how companies in this industry provide competence development for their employees. This study was limited to participation by a small group of managers. Results may have been different if the study had included a larger group. Also, the response rate was low in comparison to the number of questionnaires sent out. Those who responded may have different or specialised views about competence development. This study was limited to the electronics industry and only focused on the Thai context. Others may wish to apply the model in their context to test its relevance. The instrument used was not tailored specifically to the electronics industry. Furthermore, as Mulder and Collins (2007) concluded regarding their study using the same instrument as in this study, the reliability of generalisation and the validity of comparisons are limited given the voluntary nature of participation combined with the low response rate.

In spite of these limitations, this study highlighted that most of the respondents were not familiar with the concept of competence development. This lack of familiarity with the concept is highly problematic given the country’s lag in terms of achievements in education, its lack of master plan for human resource development and its lack of policy guidelines in relation to vocational education. Given the changes taking place in this industry in terms of new products and technologies, competencies will need to evolve and develop. In the companies surveyed in this study, competency development will, therefore, need to become more of a priority for human resource managers.

Additionally, irrespective of human resource development or the size of the organisation, expertise in cultural differences has not been focused on sufficiently in the participating organisations. Nevertheless, the Thai electronics industry is dependent on global trade and exchange. Cultural differences impact on organisational effectiveness in terms of integrating differences and increasing workplace flexibility. In terms of implications for human resources managers, cultural components could be integrated in the following training programmes: orientation, on-the-job training, off-job training, project training, rotational training, in-house training, outsource training, and overseas training.

Authors

Wisuit Sunthonkanokpong is an Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Engineering Education, Faculty of Industrial Education, King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology, Ladkrabang, Thailand, and a doctoral candidate in the Learning Innovation in Technology Programme at King Mongkut’s University of Technology, Thonburi, Thailand.

Email: kawisuit@kmitl.ac.th

Kalayanee Jitgarun (Ph. D.Texas State University) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical Technology Education, Faculty of Industrial Education and Technology, King Mongkut’s University of Technology, Thonburi, Thailand. She has authored various publications, most recently on Quality Assurance in Engineering education, vocational education and on microenterprise promotion in Thailand.

Email: kalayanee.jit@kmutt.ac.th

Weerachai Chaokumnerd (D. Eng. Chulalongkorn University) is an instructor and Director of the Telecommunications Engineering Programme, Dhurakij Pundit University, Bangkok, Thailand. He has authored papers in the field of Engineering. Dr. Weerachai Chaokumnerd also holds the position of Captain in the Royal Thai Air force. His main research interests are telecommunication management and electrical and electronic systems.

Email: weerachai.cd@dpu.ac.th

Acknowledgement

The authors would like to express a very special thank you for the advice of Dr. Elizabeth Murphy, Professor, and Maria A. Rodriguez Manzanares, Faculty of Education, Memorial University, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, as well as Dr. Songsri Soranastaporn, Associate Professor, Faculty of Arts, Mahidol University, Thailand.

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