RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
IN HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

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Hua, N. K., Ahmad, R. & Ismail, A. (2011). The Impact of the Supervisor’s Role in Training Programmes on the Transfer of Training: A Case Study in Four East Malaysian Local Governments, Research and Practice in Human Resource Management, 19(2), 24-42.

The Impact of the Supervisor’s Role in Training Programmes on the Transfer of Training: A Case Study in Four East Malaysian Local Governments

Ng Kueh Hua, Rusli Ahmad & Azman Ismail

Abstract

The Malaysian public sector plays a key role in the government's vision to enhance the economic status, assist the growth of industrial and private sectors, and support the country's human capital needs. Extant studies advocated that a supervisor plays an important role in enhancing the transfer of training among employees, and although the nature of this relationship has been studied, it is has been given less attention especially in the context of the Malaysian public sector. Hence, this study attempted to rectify the lack of literature by investigating the relationship between a supervisor's role in training programmes, and the transfer of training in four East Malaysian local governments. Indepth interviews were conducted with a total of 12 employees to develop the self report questionnaire, and a pilot study was conducted with the participation of 60 employees to pre test the questionnaire. The questionnaire was then used to gather quantitative data from 1100 management and non management employees working in the administrative and technical divisions for hypotheses testing. Pearson correlation analysis showed a positive and significant relationship between supervisor's role in training programmes and the transfer of training. Multiple regression analysis demonstrated among the studied variables, supervisor communication acted as a dominant factor in enhancing the transfer of training. These findings have implications for human resource management (HRM) policies and practices by detailing guidelines to improve organisational remuneration system as well as pathways for enhancing the role of supervisors in training programmes in order to facilitate the transfer of training, particularly within the Malaysian public sector.

Introduction

Human resource scholars advocate that supervisors have important roles that can determine the success of training programmes (Glitten 2001, Nijman, Vognum & Veldkamp 2006). That is, a proper administration and implementation of training programmes by supervisors could ensure return on investment for training (Cheng & Ho 2001, Chen, Sok & Sok 2007). Traditionally, supervisors have often focused on operational activities (Adair 1988). Hence, the responsibility of supervisors has centred on identifying employees’ daily and short term skill deficiencies in performing their job and reporting any problems to the management (Adair 1988, Pfeffer 1998). The management often take further actions by conducting training needs analysis, designing and implementing training courses, and evaluating the training programmes to overcome such employees’ skills deficiencies (Berge, Verneil, Berge, Davis & Smith 2002).

In the era of global competition, contemporary management is viewing training and development as a tool to enhance employees’ career development and meet organisational strategic goals (Robbins & Coulter 2005). As a result, supervisors regularly work with top management, training managers, and trainers in designing and administering as well as implementing training programmes (Martins 2007, Ismail, Bakar & Bongogoh 2008). With respect to the design of training programmes, supervisors have long been empowered in assessing the needs of training, identify training objectives, developing training contents, and choosing appropriate training delivery techniques (Adair 1988). In training administration, supervisors are responsible to organise training, evaluate the training effectiveness and to provide opportunities for employees to grow. This activity is done by encouraging staff to attend relevant training programmes by creating an open and trusting climate that may facilitate the development of employees and consulting frequently with these people about the objectives and methods of improving their job performance (Huang 2001). In the implementation of training programmes, supervisors are required to augment the training by practical interventions such as on the job training to employees.

Extant research shows that the ability of supervisors to properly implement their role in training programmes may lead to a higher degree of the transfer of training (Smith-Jentsch, Salas & Brannick 2001, Gumuseli & Ergin 2002, Arthur, Bennett, Edens & Bell 2003). Within the framework of training programmes, many scholars advocate that the extent to which factors such as support, communication, and assignment decisions provided by supervisors may elevate the employees’ level of transferring the training(Smith-Jentsch, et al. 2001, Gumuseli & Ergin 2002, Hashim, Mohamad, Saemi, Ahmad & Rashid 2009).

The objective of this paper is to explore the relationship between the supervisor’s role in training programmes and the the transfer of training. Particularly, the main aim of this paper is to examine the effects of supervisors in providing support, communication and assignment decisions on the level of the transfer of training among employees in four local governments of East Malaysia. Additionally, this paper identifies the dominant supervisor’s role in predicting the transfer of training. This paper also reviews the training literature by detailing the constructs under investigation as well as providing empirical and theoretical support for the relationship between the supervisor’s role in training programmes and the transfer of training. Then discussed are the research gaps in the transfer of training, which motivated the authors to explore the nature of the supervisors role and the transfer of training with a conceptual framework and research hypotheses. The paper outlines the research methodology, which is followed by the results, a discussion and a concluding section succinctly advancing implications and consequences for HRM policies in contemporary organisations.

Literature Review

It is broadly known that the transfer of training is of utmost important to increase performance and return on investment to an organisation. In the literature it is generally agreed that the transfer of training is a multidimensional construct, and in the context of training, the transfer of training is the extent to which an individual is able to repeat behaviour learned from training programmes in new situations (Foxon 1993, Subedi 2004). To be precise, it is the ability of employees to effectively apply, adapt and reproduce the knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSA) gained from training programmes into a job environment (Baldwin & Ford 1988, Wexley & Latham 2001). Research interest on this issue has been growing since Baldwin and Ford (1988) proposed a comprehensive model to explore factors affecting the transfer of training. In the model they hypothesised trainee characteristics, training design and work environment as important antecedents for the transfer of training.

Trainee characteristics are divided into ability related factors, motivation related factors and personality related factors that have an impact on the transfer of training (Elangovan & Karakowsky 1999). Evidence that a trainee characteristic is related to the transfer of training has been demonstrated by Facteau, Dobbins, Russell, Ladd and Kudisch (1995), and Chiaburu and Tekleab (2005) found that employees can be motivated to attend and apply what they have learned from training. In addition to trainee characteristics, training design factors include the principle of learning, sequencing and the training content, which is much influenced by the classical learning theories. According to Baldwin and Ford (1988), work environmental factors, which include supervisor support and opportunity to apply training into the job (Elangovan & Karakowsky 1999), have been the least examined variables due to the lack of a robust research framework. Despite the relevant emerging research Elangovan and Karakowsky (1999), and Subedi (2004) urge that there is a need to identify the important supervisor’s roles and behaviours that are vital to facilitate employees in applying training into the job.

Supervisor Support

Previous research has shown that supervisor support is an important factor that can facilitate the transfer of training (Subedi 2004). Many researchers (e.g., Facteau, et al. 1995, Chiaburu & Tekleab 2005, Switzer, Nagy & Mullins 2005) have generally, agreed that supervisor support is one of the important factors that effect the transfer of training, which can be divided into emotional and instrumental support (Baldwin & Ford 1988). Specifically, supervisors provide emotional support in terms of encouragement to attend and learn in training programmes, and they may reinforce and facilitate employees to apply newly acquired KSA into the job (Rahman 2004, Merriam & Leahy 2005, Switzer, et al. 2005). On the other hand, instrumental support is specifically referring to the ability of the supervisors to maximise the similarity between training programmes and workplace situations (Elangovan & Karakowsky 1999, Wexley & Latham 2001). Support may be provided to employees in different times such as before, during and after training programmes (Subedi 2004, Nijman, et al. 2006). With adequate supervisor support, employees are likely to have better preparation and time to apply training into the job (Gumuseli & Ergin 2002).

Supervisor Support and the Transfer of Training

There have been local and more geographical dispersed studies on supervisor support. These studies were conducted on different samples and settings, such as the 120 respondents serving in various Ministries located in the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, Malaysia (Haslinda & Mahyuddin 2009); 131 employees who attended occupational health and safety training programmes in an organisation in Germany (Festner & Gruber 2008); 81 employees from 15 sister companies of a Korean conglomerate (Lim & Morris 2006);and 130 employees of Tenaga Nasional Berhad Johor Bahru area, who have attended technical training programmes held between 2001 to 2004 located at the Sultan Ahmad Shah Training Institute (ILSAS), Bangi, Selangor, Malaysia (Rahman 2004). Results of these studies advocated that supervisor support had increased the transfer of training. That is, the ability of supervisors to provide support such as encouragement to attend training, guidance on how to apply training, and sufficient opportunities and time to apply training was able to motivate employees to apply training onto the job. According to these studies it was found that when employees received such support from supervisors they had more chances, clearer direction and adequate time to learn how to make use of the training in the workplace. This in turn resulted in better job performance and work attitudes.

Supervisor Communication

In addition to support, research has indicated that communication between supervisors and employees is vital in facilitating the transfer of training (Velada, Caetano, Michel, Lyons & Kavanagh 2007, Hashim, et al. 2009, Ismail, Mohamed & Sulaiman 2010). In an organisational setting, supervisors communicate with employees by practising open discussion and providing feedback (Harris, Simon & Bone 2000, Sisson 2001). Open discussion can be seen as supervisors who provide realistic information about training programmes in order to increase employees’ preparations for training (Tai 2006). Open discussion provides employees with the opportunity to provide input and raise questions related to training to overcome any obstacles that may prevent them from learning new KSA (Robbins & DeCenzo 2006). Moreover, supervisors can provide feedback about the quality of the employees’ performance (London & Smither 2002). Feedback from supervisors could provide information about the type, extent and direction of errors to employees so it can be corrected in the future (Forza and Salvador 2000). This may rouse employees to set higher goals and invoke greater effort to apply training outcomes (London & Smither 2002). When employees have more preparation for training and receive adequate information on their performance they are assisted to learn and apply knowledge into the job (Gumuseli & Ergin 2002).

Supervisor Communication and the Transfer of Training

Previous studies have directly examined the effect of supervisor communication and the transfer of training from different samples and settings. For instance, the 110 employees who had participated in training programmes in a state public work agency in Sarawak, Malaysia (Ismail, et al. 2010), 90 employees from public and private sectors who have attended Dual National Training System course in Malaysia (Hashim, et al. 2009), 182 employees from a large grocery organisation in Portugal (Velada, et al. 2007), and 10 Korean human resource practitioners who attended a training programme that addressed performance improvement technology in Korea (Lim 2000). These studies concluded that communication played an important role in enhancing the transfer of training. The extent to which supervisors practised open communication such as providing feedback and information of training programmes significantly elevated the transfer of training. In an open communication, employees were provided with detailed information about training programmes beforehand, which prepared them to learn from the training programmes. After the training commenced, a series of feedback was given to employees that assisted them in improving their KSA. These methods enhanced their ability to the transfer of training into the job that resulted in increased job performance.

Supervisor Assignment Decisions

Although research on assignment decisions is relatively scarce, several studies have suggested this knowledge is influential in promoting the transfer of training (Baldwin & Magjuka 1991, Baldwin, Magjuka & Loher 1991, Tai 2006). Assignment decisions can be in the form of supervisors assigning employees to attend voluntary or mandatory training programmes. Specifically, voluntary training refers to the employees’ choices to attend or not to attend training programmes (Tsai & Tai 2003, Saks & Belcourt 2006), and employees tend to show more enthusiasm and commitment when they have the choice of attendance. This condition is because employees feel that the choice and option given to them are fair (Quinones 1997). While mandatory training assignment refers to compulsory training programmes whereby employees’ had no choice, but to attend and learn from the training programmes (Baldwin & Magjuka 1991, Tsai & Tai 2003, Machin & Treloar 2004). Baldwin and Magjuka (1991,) and Tsai and Tai (2003) argue that employees have high motivation and are able to achieve the transfer of training when they are mandated to attend training programmes by supervisors. This result is due to employees who perceived training as important and bring desired outcomes whenever supervisors decide to mandate the attendance of training programmes (Baldwin & Magjuka 1991, Tsai & Tai 2003).

In addition to training attendance modes employees have the option to select the content of training programmes according to their needs and/ or preferences (Baldwin, et al. 1991, Quinones 1997, Muchinsky 2008). That is, employees are either given the opportunities or prohibited by supervisors from contributing requests and suggestions regarding future training contents (Baldwin, et al. 1991, Quinones 1997, Guerrero & Sire 2001, Machin 2004). Baldwin, et al. (1991) argue that although employees are allowed to choose training that they wanted, their motivation to the transfer training would be decreases if supervisors do not fulfil their choice of training. This implies that in addition to the training attendance mode, employees’ participation in decision making regarding training programmes exert an t impact on the transfer of training.

Relationship between Supervisor Assignment Decisions and the Transfer of Training

A limited number of studies that directly examine supervisor assignment decisions have been undertaken. Two studies that directly examined supervisor assignment decisions were undertaken in North America. One study was undertaken with 150 members of a large training and development society in Canada (Saks & Belcourt 2006), and a second investigation was conducted with 785 human resource professionals from the Society for HRM in the United States (Rynes & Rosen 1995). These studies reported that the ability of supervisors in determining appropriate training assignment (voluntary and mandatory) had enhanced the transfer of training. It is likely employees more successfully the transferred training into the job because with appropriate training assignment, they tended to be more motivated to attend and learn from training programmes.

Supervisor’s Role in the Transfer of Training

Merton’s self fulfilling prophecy conceptualises the importance of behavioural mechanism through which an individual’s expectancy affects another individual (McShane & Von Glinow 2005). The application of this theory in a training model shows that supervisors who expect employees to the transfer training into the job tend to create a positive work climate (e.g., supportive treatment, frequent communication and more opportunities for employees to provide input in training decisions) (McShane & Von Glinow 2005). Consequently, employees learn more from training, have more opportunities and time to practise what they learned from training, received frequent performance feedback as well as benefited from training programmes that they wanted to attend (Campbell & Simpson 1992, Campbell 1997).

Skinner’s reinforcement theory articulates that an individual has a choice in selecting a given responses and often he or she will choose a response that is associated with positive outcomes in the past (Huitt & Hummel 1997). The application of this theory in a training context shows supervisors can provide positive support, performance feedback and training assignments when employees successfully applied training. When employees acknowledged that every successful application of training is followed by positive reinforcement, they are more likely to practise harder into the job what they learned from training (Lim & Morris 2006, Saks & Belcourt 2006, Festner & Gruber 2008, Haslinda & Mahyuddin 2009).

Research Gaps

A range of studies have been done in this area with regard to the role of supervisors in training programmes and its impact on the transfer of training (Elangovan & Karakowsky 1999, Cheng & Ho 2001, Subedi 2004). Nevertheless, there are gaps in the relevant theoretical, methodological and practical literature.

Theoretical Gaps

The role of supervisors in training programmes has been given limited attention because previous studies often emphasised on the effects of training design factors and individual factors on the transfer of training (Baldwin & Ford 1988, Elangovan & Karakowsky 1999, Velada, et al. 2007). In other words, the predictive role of supervisor’s role in training programmes has been given less attention due a primary focus on training design factors (e.g., relevancy of instructional methods) and trainee’s characteristics (e.g., motivational levels) in influencing the transfer of training. Despite this situation there have been a growing number of studies on supervisor’s roles since Baldwin and Ford (1988) advocated the importance of such factors in the transfer of training. But more effort is needed in order to reach a fuller understanding about the impact on the transfer of training (Cheng & Ho 2001, Burke & Huchins 2007). Research on the transfer of training is critical particularly in the context of Malaysian public sector, where studies on this particular issue are relatively lacking (Baharim 2008). Additionally, previous studies have not provided consistent results on the relationship between supervisor’s role in training programmes and the transfer of training (Chiaburu & Tekleab, 2005). Several studies have found positive and significant effect of the supervisor’s role in training programmes on the transfer of training (e.g., Velada, et al. 2007, Festner & Gruber 2008, Haslinda & Mahyuddin 2009). But other investigations have found weak or no significant evidence of such relationships (e.g., Chiaburu & Marinova 2005, Nijman, et al. 2006). The mixed findings prompt further assessments in various contexts to further determine the nature of such relationships.

Methodological Gaps

Past studies that often used students and/ or conducted under laboratory conditions limit the ecological validity of research findings (Cheng & Ho 2001, Klein, Noe & Wang 2006, Stansfield & Longenecker 2006). Cheng and Ho (2001), and Sekaran (2003) argue that data collected from students and/ or under laboratory conditions is significantly different from the data gathered from organisational personnel. Another concern is related to the lack of well adapted and validated research instrument to measure the transfer of training due to the lack of research attention on the transfer of training in the Malaysian public sector (Baharim 2008). Research instruments that are not well adapted and properly validated could lead to bias and decrease goodness of data (Cresswell 1998). As a result, this could lead to the lack of a comprehensive understanding about the effect of supervisor’s role in training programmes, and in aparticular on the transfer of training in business settings.

Practical Gaps

Previous studies have not provided sufficient evidence to be used as guidelines by human resource practitioners in enhancing employees’ training and development activities and to achieve organisational goals (Subedi 2004, Vuuren, de Jong & Seydel 2007). Consequently, questions have arisen in terms of the ability of supervisors in facilitating the transfer of training and return on investment (Foxon 1993, Short 1997). For instance, the reinforcement of new KSA by supervisors in Malaysian local governments is a challenging task due to the fact that employees come from different background and motivational levels (Ali 1997). This outcome has caused Malaysian likely governments to be criticised by national leaders and the public. Indeed employees from the local governments have been unable to substantially improve their KSA even though they had gone for many types of in house and overseas training programmes (Lim 2006).

Conceptual Framework

The empirical and theoretical evidence presented in the earlier sections has been used as a foundation to propose a conceptual model for this study as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1
Conceptual Framework
Conceptual Framework

Research Hypotheses

Alternative hypotheses were used because there is a strong empirical and theoretical support that advocated the positive relationship between a supervisor’s role in the training programmes and the transfer of training. Based on the literature review and conceptual framework Figure 1 was developed. Within Figure 1 four main hypotheses are delineated.

Hypothesis 1: Supervisor support positively affects the transfer of training.

Hypothesis 2: Supervisor communication positively affects the transfer of training.

Hypothesis 3: Supervisor assignment decisions positively affect the transfer of training.

Hypothesis 4: There is a dominant supervisor’s role that positively affects the transfer of training.

Research Methodology

Respondents and Site

The authors obtained official authorisation to conduct a study from four city based local governments located at Sabah and Sarawak, Malaysia. The respondents of this study were management and non management employees who were working in administrative and technical divisions. A total of 1100 questionnaires were distributed and 706 usable questionnaires were returned, yielding a 64 per cent of response rate.

The respondents’ demographic background is shown in Table 1. The majority respondents were male, and most were aged between 30 to 49 years old. A large number (51.4 per cent) of respondents held the Malaysia Certificate of Education. Over on quarter (25.2 per cent) of the respondents served for their organisation for more than 21 years. The biggest group or 90.9 percent of respondents were non management employees. A majority or 62.9 per cent of respondents worked in administrative divisions.

Table 1
Respondent profiles
Gender Male 53.4
Female 46.6
Age (years) Less than 20 0.6
20 to 29 21.1
30 to 39 32.7
40 to 49 34.3
More than 50 11.3
Level of education LCE/ SRP/ PMR 18.6
MCE/ SPM 51.4
Diploma/ STPM 20.4
Bachelor Degree 7.9
Masters Degree 1.1
Others 0.6
Length of service (years) Less than 1 7.1
1 to 5 20.0
6 to 10 11.0
11 to 15 17.3
16 to 20 18.6
More than 21 25.1
Category of position Management group 9.1
Non management group 90.9
Division Administrative division 62.9
Technical division 37.1

Note. SRP/LCE/PMR = Sijil Rendah Pelajaran/Lower Certificate of Education/ Penilaian Menengah Rendah, SPM/MCE + Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia/ Malaysian Certificate of Education, and STPM = Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia/ Malaysian Higher School Certificate

Procedure

A cross sectional study was utilised to collect data from the respondents at a single point of time. This design was suitable due to its ability to collect a large number of respondents from different organisations (Easterby-Smith, Thorpe & Lowe 2002, Sekaran 2003) with quantitative processes, and elucidate the responses with qualitative procedures. The quantitative and qualitative processes were mixed within the design and employed at appropriate times. A quantitative method in the form of a self report questionnaire was chosen to collect data for both a pilot study and the actual study. The quantitative method in the form of self report questionnaire was able to reduce bias because questions are uniformly presented and the respondents’ answers were not influenced by the authors’ opinion. The mechanism allows respondents to answer the questionnaire in their personal timetable (Sekaran 2003, Kothari 2008). This procedure is in accordance with the positivism research model, where observations of the world must be carried out objectively and bias should be removed as much as possible (Marlow 2010). Qualitative methods in the form of indepth interviews and discussions were conducted to assist the authors in understanding the nature of the studied variables in the organisations and to assist the authors in developing unbiased research instrument for this study. According to Burgess (1982: 107), an indepth interview is an important qualitative method because it brings “… the opportunity for the researcher to probe deeply to uncover new clues, open up new dimensions of a problem and secure vivid, accurate inclusive accounts that are based on personal experience.”. This is in line with phenomenological research model, which stress on an individual’s subjective views and experiences of the world (Rubin & Babbie 2010).

Qualitative Method

The first phase of this study was a qualitative method via an indepth interview. The main purpose of conducting the indepth interview was to gather qualitative information on how each of the respondents constructed the meanings of the variables under investigation (Easterby-Smith, et al. 2002). This assisted the authors in developing a suitable research instrument for the study. A purposive sampling technique was utilised to identify six personnel that have vast knowledge and experiences about training programmes and the roles of supervisors in the organisations. This sampling technique was utilised to identify these employees because information gathered from them assisted the authors in comprehending the nature of the studied variables in the organisations. The findings from the indepth interviews were compared to the relevant training literature in order to integrate the research results in an appropriate context, and the results of the triangulated information were presented in a content analysis table in order to clearly understand the particular phenomena under study. Then, the authors modified the research instrument from previous research according to the information gathered from the indepth interviews, and once the instrument (i.e., self report questionnaire) was developed the next phase was the validation of the self report questionnaire.

In the second phase of the qualitative method, the authors conducted a discussion on the self report questionnaire. Qualitative feedback in the form of discussion can be used in establishing and improving the validity of research instruments (Rubio, Berg-Weger, Tebb, Lee & Rauch 2003, O’Donnell, Lufney, Marceau & McKinlay 2006). Hence, the purpose of the discussion was to gather feedback from the respondents about the items in the questionnaire. Again, a purposive sampling technique was utilised to identify the six employees who had extensive working experience as the respondents. Rubio, et al. (2003) argue that employees from the studied organisations should be selected for the discussion to ensure the population for whom the questionnaire is being developed is represented. Consequently, during the discussion the respondents were asked about the relevancy of items, which is useful in validating the questionnaire (Rubio, et al 2003, O’Donnell, et al. 2006). Items that were deemed irrelevant were revised or omitted from the self report questionnaire. After the discussion was conducted the authors refined the self report questionnaire and began the quantitative phase.

Quantitative Method

The third phase of the study involved a quantitative method, which was the distribution of a total of 60 self report questionnaires for pilot testing. The rationale of pilot testing the self report questionnaire was to pre test the questionnaire (Baker 1999) so that the items were easily understood by the respondents, detect obvious problems regarding the length and sequencing of questions, avoid sensitive questions, and ensure the data produced by the questionnaire was possible to be analysed (Easterby-Smith, et al. 2002, Cooper & Schindler 2006). A total of 60 self report questionnaires were distributed to the employees working in administrative and technical divisions and 30 usable questionnaires were returned, yielding a 50 percent of response rate. Assessing the pilot study responses gave the Cronbach alpha for the variables of 1) support (0.99), 2) communication (0.96), 3) assignment decisions (0.96), and 4) the transfer of training (0.98), signifying that the research instrument met the acceptable standards of reliability (Kline 2000, Fraenkel & Wallen 2006). After the completion of pilot study, the self report questionnaire was deemed robust for the actual study.

The fourth and final phase of this study was the actual study where distribution of self report questionnaires was conducted in the studied organisations. Due to the organisations’ policy that treated employees’ information as strictly confidential, the authors could not access the employees’ name list for random sampling. In non probability sampling, Salkind (2010) recommends that a researcher should choose a sample size as large as possible in varying settings to increase the statistical power for hypothesis testing and to increase the representativeness of the sample. Therefore, a convenience sampling technique was utilised to distribute 1100 self report questionnaires to management and non management employees from administrative and technical divisions via contact persons (i.e., human resource manager, secretary or assistant of human resource manager, secretary of department heads and supervisors) in four local governments. The self report questionnaires were answered by the respondents based on their consent and on voluntary basis. The data collected from the self report questionnaire was used for data analysis to test the research hypotheses.

Measures

Back translation technique was utilised to translate the survey questionnaire in Malay and English to increase the validity and reliability of the research instrument (Wright 1996). Adaptation of research instrument was required because the population in this study was different from the original population in which the instrument was developed, in terms of country, culture, and language (Geisinger 1994, Davis 1996). The adaptation was performed by modifying existing scales based on the information gathered from indepth interview. This was necessary to reflect the nature of supervisor’s roles and the transfer of training from the local governments in the final self report questionnaire. Each variable were measured using a seven point Likert scale ranging from ‘Strongly disagree’ (1) to ‘Strongly agree’ (7). A Likert scale it was deemed to be a reliable mechanism that provided more details than other scales because respondents can answer each statement included in the instrument and the authors can identify the different response provided by each respondent (Kothari 2008).

The survey questionnaire had four sections to measure the studied variables. The first section had nine items that measured supervisor support. All items were modified from previous research (Holton, Bates & Ruona 2000, Guerrero & Sire 2001, Ayres 2005, Chiaburu & Tekleab 2005). The dimensions used to measure supervisor support were the extent to which supervisors encourage employees to attend training, encourage employees to apply training, and encourage employees to share what they learned from training. The examples of the items include ‘Supervisor recommends me to attend training programmes that he or she felt useful for my job’ and ‘Supervisor allocates the required resources (e.g., assignment, tools, materials) for me to put into practise what I have learned from training programmes.’.

The second section of the questionnaire had nine items that measured supervisor communication, which were adapted from previous research (Machin & Fogarty 1998, Wexley & Latham 2001, Tsai & Tai 2003, Ismail, et al. 2008). Supervisor communication was measured by the ability of supervisors to provide detailed and accurate information of training, provide feedback to employees and convey the benefits of attending training. The questions included ‘Supervisor gives detailed information about training programmes’ and ‘Supervisor provides feedback about the way I apply what I have learned from training programmes.’.

The third section of the survey instrument was supervisor assignment decision. This section had nine items modified from previous research (Guerrero & Sire 2001). The dimensions used to measure assignment decisions were the ability of supervisors to decide the mode of training attendance (i.e., voluntary or mandatory) and to seek employees’ input for future training. Two examples of these items were ‘Supervisor gives me the freedom to attend training programmes’ and ‘Supervisor enrols my name in training programmes.’.

In the transfer of training section, it consisted of nine items that were modified from previous research (Facteau, et al. 1995, Chiaburu & Tekleab 2005, Switzer, et al. 2005). The transfer of training was measured through the ability of employees to apply training onto the job, adapt what they learned in workplace, know the appropriate situation to apply training, know the appropriate time to apply training and have confidence in applying training onto the job. Examples of the questions in this section were “I effectively use what I have learned from training programmes onto my job” and “I have changed my work behaviour in order to be consistent with the materials taught in training programmes”.

Table 2 shows the results of the validity and reliability tests for the research instrument. Based on Costello and Osborne (2005), Ford, MacCallum and Tait (1986), and Hair, Black, Babin, Anderson and Tatham (2006), of the psychometric assessment guidelines, these statistical analyses showed that the items for each research variables exceeded the factor loadings of ± 0.40 which indicated that all the studied variables have met the acceptable standard of validity analysis. All studied variables exceeded the acceptable standard of KMO value of 0.60 and were significant in Bartlett’s test of sphericity, and all research variables have exceeded an acceptable standard eigenvalue of 1.0. Furthermore, all the studied variables exceeded the Cronbach alpha value of 0.70, indicating that the variables met the acceptable standard of reliability analysis (Kline 2000, Fraenkel & Wallen 2006). The results of these statistical analyses demonstrated that the research instrument employed in this study was robust, reliable, and therefore, the scales were considered fit to be used in data collection for hypotheses testing.

Table 2
Result of validity and reliability analyses for research instrument
Variables Items # Factors
1 2 3 4
Kaiser Mayer Olkin 0.91 0.90 0.89 0.95
Bartlett’s Test of Sphericity 3819.97,
p = 0.000
4845.98,
p = 0.000
4513.56,
p = 0.000
6112.46,
p = 0.000
Eigenvalue 5.00 4.95 5.14 6.72
Variance explained 71.45 82.50 73.47 74.63
Cronbach’s Alpha 0.93 0.96 0.94 0.96
Support 2 0.86 -0.10 0.11 0.09
4 0.96 0.50 -0.40 0.10
5 0.74 0.00 0.02 -0.20
6 0.60 -0.50 0.16 -0.14
7 0.80 0.04 -0.03 -0.12
8 0.64 0.06 0.04 -0.18
9 0.50 0.03 0.09 -0.28
Communication 1 -0.04 -0.03 0.05 -0.95
2 -0.05 0.02 0.04 -0.94
3 0.02 0.04 0.05 -0.86
4 0.20 0.08 0.00 -0.74
5 0.25 0.07 -0.02 -0.67
7 0.20 0.05 0.02 -0.53
Assignment decisions 1 -0.07 0.04 0.88 0.03
2 -0.01 -0.20 0.91 0.01
3 0.11 0.08 0.52 -0.11
6 0.01 0.00 0.89 0.03
7 -0.05 -0.01 0.92 -0.04
8 0.08 0.01 0.79 -0.05
9 0.10 -0.00 0.82 -0.01
The transfer of training 1 0.04 0.80 -0.07 -0.10
2 0.05 0.83 -0.04 -0.07
3 0.01 0.87 -0.02 -0.00
4 0.01 0.89 0.01 0.02
5 -0.02 0.90 0.00 0.02
6 0.02 0.88 0.04 0.06
7 -0.08 0.88 0.04 -0.04
8 -0.03 0.88 0.02 0.02
9 0.01 0.83 0.04 0.07

Analysis

The Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) version 17.0 was used to analyse the construct validity and reliability, and subsequently test the research hypotheses. Explanatory factor analysis was used to determine the validity of the research instrument (Hair, et al. 2006). Exploratory factor analysis can be used when a researcher validates a newly developed research instrument (Costello & Osborne 2005) or adapts a previously used research instrument in the current research settings (Conway & Huffcutt 2003). A factor analysis with Direct Oblimin rotation was performed on all items in every variable under investigation (Frankael & Wallen 2006). Oblique rotation can accurately represent the complexity of the studied variables because in reality constructs are commonly correlated to each other (Conway & Huffcutt 2003). The items used in this study were considered valid if the value of factor loading is ± 0.40 or greater (Ford, et al. 1986, Hair, et al. 2006).

After factor analysis was performed both the Kaiser Mayer Olkin test (KMO) and the Bartlett test of sphericity were conducted for each variable to determine a sampling adequacy. KMO was performed to determine the sufficiency of sample size in this study (Rasli 2006). Bartlett’s test of sphericity was used to examine whether or not an R matrix is significant enough to be worthy of factor analysis (Child 2006). Sampling adequacy of the variables were accepted if the value of KMO analysis was 0.60 or greater and Bartlett’s test of sphericity was large and significant (Coakes & Steed 2003, Rasli 2006). This procedure was followed by estimating the Cronbach alpha to determine the reliability of each variable in the research instrument (Coakes & Steed 2003). The reliability of research instrument is acceptable if the alpha value is between 0.70 and 1.0 (Kline 2000, Fraenkel & Wallen 2006).

Pearson correlation analysis is able to measure the degree of association and the relationship between two constructs (Coakes & Steed 2003). In this study the procedure was used to test the correlation between the supervisor’s role in training programmes and the transfer of training. Pearson correlation analysis was also used to examine the data free from multicollinearity error that could reduce the accuracy of results derived from multiple regression analysis (Hair, et al. 2006). Apart from the Pearson correlation, the data were analysed by multiple regression analysis due to its ability to quantify the magnitude and direction of multiple independent variables on one dependent variable (Aiken & West 1991, Foster, Stine & Waterman 2001). This study specifically employed multiple regression analysis to delineate the most critical factor that contributed to the transfer of training in the studied organisations.

Results

The result of the analysis of the constructs was shown in Table 3. The correlation coefficients for the relationship between the independent variables (i.e., support, communication and assignment decisions), and the dependent variable (i.e., the transfer of training) were less than 0.90. The result suggested that the data were free from serious multicollinearity issue (Hair, et al. 2006). Therefore, it was deemed appropriate to run multiple regression analysis.

Table 3
Results for correlation matrix of research variables
Variable Mean Standard deviation 1 2 3
1. Support 5.25 1.15
2. Communication 5.18 1.26 0.86**
3. Assignment decisions 4.73 1.33 0.69** 0.72**
4. Transfer of training 5.63 0.90 0.45** 0.47** 0.43**

Note. Correlation value ** is significant at the 0.01 level (2 tailed).

Supervisor’s Role in Training Programmes and The transfer of Training

The result of Pearson correlation analysis was shown in Table 3. The analysis demonstrated that supervisor support (r = 0.45, p < 0.01), communication (r = 0.47, p < 0.01), and assignment decisions (r = 0.43, p < 0.01) were positively and significantly correlated with the transfer of training. Overall, this study found support for the relationship between supervisor’s role in training programmes and the transfer of training in the studied organisations. The result indicated that the extent to which supervisors provide sufficient support, practise communication openness and perform appropriate decisions about training assignments had elevated employees’ ability in applying training onto the job.

Dominant Supervisor’s Role that Influence transfer of Training

Table 4 demonstrated the result of multiple regression analysis. The analyses indicated that support, communication, and assignment decisions were significantly correlated with the transfer of training. Communication (β = 0.23, p = 0.001) had a strong impact on the transfer of training, as well as assignment decisions (β = 0.17, p < 0.001) and support (β = 0.14, p < 0.05); respectively. Accordingly, supervisor’s role in terms of communication substantially contributed to the transfer of training in the examined organisational settings.

Table 4
Result of multiple regression analysis
Independent variables Standardised coefficients (Beta) p <
Support 0.14* 0.037
Communication 0.23*** 0.001
Assignment decisions 0.17*** 0.000

Note. * = p < 0.05, and *** = p < 0.001.

Discussion

The purpose of this study was to determine the relationship between the supervisor’s role in training programmes and the transfer of training. The authors employed Pearson correlation to measure the correlation between the supervisor’s role in training programmes and the transfer of training, whereas multiple regression analysis was utilised to identify the strongest supervisor’s role that influenced the transfer of training in the studied organisations. Firstly, Pearson correlation analysis demonstrated that the ability of supervisors to support employees positively and significantly correlated with their transfer of training. Therefore, hypothesis H1 was accepted. Secondly, the Pearson correlation analysis demonstrated that supervisor communication had a positive and significant association with the degree of the transfer of training. In this case hypothesis H2 was accepted. Thirdly, according to the results of the analyses, it was found that when supervisors made appropriate decisions regarding training assignments, the level of the transfer of training was influenced. Thus, hypothesis H3 was supported by this finding. Lastly, the multiple regression analysis identified supervisor communication as an important factor among the studied variables in predicting the transfer of training. In this situation, hypothesis H4 was accepted.

The findings of this study were consistent with previous empirical studies. In line with findings by previous studies (i.e., Rahman 2004, Lim & Morris 2006, Festner & Gruber 2008, Haslinda & Mahyuddin 2009), the result of Pearson correlation analysis showed that supervisor support was an important pre condition for the transfer of training in the studied organisations. One probable explanation for this finding was that in the studied organisations, employees perceived their supervisors as proximal figures. It has been shown that supervisors who acted as proximal figures significantly increased the transfer of training (Chiaburu & Tekleab 2005). In particular, when supervisors were perceived as proximal figures (having the closest relationship to employees), they were able to gain employees’ confidence and trust in the organisation this in turn assisted supervisors in instilling employees to apply training onto the job due to the confidence and trust of employees towards their supervisors.

Empirical studies (i.e., Lim 2000, Velada, et al. 2007, Hashim, et al. 2009, Ismail, et al. 2010) have demonstrated the importance of supervisor communication on the transfer of training. Supervisors who discussed the information of training before training programmes begin and gave feedback after training programmes was found to be associated with the ability of employees to practise what they learned from training into the job. Such discussions and feedback perceived by employees act as cues about the importance of training programmes. For instance, discussions about the objectives of training, content of training programmes, venue and time of training sends a clear indication that supervisors expected employees to learn from training, whereas feedback given by supervisors showed how well employees benefited from training programmes. As a result, employees may be more prepared to undertake the challenges before training programmes commence and become more devoted to applying training into the job.

Supervisors’ decisions related to attendance and participation of pre training programmes had a positive correlation with the transfer of training. Employees changed their behaviour to the transfer training when supervisors involved in making training attendance mode based on their preferences and when they were granted by their supervisors to participate in making pre training decisions. This was due to the fact that employees perceived they were treated fairly and/ or training programmes were very important when their supervisors made particular decisions about training assignments (Tsai & Tai 2003, Machin & Treloar 2004, Aziz & Ahmad 2011). This correlated with the studies by Rynes and Rosen (1995) and Saks and Belcourt (2006) which found supervisors’ decisions in training assignment directly influenced the transfer of training. One conclusion drawn from testing this hypothesis was that supervisors’ decisions on training attendance mode and participation of employees in making pre training decisions were equally important to increase the transfer of training in the context of the studied organisations.

Aside from supporting previous empirical studies, the finding of this study was in keeping with self fulfilling prophecy theory and reinforcement theory. In line with the notion of self fulfilling prophecy theory it was a natural behaviour of supervisors to provide sufficient and continuous support, effective communication and proper assignment decisions when they expected employees to successfully apply what they learned from training into the job (McShane & Von Glinow 2005). When employees perceived that they received such treatments they were more ready as well as more comfortable to practise new KSA on the job (Campbell & Simpson 1992, Campbell 1997). The concept of reinforcement theory support that supervisors shaped employees’ behaviour (i.e., employees were willing and continue to learn and apply training onto the job) by controlling the consequences of their behaviour (i.e., supervisor provided encouragement, gave positive feedback, and decided to provide mandatory or voluntary training assignments according to employees’ preferences) whenever employees were successfully applied training into the job. Thus, the findings generalised the notions of self fulfilling prophecy theory and reinforcement theory in the context of the studied organisations.

This study has established the positive and significant impact of supervisor’s role on the transfer of training in the studied organisations. From the result of multiple regression analysis, the authors found that among the supervisor’s role examined in this study, communication was a dominant predictor of the transfer of training. In this sense, the authors concluded that communication was the key to the transfer of training in the studied organisational settings due to two reasons. First, feedback given to employees provided important information on their current performance and offered clear directions to improve their application of training into the job. By using this information, employees were able to revise their techniques in order to effectively apply training in the work settings. Second, positive feedback served as a strong reinforcement that motivated employees to learn and the transfer what they learned from training into the job. Further, supportive work environment such as encouragement to attend and apply training onto the job as well as the provision of training attendance mode according to employees’ preferences further reinforced the effectiveness of supervisor communication on the transfer of training. Overall, the results of this study were consistent with research findings mostly published in the Western countries. That is, this study has shown that the ability of supervisors in providing sufficient support, practising open communications and appropriate assignment decisions assisted employees in applying what they learned from training onto the job. The findings have important implications to the human resource practice, theory, and methodology.

In the light of practical implication, the finding of this study served as guidelines for human resource practitioners in managing human capital performance. Given the importance of the supervisor’s role, human resource practitioners are encouraged to intensify effort in enhancing the role of supervisors in training programmes. First, training programmes aimed to upgrade supervisors’ knowledge and skills in training need analysis, ability to conduct training for subordinates and improve their understanding of employees’ cognitive, emotion and psychomotor approaches should be conducted. Second, human resource practitioners should revise organisational pay and rewards systems for employees who managed to apply training onto the job. Third, supervisors should be given more responsibilities in terms of supporting, communicating and making assignment decisions particularly before and after training programmes.

From a theoretical perspective, the finding of this study statistically supported the importance of supervisor’s role in training programmes on the success of the transfer of training in the East Malaysian local governments. This situation showed that training design and individual characteristics alone are not the only important factors that have major contributions to the effectiveness of the transfer of training. More research is needed to delineate important supervisor’s roles that underpinned the success of the transfer of training.

From methodological perspective, the current study adapted and validated the research instrument measuring supervisor’s role in training programmes and the transfer of training through in depth interview and exploratory analysis. The well validated research instrument could serve as a guideline for future research in developing a better research instrument in measuring the transfer of training.

Although this study brings important implications, it has some limitations that should be noted. Firstly, cross sectional method that collect data in a single point of time was insufficient to capture the pattern of change and the magnitude of causal relationships between the studied variables. Secondly, a convenience sampling technique has its limitation such as the authors have no control over the attributes of the sample which could promote bias from respondents’ background. Thirdly, this study solely used employees’ perceptions to assess the variables of interest and this might lead to the risk of certain response tendencies such as social desirability. However, Facteau, et al. (1995), and Chiaburu and Tekleab (2005) argue that employees were able to accurately assess their abilities not observable by others. Lastly, only respondents from the city based local governments were included in this study, which may limit the generalisation of the findings.

Conclusion

This study found supervisor’s role, particularly communication, plays a significant role in enhancing employees’ ability to apply training. Hence, contemporary research and practice within training management is likely to benefit when being mindful of the supervisor’s role in facilitating the transfer of training. The findings and implications of this study may bring important insights into such relationships as the supervisor’s role in training programmes and the transfer of training are not trivial topics. In the effort to reach a better understanding of the transfer of training from diverse perspectives, future research should replicate and expand the research framework to further explore the nature of such relationships in different settings.

Authors

Ng Kueh Hua is a master’s student in Human Resource Development at the Faculty of Cognitive Sciences and Human Development, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak. His research interest is in the area of Training and Development.

Email: ahua_101@yahoo.com

Dr. Rusli Ahmad holds the position of Associate Professor at the Faculty of Cognitive Sciences and Human Development, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak. His research interests include Performance Appraisal, Performance Management, Training and Development, Cognitive Process, Decision Making, and Research Methodology.

Email: arusli@fcs.unimas.my

Dr. Azman Ismail is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Defence and Management Studies, National Defence University of Malaysia. His research interests are in Compensation and Benefits, Training and Development, Organisational Behaviour, and Human Resource Policies.

Email: azisma08@gmail.com

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