Training Through Combat: The Use of Competency Based Assessment and Training

by Lee Kang Yam

“Weapons stripped!” is a phrase familiar to all National Servicemen. This is a phrase used when servicemen are required to strip and reassemble their M-16 rifle within a specific time frame. All National Servicemen are required to pass this most basic level of weapon test. This form of learning is more popularly known as Competency Based Assessment and Training and it has been used in the Singapore Armed Forces for many years to build up the proficiency and competency level among the National Servicemen.

I call this form of learning, COMBAT or Competency Based Assessment and Training. This is one of the most useful forms of training that ensures learning outcomes are achieved. There are several aspects that make COMBAT effective. Using the example of disassembling and disassembling of the M-16 rifle, the factors are:

  1. Specificity – The performance criteria are specific; to disassemble and layout the M-16 rifle and reassemble it again.
  2. Measurability – The M-16 rifle is to be assembled and disassembled in a specific time frame.
  3. Fairness – The process, method of testing and evaluation apply to all National Servicemen.
  4. Validity – The outcome of the assessment is clear and specific and there is clear evidence of this process through a “live” demonstration by the National Servicemen.
  5. Reliability – The outcome of the assessment is independent of who the assessor is or which day it was conducted. In other words, there is consistency in the outcome.
  6. Rules of Evidence – The evidence gathering process is simple and specific. At the end of the day, the M-16 is assembled and presented in a workable condition within a specific timeframe.

The beauty of COMBAT is that it is applicable in various settings, from educational to commercial and business settings. Companies that are engaged in this form of COMBAT would be able to measure the outcomes of their training programme and ensure a specific level of proficiency and competency in their workforce. These companies would have a systematic and powerful way to train, assess and develop their workforce.

Engagement_3One of the strongest proponents of this form of training and assessment is Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA). This form of training and assessment forms the basis of the Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) system. The retail industry is one of the sectors that have received tremendous support from the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA). Service sector professionals are trained and assessed at the most basic level of how to greet and smile at customers to higher levels of leading and coaching service teams. What this means is that there is a progressive leveling up of the competence of the retail industry as workers seek to upgrade themselves.

We should also see COMBAT as the “six sigma of learning”. With a COMBAT system, companies can progressively train and deploy their workforce at higher levels of competence. Using the example of the weapon test above, a higher level of competence would be completing the tasks and assessment blindfolded. Similarly, a “basic COMBAT belt” would be required for entry level jobs, while an “advanced COMBAT belt” or even “master COMBAT belt” could provide pathways for higher value-added and better paying employment.

Singapore is facing a double helix of increased competition and aging workforce. Companies are forced to change their product mix quickly to adapt to the increased competition – higher levels of skills and competence are therefore needed. The aging workforce has also important implications for the economy, according to the testimony of Vice Chairman of Federal Reserve Board Donald L. Kohn on “The aging workforce”, “without an offsetting increase in productivity growth… the aging of the population likely means that output per person will have to be lower than it than it would have been without population aging.”

Therefore, to remain relevant in the world economy, an effective system to raise the level of competence and productivity is needed. This is a continuous battle for Singapore, a battle we cannot afford to lose.

Written by Lee Kang Yam from The Flame Centre.

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