The entrance into the world of work and the apprenticeship of the SkillsAct4VET psychological test

“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly”

Henri Louis Bergson

As part of the European project #skills act 4 vet, following a preliminary investigation, we have developed  a model that defines and explains the 5 transversal skills that VET (vocational education and training) students use the most during an internship in a foreign country. Based on this theoretical model, we have built a tool capable of giving young people an evaluation of these soft skills. After data collection, on the basis of a pilot version of the test, we have validated the test in order to make it scientifically validated and of assured practical application.

Nonetheless, the life of a test is not as simple and linear as one may think.

Just like the apprenticeship of young people entering the workforce, a test must pass through several challenges, several stages of growth. Step-by-Step it must mature and learn to be considered a professional capable of achieving its goals.

In fact, to be considered as such, a test must proceed by trial and error, maintaining an approach of openness to new analyses that can lead it to increasingly precise revisions. Maturity, in all its meanings, both for young people at their first steps in work and for tests, can only be achieved by experimenting, without the fear of not reaching one’s goal or of undermining the previous models used (theoretical or behavioral).

But what are these goals we are talking about?

First of all a test must be reliable. This means being self-consistent, that is, returning evaluations that are constant at different times. For a young person just entering the workforce, it means being reliable, always available and willing to help.

This point is a necessary but not sufficient condition.

In fact, for professionals to be considered as such, they not only need to be consistent and reliable. They must also prove themselves proficient at achieving their assigned goals.  In the case of a test, we speak of validity, that is the degree to which the instrument is capable of assessing the construct (the skill or psychological dimension, such as motivation or personality traits) it is intended to measure.

The question to be asked is: “do the results reflect true differences by responders? Or are they simply due to coincidence?”

To answer this question, we must refer to the different types of validity that a test must demonstrate it can manage.

Content validity: related to how (and whether) the identified items are able to effectively explore the construct that the instrument is intended to detect. In other words, whether all the micro-activities identified are capable of leading to the achievement of the final goal. Growing and maturing means to select, among all the activities one has experienced, those that are most functional and able to fully satisfy one’s needs and motivations.

Criterion validity: it verifies how the test in consideration is linked to instruments already in use and considered unchangeable and true. Our test must be compared with the adult world if it wants to be taken seriously, in other words it must pass the scrutiny of its more expert “colleagues”. It is also in relation to the others and to the context that we can evaluate the growth path of each of us, especially during the construction of a professionalism.

Face validity: this refers to the external perception of the test, of how it is viewed by responders. It is about learning to inspire a sense of confidence and professionalism in others. In fact, an important indicator of maturity is your capacity to understand the context and your ability to respond effectively to it. In our model we have called this competence Context Reading and Adaptability, and it refers precisely to the ability to act in a way that is consistent with the specific characteristics of the environment in which one finds oneself. It presupposes, therefore, the ability to recognize the values, beliefs, resources and limitations of the context and of the individuals who are part of it.

Construct validity: does the empirical analysis obtained converge with the initial theoretical formulation? Has the hypothesis that the test was intended to prove been confirmed or should it be revised and refined? Often we are led, falling into the trap of cognitive bias, to try to corroborate in all ways our initial model, remaining firmly anchored to it despite external evidence against it. This perceptive distortion is the enemy of an open, mature and driven to the improvement of its theoretical assumptions mindset. Just as when a psychological tool is validated, its construct validity must be honestly measured, in the same way a young person who wants to learn a job must honestly evaluate its results: are they aligned with the demands made by their boss?

As we can see, a psychological tool, as well as a new employee, must go through a long journey before being considered ready and mature, no longer an adolescent in search of its own identity but a rational and productive adult.

But the pitfalls are not yet over. The validation of the test must still pass through social desirability. This effect is capable of negatively influencing the results of the instrument, inducing respondents to give answers that they consider more acceptable in the context in which they are taking it. For example, during a personnel selection, the candidates will be led to answer in the way that they believe will bring them closer to the desired position. This leads to paradoxical results that contrast with the measurements observed up to that moment. It can happen, in fact, that in an attempt to give back the most positive image of themselves, the candidates, without fully knowing how the instrument works, can give back a profile so distorted that it becomes dysfunctional to the objective itself, leaving the recruiters to question the actual validity of the answers given to them and in the difficult role of interpreting a range of data made partial by untruthful answers.

Defending against these pretenders is the last step our test must take. Specific scales, created with the aim of measuring the truthfulness of answers (the famous Lie scales), can be included among the items in order to minimize the effect of social desirability, monitoring how the candidates tend to provide a falsely positive or negative profile of themselves.

Learning to defend oneself from these mystifications, in an attempt to return an authentic image of the person in question, free from attempts of manipulation, is central to the development of the test.

In our European project of SkillsAct4VET, we have now arrived at the final validation of our tool to assess these 5 transversal skills:

Proactivity;

Self-confidence;

Followership;

Cultural Awareness;

Context reading and adaptability.

 At the end of an internship experience in another EU country, students between 14 and 18 years old were able to assess their soft skills giving us back valuable material that we used to measure reliability and validity of the instrument.

In conclusion, we have seen how the creation of a test is much more complex than we might expect.

We can learn how the process of growth is never a simple matter; on the contrary, it is often impervious and treacherous, marked by obstacles and difficulties. But, in the same way, we have seen how maturity is a universal striving, able to give us back an authentic and “scientifically reliable and valid” self, capable of providing accurate measurements and of achieving our goals, as well as many personal and professional satisfactions!

Thanks to the project Transversal Skills Activation for VET Mobility  that allowed us to see our test born, grow and refine more and more, thus finally reaching adulthood!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.