Honeymoon over for human resources fund

Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran at the recent town hall session with professional trainers. (Facebook pic)

By Vishnu Dason Nair

The recent Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) town hall session with the newly appointed Human Resources Minister, M Kulasegaran, saw lots of fireworks and a lively discourse by training providers from various parts of the country.

There were many disgruntled trainers who vented their dissatisfaction on how HRDF was run. HRDF CEO C M Vignaesvaran was there to clear the air, but looked rather uncomfortable in the hot seat.

I agree with the frustrations voiced by the trainers in attendance.

Firstly, the quality of some of the trainers certified by HRDF is questionable. Some of them become trainers just because they are retrenched, and pay a few thousand ringgit to become certified trainers.

Are they passionate enough to be trainers? To be a trainer requires passion and dedication. I have always posed this question to my course participants: “Do you like your job, or do you love your job?”

There is a big difference between like and love. With the former, you do it because you have no other choice and it pays the bills. But the latter is a vocation – you do it because you are contributing to a greater cause and are passionate about your job. Training to me is like a calling.

Another question begs to be asked: is the certification properly implemented? For some of the trainers conducting the “Train the Trainer” (TTT) programme sanctioned by HRDF, are they competent enough to run the course? I have friends who attended the training and remarked on the deplorable quality of the HRDF trainer.

HRDF needs to know that the command of English is just one of the problems faced by employers. There are a host of other issues that need to be addressed, including critical thinking, interpersonal skills, public speaking, presentation skills, handling a crisis and other soft skills.

To deal with these issues, the industry depends on trainers to train their staff as the education system has failed to create critical thinkers with the aforementioned soft skills.

We need world-class trainers, but is HRDF monitoring the trainers that are supposed to train staff to be world-class employees?

Instead, they come out with a vague star-rating system, which apparently favours “blue-eyed trainers” or big training companies which have proper training facilities, among other criteria listed in the star-rating survey form.

This, in turn, gives all the “small-fry” training companies and freelance trainers a low rating. This is hardly fair, and it is like the popular phrase coined by the former prime minister: “cash is king”. If you don’t have the financial strength of these big boys, as the saying goes, you are up the creek without a paddle.

In all my years as a trainer, I have never been evaluated by a HRDF officer during my training sessions. Participants always fill up an evaluation form given by their employers.

But is HRDF monitoring these forms? Of course, this may be a daunting task. The solution is to have participants key in the programme they attended in a specially designed application on a smartphone, along with the trainer’s HRDF ID, and rate the trainer.

The trainer, the client and HRDF will then immediately have a record of their performance.

Secondly, the new minister must look into the transparency of tenders given out to training providers. For those awarded tenders, their names should be published and the amount of the tenders given.

It seems that certain people or companies are successful in the winning bid – apparently a training provider who also sits on the HRDF board has allegedly been given tenders. This is a serious red flag and definitely a conflict of interest, to say the least. This issue was highlighted at the town hall meeting.

The tender system should not just be about a bid submitted. The person or company concerned should be interviewed to evaluate their capabilities.

Those who do not succeed in the tender should be given reasons for their unsuccessful bid so they can improve on future bids.

This is one way to make sure the tender is given to the right people with the relevant experience.

Thirdly, set up a council or think tank run by industry professionals who will look into the latest training trends and skills that are needed by the market, while constantly improving the standard of trainers.

Sometimes, when training providers call HRDF with regards to the latest trends, their queries and requests are not answered. This is probably due to the administrative staff not keeping up with the latest trends.

It is HRDF’s duty to be relevant to its mission statement, “spearheading the human capital learning and development through strategic interventions that fulfil the current and future needs of the industry”.

The minister needs to consider the plight of some freelance trainers, as there are many trainers struggling to get training jobs. He must also look at ways to prevent training providers from taking the lion’s share of training fees or even undercutting the market to get training jobs.

Have a similar application whereby companies, employers or even individuals who want to engage a training provider can view the courses offered and their ratings.

Fourthly, HRDF should stop competing with other training providers by offering similar courses below the market rate.

This is a conflict of interest by HRDF. It should not be in the business of conducting courses even though it engages external trainers to run its courses. It is a regulatory body. Some cautionary advice to HRDF: it should be true to its core values of integrity, customer focus, continuous improvement and accountability.

HRDF seems to be sitting in a lofty position and may feel as if its actions are justified. Leave behind the mentality of the old government which refused to see its flaws. Don’t follow the ostrich method of burying your head in the sand and hoping the problem will go away.

Trainers and employers are your stakeholders. Listen to them when they reach out to you; pave the way and be a beacon.

You have a new government voted in by the stakeholders of this rich and diverse country. Pull up your socks; the honeymoon is over.

Vishnu Dason Nair is a corporate trainer.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.