Part one of a three-part series on the topic of Validating Minimum Qualifications.
Screening applications is the single most common human resources activity performed by all entities, public and private, that are involved in selecting employees. This process is typically not considered a test in the common use of the word, but it is. Since it is part of the selection process, it is required by the Uniform Guidelines for Employee Selection Procedures (UGESP 1978) to be both valid and reliable.
Just as the job analysis serves as the foundation for most of the activities related to test development and classification and compensation, the systematic analysis of the job should also be used to write the actual class specification which would include the minimum qualifications. Class specifications should be the standard for documenting the tasks to be performed on the job along with the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to perform those tasks. In addition, class specifications should include a summary statement of how the minimum knowledge, skills, and abilities may be obtained. In that regard, since the class specification flows from the job analysis, the document should be a condensed version of the information obtained in the job analysis. Similar to the job analysis, the class specification should reflect a flow from the work performed (tasks) to the knowledge, skills, abilities, and personal characteristics (KSAP’s) necessary to perform the job at entry and the education and experience necessary to obtain those entry-level KSAP’s. How the KSAP’s may be obtained, stated in terms of education, training, and experience, becomes the minimum qualifications requirement.
Agencies vary on the detail they include in their class specifications. Some list every KSA needed to perform the job at full performance level, while others focus on just those needed at entry to the job. For the purposes of writing minimum qualifications statements, the focus needs to be on determining the KSAP’s that are required at entry. Remember, the UGESP require that only those KSAP’s required at time of hire or appointment may be tested for in selection procedures.
Since it is a common practice to condense KSAP statements into a sort of short hand referred to as the Minimum Qualifications for a job, it is important to utilize a validation strategy for supporting these statements that follows the same procedures for validating test instruments. While the UGESP identify three types or proofs of validity that may be used for selection instruments, public sector HR practitioners have primarily focused on the use of content validity. Simply put, that process, as suggested earlier in this article, involves identifying job tasks along with the KSAP’s required to perform those tasks and then creating selection instruments that are capable of measuring how much of the KSAP’s candidates possess.
Utilizing a content validity strategy for establishing minimum qualifications should focus on determining what tasks must be performed by individuals when they are hired, what KSA’s are necessary to perform those tasks and how each one may be obtained. Then as suggested before, most agencies condense the lists of KSAP’s required at time of hire and how each one may be obtained into a summary statement that is included in the class specification. This statement is intended to let everyone know how much and what type of education and experience is needed to qualify for vacancies in a particular job class. Thus, the analysts evaluating applications know what to look for in terms of qualifications and applicants know what they must have to qualify.
If the job analysis has determined that:
- Incumbents must be able to write clear and concise reports with KSAP’s gained in high school.
- They have to read at a high school level to be able to read job related materials and they need to perform math at a high school level.
Rather than listing each one of these statements, the minimum qualifications statement would condense them by stating:
A high school diploma or a GED is required.
Similarly, if certain KSAP’s can only be gained through experience, the content validity strategy should be used to identify the amount of experience necessary to obtain the KSA at the required level. Review of these statements can then provide a summary statement such as the following:
Three years of technical level experience in reading finger prints is required.
This is where most agencies struggle. While it is common to use job analyses for test development, it is a common failure on the part of agencies to apply this procedure to establishing minimum qualification requirements. Rather than continuing the process and determining which KSAP’s are to be measured by the Minimum Qualifications and the threshold requirement for those KSAP’s, many jurisdictions go global at this point. Instead of continuing the methodical process, they often turn to their subject matter experts and ask for opinions on the level of education and experience necessary to qualify for the job. This process fails to make the necessary link between the KSAP’s and their summary statements. Further, this method fails to provide the documentation that would support a content validity approach to establishing minimum qualifications. While it may suffice for most purposes, failure to provide the necessary links supporting the established minimum qualifications will probably not withstand scrutiny by a court if they are challenged. The subject matter experts should assist with the job analysis, including the linking of tasks to the KSAP’s needed to perform them.
In order to meet the standards for establishing the content validity for minimum qualifications, there must be a trail from the summary statements back to the KSA’s and tasks identified in the job analysis. Content validation of minimum qualifications also forces more specificity in identifying the levels of KSAP’s required and the amount of education and/or training and experience necessary to obtain the necessary minimum proficiency in that KSAP. In addition, it forces more specificity of the study of tasks and the level at which they must be performed. That is if the final minimum qualifications state that a high school diploma is required, there needs to be a paper trail from the statement, back to the KSAP’s and the task. If there aren’t any reading, writing, or arithmetic tasks in the job that are at the high school level, it will be difficult to support such a requirement in the minimum qualifications.
In particular, the Department of Justice, as one of the agencies given authority to enforce the UGESP, launched a campaign shortly after the passage of the Guidelines to eliminate minimum qualifications that were not supported through a legitimate validation procedure and tended to discriminate against protected groups. Many police agencies saw their height requirements shot down because they tended to negatively impact females and Asians and their validity could not be supported. Maximum age requirements were also challenged and many agencies had these requirements shot down. More recently, some local governments have been challenged regarding their blanket high school diploma requirements and minimum qualifications that require a driver’s license since not all jobs require high school just as not all jobs require driving. The lesson here is that you should be sure that your minimum qualifications have support that ties back to the job and that they do not create artificial barriers to protected groups.
The next article will delve more into other minimum qualifications issues, along with responses from the courts to validation approaches.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Civil Service Commission, Department of Labor, and Department of Justice. (1978). Uniform guidelines on employee selection procedures. 43 FR 38295. Available as a free download from www.uniformguidelines