Psychometric Testing in Defence Forces: Department briefing

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Defence and Military Veterans

19 June 2007
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

19 JUNE 2007


Ms T V Tobias (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Psychometric Testing within the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) presentation

Audio Recordings of the Meeting: Part 1 Part 2

The Department of Defence briefed the Committee on the psychometric testing carried out in the Department. The presentation by the Director of Psychology focused on the scope of psychometric testing in the Department, explained important terminology needed to understand psychometric testing, and highlighted the characteristics of assessment measures including the need for control within assessments in the SANDF. It also examined psychometric testing in post-apartheid South Africa and highlighted some factors affecting assessment results. It described the professional practices that assessment practitioners should follow and finally considered some of the basic statistical concept. The second presentation, by the aviation psychologist, considered the selection process, and the recruitment and selection process task
organisation. It also looked at academic, physical, medical, psychological, and aptitude requirements. Benchmarking of the recruitment programme with other countries was compared.
The subsequent discussion highlighted concerns such as the exclusionary potential of psychometric tests, the establishment of African referent norms, and consideration for underprivileged background conditions.

Psychometric testing in the Department of Defence (DoD)
Gen Sam Eygelaar,  Director of Psychology, Defence Force Medical Services, looked at the scope of psychometric testing in the Department and explained important terminology needed to understand psychometric testing. He highlighted the characteristics of assessment measures, including the need for control within assessments in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). He noted that in South Africa the use of psychological assessment measures were under statutory control. He gave an assessment of psychometric testing in post-apartheid South Africa and the impact of the Employment Equity Act. He oted some factors affecting assessment results. He gave an indication of the norms and professional practices that assessment practitioners should follow, and finally considered some of the basic statistical concepts, including the concepts of reliability, validity, and norms.

Mr O Monareng (ANC) argued that the presentation was too technical. He said that all that was required of the presentation was to illustrate the relevance of psychometric testing in post-apartheid South Africa. This viewpoint was shared by other Members of the Committee, including the Chairperson.

Lt General Vijay Ramlakan, Surgeon General of the SANDF, suggested that the whole presentation be tabled, but that the oral explanations should exclude the overly technical components. He suggested that the Committee should be taken through the final component of the application of psychometric testing in the Air force, to illustrate an example of the use of such testing.

Lt Col Greta Bath, Aviation psychologist, SA Medical Health Services, then gave an indication of the recruitment and selection process task
organisation, which entailed eight phases. These phases included advertising, paper selection, call-up, orientation, psychometric assessment followed by a panel interview, an aviation medical exam, collation of medical records, and finally a consolidated selection board. The presentation also looked at academic, physical, medical, psychological, and aptitude requirements for those wishing to become pilots. Finally the presentation looked at the benchmarking of the recruitment programme with the United Kingdom, India, Israel, Pakistan, Germany and Singapore.

The Chairperson noted that many South Africans were underprivileged and could not compete with privileged sectors of society in gaining access to positions in the DoD. She said that South Africa was currently engaged in transformation processed to achieve equality and level the playing field. She argued that currently special consideration should be made for those underprivileged sectors of society. She said that language barriers might also be a challenge and said that language should be considered when conducting psychometric tests. The Chairperson asked if the administering psychologists were aware of and could understand the background of social conditions in township life. She argued that there was a need to be cautious of psychology, due to its role in the construction of the apartheid regime.

The Chairperson asked if there was an African Model for psychometric testing that could be used. She asked how many candidates in each demographic category had passed or failed, and how the department ensured that the tests were not exclusionary and sensitive to underprivileged life. She said she was cautious of external service providers of psychometric tests.

Mr J Phungula (ANC) said that in terms of transformation there had been change, but that this was lacking in the Air Force. He said that in the past black people could not drive government vehicles, and that the democratic South Africa was a platform in which to redress this. He said that some pilots from Mozambique were not very technical yet were still given the opportunity to become pilots. He emphasised that the method of imparting skills to trainees was most important and urged that no one should be excluded from opportunities.

Mr L Diale (ANC) said that rural areas in South Africa were designed for reserve labour during apartheid. He said there were also
demobilised former MK and APLA soldiers who did not have access to the information provided. He asked if the DoD had considered the distribution of pamphlets to the constituency offices to increase their reach of communication.

Dr S Pheko (PAC) said that it was important to transfer theory to practice. He said research was required to established our own and African norms. He asked to what extent psychometric testing was affected by social conditions and international exposure. He said that South Africa should move away from Euro-centric practices to deal with the African condition. He asked if research could be done to factor in specific South African social conditions. Demographics, the historical background of the pass laws and the pre-1994 position were all important.

Mr P Groenewald (FFP) argued that the credibility of psychology should not be undermined by allusion to apartheid conditions. He said that there were certain skills required to be a pilot and a method was needed to establish whether these basic skills requirements were adhered to. He believed that it was not the task of DoD to hand out pamphlets at constituency offices. He asked for elaboration on validity and standardisation, and asked if the requirements complied with affirmative action.

Another member of the committee argued that psychology was partly guesswork. She said she was not happy with the principle of psychometric testing unless it was shown to add some benefit to the country. She also argued that African standards should be used and asked if any candidates who had received medical discharges by reason of mental disorder were treated.

Gen Eygelaar noted that the member was entitled to her opinion. However, he argued that strict empirical studies and scientific standards were used in the development of psychology. He noted that it was necessary to differentiate between psychiatric assessment and psychological assessment, and that in respect of all discharges on medical grounds a board was established to review the indicators in a scientific manner.

Mr M Shah (DA) cautioned that personal preferences should not be allowed to influence the decisions that were geared to efficient functioning of the SANDF. He said that academic qualification was only one component of getting a position in the Defence forces. He said that it cost millions of rands to purchase a military aircraft, and these were usually not built in South Africa. Arguments around Eurocentrism were irrelevant; it was vital to have expert technicians who could best to pilot these airplanes.

Mr Shah asked what was meant by collateral sources in collective information about candidates. He asked if the DoD had the human resource capacity to gather information from family members, if that was what was being implied by collateral sources. He also  asked if any gender specific tests were being used, bearing in mind the biological differences among males and females.

Gen Eygelaar answered that collateral sources meant a pool or sources gained from curriculum vitae handed in during the acquisition phase. In regard to the differentiation between male and females, he said that there was no differentiation in the testing.  However, differentiation could be made regarding certain physical competencies, due to the differing physical demands of some of the jobs.

Mr Monareng reiterated that the main issue of concern was whether psychometric testing was exclusionary and representative. He argued that there should be a drive to create more awareness amongst
marginalised communities. He argued that interest was not shown because it was not induced becuse of inadequate awareness. He argued that his own psychometric test results showed variance between those taken in South Africa and those taken in the former Soviet Union and Cuba. He said that ultimately the test had to be inclusive rather than exclusive. He also argued that in the aeronautical industry preference should be given to local industry to redress the issue raised by Mr Shah.

Lt Gen Ramlakan proposed that due to the nature of the questions posed and the time constraints,  written responses should be given to any questions that could not be addressed adequately.

Lt Gen Ramlakan said that all the concerns raised by the committee members were valid, and they were issues that the Department grappled with on a daily basis. He said that given their integration experiences SANDF had to contest the intellectual grounding for some of the tests. He alluded to the example of psychometric testing for integration, which had to be amended to accommodate those previously disadvantaged who did not have strong academic qualification but were nevertheless competent for the respective posts. He said he agreed with the assertion that psychometric testing should be more inclusive rather than exclusive. The tests were
scrutinised to ensure validity, but the testing was nevertheless a tool used with an advisory role.

Gen Eygelaar said that the establishment of African norms was a task that had already been taken on by the Department, which understood that it was necessary to establish norms based on specific context. He said that currently the norms concentrated predominantly on black participants. He said that ultimately validity and reliability related to the norms used. He highlighted the fact that in 2007, 50 000 candidates were being assessed for the Military Skills Development
Programme and this number contributed to the establishment of norms. In regard to the comments on inclusiveness, he said that measurements were considered relative to peer group norms.

Brig Gen Maxwell Sitshongaye, Director, Human Resource Services, SA Air Force, said that 57% of the successful pilot candidates were black, but conceded that the black failure rate was also high. He said that 2006 statistics indicated that 226 of the 349 candidates were successful. 57 were white and 169 were black. He emphasised that the pilot selection was not purely based on psychometric testing. He pointed out that some candidates were excluded because of height restrictions in the cockpits of the training aircraft.

Lt Gen J Van Rensburg, Chief of Corporate Staff, SANDF, added that psychometric testing was one of many instruments used in the selection and appointment process, and these were accompanied by certain prescripts for candidates from the various sectors in the department.

Gen Eygelaar said it was inaccurate to assume that a person would pass or fail a psychometric test. The tests were used to establish functional requirements of the respective position, which was graded in terms of the norms established. Those norms were not inflexible and could change.

Mr Monareng noted that there had been a problem in integrating women from MK into the SANDF.

The Chairperson said that the problem was one of attitude and was based on previous patriarchical structures which excluded women from participating in traditional ‘male’ activities. She said that it was necessary to move away from such thinking and emphasised that females were quite capable of doing physically strenuous tasks.

The Chairperson asked what was being done by the small number of black assessors, a mere 11%.

Gen Eygelaar said that the aptitude test was part of the psychometric tests, which was a simple non-verbal test to determine aptitude for training. In regard to the 11% black assessors he said that a new initiative was being embarked on, where the Department would visit all tertiary institutions which provided psychological training, and provide internships and bursaries for black psychologists, coupled with  contractual agreements to retain their skills for around five years.

Gen Eygelaar said that it was difficult to benchmark in Africa. However, he said that the Vienna tests were being used throughout Africa.

Brig Gen Sitshongaye said that awareness was being created in rural areas through collaboration with the Department of Education and certain rural schools especially in the Air Force. He said that in regard to the selection, priority was being given to black candidates, and this was particularly done with air traffic controllers. He said that discussion was also being done with SAA regarding cross utilisation of skills.

Brig Gen E Mathibe, Director: Human Resource Acquisition, DOD, said that the Department had received about 30 000 applicants in 2006, and recruitment was based on the requirements in certain sectors of the department. Once again she stressed that psychometric testing was but one process. She said that surprisingly the psychometric testing process was being handled well by the rural candidates provided that they were reminded to remain calm. She said that candidates who did not succeed on the basis of the first tests were encouraged to re-apply after six months. He said that there was a large number of applicants and keen interest was shown.

The Chairperson requested that if any question was not adequately answered, owing to the time constraints a written submission should be supplied as agreed.

The meeting was adjourned.



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