After many years of review, both internally and from external consultants, and reform, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has recently issued its nine organisational development priorities. (UNRWA Medium Term Plan 2004).
The single strategic human resource priority covers compensation, classification, and performance management. Despite the UNRWA Human Resource Management Strategy (HRMS) stating, ‘The Agencies workforce is its most valuable asset. Over recent years, insufficient attention to staff training and development has been a factor in the deterioration of service standards across the agency.From this standpoint, renewed investment in building the capacity of UNRWA’s human resources is an independently worthy objective’.
(HRM Strategy 2006, p. ) This is an apparent contradiction to the current priorities. For an organisation to achieve success there must be clear directions with management support to support their strategic goals.
The Organisational Development (OD) plan of UNRWA is based on four levels of change – programme management, human resources management, organisational processes and systems, and leadership and management. (OD Mid- Term Report 2008).My discussion focuses on human resource management and more specifically on training and development. The aim of this paper is to discuss the human resource management strategy (HRMS) ‘Serving Palestine refugees with qualified, competent and motivated staff’ introduced in UNRWA in 2005 and the level of success of its implementation after 8 years.
(HRM Strategy 2006). UNRWA should focus on strategies to improve staff training and development as this is a key to its organisational change and to the success of the organisation’s business strategy.The paper will discuss the background, where the strategy can be improved, why change is required and the future benefits that will be achieved. 2. Background information on the issue In 1949 the General Assembly established (UNRWA) to provide assistance to 5 million Palestine refugees displaced in Syria, Jordon, Lebanon, The West Bank and The Gaza Strip. (UN Secretariat 1995). Over the last half century the services provided to the refugees have altered with variations in each country, reflective of various political and economic situations.In mid 2004, the ‘Geneva Conference’ – ‘Building Partnerships in support of UNRWA’, was held to allow donors and stakeholders to steer UNRWA into the 21st century.
(The Geneva Conference 2004). In response, by late 2004 UNRWA had released its Medium-Term Plan (MTP) which included a significant variation on previous staff management. (UNRWA’s Medium Term Plan 2004). By late 2005, the MTP established a Human Resource Task Force (HRTF) to review five broad areas; recruitment and retention, performance management, reward and recognition, staff development and training and employee satisfaction and welfare. OD Mid-Term Report 2008). These results would be used to strengthen the organisation and later examined in line with the introduction of UNRWA’s OD plan in 2006. UNRWA exists to provide services to Palestinian refugees.
They aspire to be efficient and effective in support of their goal as titled under OD ‘Serving Palestine Refugees More Effectively – Strengthening the Management Capacity of UNRWA’. (OD Mid-Term Report 2008).In contrast, the OD review released in 2009 has echoed the earlier reports of the HRTF that the level of success of training and development has not given staff the tools to be efficient and effective, and staff lack confidence in the organisation due to concerns about salaries, training, benefits, conditions, and about being cared for and respected. (OD Mid-Term Report 2008). Training was highlighted as a major area of need as sited in the MTP, to ensure all staff had the knowledge, skills and attitude to perform their current duties and responsibilities successfully, and are prepared for future challenges and opportunities. UNRWA’s Medium-Term Plan 2004).
3. What needs improvement? The previous section discussed the background to the training deficiencies within UNRWA, this section will discuss what can be improved. A successful training regime is based around a solid training needs assessment.
A number of HRM initiatives are inter-dependent upon creating a robust and sustainable training programme ‘including, for example, broad-banding, promotion and succession planning’. (OD Mid-Term Report 2008, p. ). To ensure success of the training needs assessment, agency wide consultation and research is essential.
A training needs assessment will solidify the most appropriate training required and its relation to employer needs, current skills, and organisational goals. A training needs assessment provides some certainty that the time, money and resources used to develop and conduct training will deliver desired performance-based results. (Cekada 2011). Current employee training methods within UNRWA are at best limited, outdated and do not compete with industry standards. Modern training techniques such as online learning are far more cost effective than traditional training methods.
(Noe et al 2013).Implementing a new training methodology would not only be cost-saving, it would also be beneficial in terms of mitigating situations where a country’s political situation results in restricting travel for trainers and/or participants to participate in accredited training. Training expertise can be ‘beamed in’ via satellite or internet and participants can access training, at minimal cost of resources and personal safety. This training is normally self-paced. The restriction of travel may have been a major factor for lack of support by management of formal accredited training in the past.QANTAS has addressed staff training restraints similar to those faced by UNRWA, determined to ensure their staff have access to accredited, continuous training. For example, ‘QANTAS staff can link into their training college from their motel room anywhere in the world and complete accredited coursework via the internet and do so at their own pace’. (workbook) E-learning is a platform to challenge traditional training methods used throughout UNRWA and will revolutionise how they approach training.
‘Training should be seen as an investment not a cost’. (Noe et al 2013, p. ).There is always a compelling argument to divert funds allocated to staff enhancement and training to other priorities. (OD Mid-Term Report 2008). If an organisation is serious about meeting its organisational strategic goals, training resources and time must be provided. Additionally, a firm assurance by management to commit to a training budget and a broad well structured staff training programme reinforces their commitment. As HRM initiatives are inter-dependant on each other, training initiatives are also inter-dependent.
Training methods and training needs assessment are reliant on manager support.Enhancing an organisation’s competitive advantage through achieving its strategic goals is dependent on a manager’s understanding of the successful linkage between training and their business strategy. (Noel et al 2013). UNRWA managers need to understand and support training initiatives similar to the model created by Ingersoll Rand, a ‘ladder of engagement’ (reference). A leader can support training at various levels and therefore have a significant impact on its success.
Two examples of this support can be financial or participative. 4. Why Change is requiredReviews that go back as far as 2005 as discussed above show UNRWA’s level of success has been underrated by its degree of success in dealing with the HR strategies identified for change. The challenge for UNRWA is to convince donors and stakeholders to invest in the staff training and development needs of its 30,000 employees to enable them to ‘serve the Palestine’s better’. (OD Mid-Term Report 2008). HRM has yet to implement training systems; this is contributing to an emerging organisational dynamic that may prove detrimental to any forthcoming management and organisational change. OD Mid-Term Report 2008). ‘From a social exchange perspective, employees are favourably disposed towards an organisation that provides something of value to them or shows commitment to them’.
(Blau 1964 P). As important as managers are to the success of an organisation so are their employees. UNRWA staff have reported they lack confidence in the agency and the changes it wants to introduce, therefore any future changes introduced by managers to support the organisation’s business strategy are compromised. (OD Mid-Term Report 2008).The linkage between management and employees is currently strained, as employees feel they have been seen as nonessential to the organisations changes. To date UNRWA has not conducted a comprehensive training needs assessment. Therefore their current training may be inappropriate and prove futile. The management focus through OD initiatives has been on xxxxx as highlighted in the OD Activities report.
(OD Activities 2010). The global market place is besieged with requests for support for humanitarian and development aid programmes, UNRWA must ensure it competes in that market place for continued funding. Additionally, it is necessary hat any funding secured for training be identified as project funding and not operational funding, as this funding is normally utilised on emergency priorities before training can be completed.UNRWA as with all public sector organisations is regularly scrutinised by governments, donors, and more recently stakeholders; which relates directly to administrative systems and the calibre of human resources. As funding demands continue to increase, so does the scepticism of an administration managed by ‘incompetent bureaucrats’ steeped in ‘red tape’, hiding their weaknesses behind ‘adherences to rules and regulations’. Secretariat-Human Resource Development 1995). UNRWA should prioritise critical staff issues, as this is a key link between future creditability and not being seen as ‘incompetent bureaucrats’ due to a lack of training and skills.
Giving employees opportunities to learn and develop creates a positive work environment which supports the business strategy by attracting talented employees as well as motivating and retaining current employees. (Noel et al 2013). After half a century in operation and dealing with political and economic change UNRWA has both a dynamic and aging work force.Due to economic hardships of the stakeholders UNRWA is in a ‘catch 22’ they cannot fire staff and staff will not leave. This situation presents problems such as an example of a teacher who started teaching at an UNRWA school in 1958 and was denied access to continuous learning. Are they equipped to teach in 2013 to computer literate children? This question is crucial to both future funding support from donors and acceptance from stakeholders. Some UNRWA staff are seen as incompetent or redundant which can be attributed to a lack of training?UNRWA’s staff feel they are currently not equipped with the necessary skills to display credible levels of knowledge when completing their work, which affects their attitude and performance.
They feel they cannot perform their current duties and responsibilities successfully and feel undervalued. (OD-Mid-Term Report 2008) 6. Benefits you plan to achieve. There are a number of reasons that staff and the organisation will benefit from staff training initiatives and development. Organisational changes will make some employees redundant or staff interest in their jobs may change, or their skills may become obsolete.
Noe et al 2013). Training will enable them to move within the organisation, work with new technology and be considered for progression or promotion a ‘win win for all’. This will also save costs on recruiting new staff for the organisation. The organisation will benefit from maintaining corporate knowledge of its staff, as roles become obsolete the organisation can transfer internally rather than recruit. Managers will have a work force that is trained, committed, enthusiastic and a crucial element to their success.
(Katono et al 2010). This was seen within Jaguar.Phil Round, manager of education, training and development, Jaguar, said ‘It’s very important to have leadership at the top of the company with a vision of what success is and, importantly, to share that vision so that the followers will latch on to it and see that it’s going to be better for them’. (Essery 2003). Jaguar successfully retrained 3,000 employees when a new model Jaguar X-type was introduced, its manufacture required different skills sets to those that were currently being used by employees, so rather than rehire they retrained the staff.
A key to the transition was strong and frequent communication with the employees who supported the new direction of the company. (Essery 2003). With management support, training is more likely to provide productive results. An employee’s scepticism and opposition to change is reduced if they are confident and motivated and feel part of the success within the organisation.
What I realized for the first time in my life was that the real power in a company was the combined power of the people who were happy to be there. Wisner 2011). From a social exchange perspective, employees are favourably disposed towards an organisation that provides something of value to them or shows commitment to them. (Blau 1964.
). Employees are more likely to perform better at their job which then leads to a feeling of accomplishment. This will then encourage staff that are creative and proactive. Furthermore, research has established the more employees think they can obtain from training, the higher the participation in training. (Noe et al 2013).From this training, employees are able to gain confidence with UNRWA and with this confidence will be able to support management and the organisation to achieve its operational strategies. Donors and stakeholders will recognise a competent results based workforce and consider funding more favourably.
7. Conclusion It can be seen that UNRWA is operating in a global market place and is therefore regularly scrutinised by donors and stakeholders who have the power to determine its funding future. UNRWA, as some have remarked, has taken positive steps to re-invent itself with the OD plan.Yet, the absence of a strategy focused on training and development will impact on its business strategy.
UNRWA’s commitment to its human resource strategies to date has been theoretic, it will benefit from a practical engagement. As recognised within the agency its employees are the key to its success, in spite of this the link is broken. That linkage can be strengthened with the initiatives outlined; conduct a training needs assessment immediately to ensure data highlights both employee and organisational needs.This assessment will recommend the appropriate type of training required and identify training methods necessary. Such as E-learning which could be a ‘win-win’ solution to both funding restraints and employee needs.
The organisation is obliged to build a stronger culture of management support to both employee training needs and a dedicated budget to fund this training. If these links are restored UNRWA will benefit from highly skilled staff who can assist the organisation meet its business plan.ReferencesBlau, PM. Exchange and power in social life. Wiley: New York Cekada, TL. Professional Safety.
Dec 2011, Vol. 56 Issue 12, p28-34. 7p Essery, E. Works Management; May 2003, Vol.
56 Issue 5, p40, 3p, Human Resources Management (HRM) Strategy-Serving Palestine Refugees with qualified, competent and motivated staff Sep 2006 <http://www.unrwa.org/userfiles/od%20hrm_strategy.pdf> Katono, IW The role of perceived benefits of training in generating effective commitment and high value of firms. May2010 Noe, RA, Hollenbeck, JR, Gerhart, B & Wright, PM 2013, Human Resource Management: Gaining a Competitive Advantage, 8th edition, McGraw-Hill, New York. Organisational Development in UNRWA a Mid-Term Report n.d., viewed 7 Mar 2013 <http://www.unrwa.org/userfiles/od%20midtermreport.pdf> Secretariat-Human resource development 7 July 1995 The Geneva Conference: Meeting the Humanitarian needs of the Palestine refugees in the Near East, Jun 2004,