Airborne Rescue Technician:
A formal Needs Assessment provides valuable insights and recommendations for improvement of the recruitment, training, performance, and deployment of elite field personnel.
Note: This is information from an actual needs assessment project. The Agency, Airborne Rescue Technician (ART), ART School and related terms are pseudonyms used to protect the privacy of the client and to safeguard sensitive information. No associations are claimed, nor should be assumed, from any images, data or information herein.
The Agency (a pseudonym) has an operational mission to safeguard the lives and security of citizens requiring emergency assistance in remote, austere, and inherently hazardous environments. On an average day, the Agency conducts 64 Search and Rescue (SAR) missions and saves 12 lives as part of its strategic objectives.
The Agency’s Airborne Rescue Technician (ART) job function is critical for SAR effectiveness. The ART duties include technical rescue execution, rescue equipment maintenance, and aircrew survival training instruction. The numbers of bodies (ART personnel) relative to the staffing needs of the ART billet (job classification) is the focus of the performance gap. Sufficient and sustainable ART staffing is necessary for the Agency to meet its lifesaving responsibilities.
Figure 1 illustrates the trending deficit of actual ART “bodies” (black dashed line) relative to the total, stressed (important), and critical ART billets (colored lines).
Figure 1. The ART Body to Billet Trend
- Average of 31 billets gapped (vacant) per year
- Average of 20 ART losses per year
- Average of 24 ART-School graduates per year
Table 1. The ART Body to Billet Performance Gap
The needs assessment project team consisted of four master’s degree students enrolled in the Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning (OPWL) program at Boise State University. The team conducted this project as part of the OPWL 529 (Needs Assessment) course requirement (Vryheid et al., 2020).
Using a systematic three-step process, the team developed a project plan to identify needs, analyze those needs, and make recommendations (Watkins, 2012, p. 46). This was accomplished by adhering to the performance analysis process of the Van Tiem Model (Van Tiem, 2012), followed by selecting appropriate interventions. (See Figure 2)
The main human performance improvement frameworks and models used by the team to perform this needs assessment appear in Figure 2.
The team performed a SWOT analysis to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the current ART body to billet strategy after previous improvement efforts, and to explore the opportunities and threats to closing the persistent performance gap explained in Figure 1. Gilbert’s Leisurely Theorems and Behavior Engineering Model (Gilbert, 1978, p. 87, as cited in Chevalier, 2008, p. 10) were used informally to verify and define the performance gap illustrated in Table 1.
Chevalier’s Updated Behavioral Engineering Model (BEM) (Chevalier, 2008, p. 10) is comprehensive, and provides a wide perspective to diagnosing performance problems (Rothwell et al, 2018, p. 50). The BEM “distinguishes between a person’s repertory of behavior (what the individual brings to the performance equation) and the environmental supports (the work environment factors that encourage or impede performance)” (Chevalier, 2008, p. 10). The team used the BEM to examine the ART work environment before considering individual failings.
The BEM lacked specificity in the analysis of processes related to the Agency’s ART staffing challenges. The team supplemented the BEM with the process portion of Rummler’s Nine-Box Model to examine organizational, process and individual levels of performance with respect to goals, design, and management. The Nine-Box Model’s strength is its systems perspective of the organization, and focus on alignment between performance levels and needs (Rothwell et al., 2018, p.47).
Finally, the team employed a Force-Field Analysis (Chevalier, 2008, p. 12) to inform the selection of the appropriate Hale’s “Families of Interventions” (Hale, 2007, pp. 176-193) to identify, and recommend solutions for, the most significant causes of the performance gap.
Qualitative and quantitative data were collected. The team examined extant data from previous ART staffing and performance evaluations, and analyzed newly-generated data from team-administered surveys and interviews. Extant and new data sources are outlined in Table 2.
Surveys. The team designed and distributed surveys to current and previous ART School candidates. Survey data from 52 respondents yielded new insights and validated extant data regarding ART’s preparation, expectations, and motivations.
Interviews. The team conducted in-depth interviews with two ART School attendees and key agency personnel. The information gathered during these interviews correlated to the survey and extant data.
Table 2. Data Sources
Using Chevalier’s Updated BEM and Rummler’s Nine-Box Model, the team uncovered multiple factors causing the body-to-billet gap. The team utilized a force field analysis tool to identify the driving and restraining forces contributing to the performance problem (Chevalier, 2008, p. 12). (See Figure 3)
- Environmental-Resources factors
- A lack of end-of-processes and upstream goals that link organizational goals and reflect staffing and readiness needs
- A lack of designed processes that enable process goals to be met
- A lack of an installed infrastructure for continuously monitoring and improving core processes
- Individual knowledge and skills deficiencies in ART School students due to capacity limitations
Environmental-Resources emerged as the primary cause of the body-to-billet gap, escalated by inadequate processes and procedures. Other areas of concern proved to have nexuses to Environmental-Resource deficiencies. The use of the Force Field analysis enabled the team to also identify COVID-19 as an independent factor which magnified these deficiencies.
Figure 3. Field Force Analysis of Identified Causes
Problem Areas to be Addressed
Taking a systemic view, the team took all collected data into consideration, and systematically refined the cause analysis findings into prioritized problem areas to be addressed. This process was based on Chevalier’s argument that environmental factors (process in this case), which are often less costly to resolve, should be investigated before individual factors (skill and knowledge). Figure 4 is an infographic representation of the most significant problem areas.
Figure 4. Most Significant Problem Areas
The team consulted Hale’s “Families of Interventions” (Hale, 2007) and selected the most applicable interventions to address the identified causes and problem areas for maximum effectiveness and sustainability.
- Interventions that Align. The Agency needs to codify and define what success looks like in terms of the ARTs’ role in the Agency’s lifesaving mission, and the staffing required to achieve that standard. (*Problem Area 1)
- Interventions that Measure. The Agency needs to identify metrics and establish end-of-process goals regarding ART staffing, and make future improvement decisions based on evidence and data, rather than hunches. (*Problem Area 1)
- Interventions that Reframe. The Agency needs to reframe ART candidate onboarding and development. Unlike other job classification candidates, ARTs require specialized physical, mental, and professional preparation to meet the demands of ART School and ART job duties. (*Problem Area 2)
- Interventions that Organize. The Agency needs to codify and actively manage processes which support ART development across functional areas of the Agency. (*Problem Area 3)
- Interventions that Develop. The Agency needs to expand the ARTs’ knowledge and skills through training, mentoring, job swapping, cross-functional teamwork, and formal continuing education. (*Problem Areas 4 & 5)
* See Figure 4 for numbered problem areas
Recommended Intervention Implementation
Based on the Needs Assessment findings, the team made several recommendations to address the ART body-to-billet gap. Figure 5 is an infographic representation of the entire ART body-to-billet staffing system from recruitment to field assignment. The system is represented as a four-phase process. Numbered problem area icons from Figure 4 are placed for reference, and recommended solutions for each phase appear as opportunities along the top and bottom of the graphic.
Figure 5. Recommended Interventions Across the Entire ART Staffing Process
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