Ethical challenges in assessment centres in SA


What are the ethical challenges that the Assessment Centre Practitioner experience in a universal search for validity and fairness?

LEMASA proudly shares with you the full article. Please visit our website for a link to the full article.

Herewith an extract of what to expect.


Ethical behaviour is on everyone’s “screens” these days. Our society and especially the South African public is confronted daily with unethical behaviour and the impact thereof on our daily lives.

The downfall of an organisation is often caused by employee incompetence, person job-mismatch or unethical conduct. For this reason, organisations are forced to invest in specialised methods to select and develop employees. In this regard the Assessment Centre is believed to play an important role in the measuring and prediction of human behaviour and performance.

Assessment Centres (ACs) are competency-based, job-related, organisationally focused and industry specific. Trained facilitators in partnership with management enrich decision-making. Unsurprisingly, the use of ACs locally is on the rise, making South Africa the third largest user of ACs among the 82 countries using this practice.
Despite their utility and widespread use, ACs are tainted by inconsistent and sometimes contradictory construct validity evidence. Current findings indicate that one-third of ACs' content was developed overseas, raising questions about relevance and cultural appropriateness. Ethical issues arise, therefore, in the use of the AC in terms of its fairness towards the South African citizen, considering our cultural diversity and country’s history.

In support of the ethical use of the AC, a qualitative and interpretive research study amongst 96 AC practitioners in South Africa was conducted to add some insight to the limited empirical evidence that currently exists regarding the ethical challenges encountered by AC practitioners.
The study had three main objectives:
1) To gain an overview of the ethical challenges that practitioners experience when using ACs
2) To use practitioners’ input to develop a framework of understanding towards ethical use of the AC in the absence of sufficient regulatory-legal guidelines.
3) To ask practitioners to forward suggestions to address the ethical challenges they are faced with.

The SA Journal of Industrial Psychology recently published the results from this study. Not only did it reveal that ACs in SA are facing many ethical challenges; it also implicated the considerable risk that exists for the unethical use of many AC practices.

The outcome of the study is a conceptual framework to provide a lens through which the ethical challenges related to the use of ACs could be viewed and understood. The eleven conclusions drawn from the study are presented to the AC community to serve as guidelines for the AC practitioner and to further stimulate academic debate regarding ethical challenges in the use of ACs – not only in SA but throughout the global environment. Practical guidelines to address many of these challenges are also recommended.

The study was conducted by Mr V Muleya as part of a master’s degree in Industrial Psychology at the University of Johannesburg and was jointly supervised by Dr Linda Fourie (University of Johannesburg) and Ms Sandra Schlebusch of LEMASA.

LEMASA is a South-African, black owned company that specialises in Assessment and Development Centres. At LEMASA the Assessment Centre is applied as a “simulation-based process employing multiple assessment techniques and multiple assessors to produce judgements regarding the extent to which a candidate displays selected competencies required to perform a job effectively”.