Poorly titled study, poorly worded research questions, misapplied research design: Who’s at fault?

As I’m putting together a paper on the misapplication of case study research design or “non-case case studies”, I wanted to take a break and review a QUAN study. The title of this recently published dissertation interested me: Technical Workforce Shortage and Its Effect on Economic Development in the ECOWAS Region (Jordan, 2020). When the word effect is used in a study, I assume it’s a QUAN study since the term effect means a result of a change. What do I find? Another qualitative non-case case study.

Let me provide some background. ECOWAS stands for Economic Community of West African States. The purpose of the study was to explore perceptions of, and gain insight into, issues HR professionals face while hiring high-tech workers for multinational companies in the ECOWAS region. The emerging researcher performed semi-structured interviews with 10 human resource managers. Three research questions lead this inquiry (my comments in blue):

  • What are the issues HR Professionals faced while hiring high-tech workers for
    multinational companies and societies in the ECOWAS region, due to the shortage of high-tech
    human capital? (If the emerging researcher already knew there is a shortage of high-tech workers, why do the study? Also, aren’t “What?” questions associated with QUAN studies than QUAL?)
  • What strategies do HR Professionals employ to recruit and retain high-tech
    workers for multinational companies and societies in the ECOWAS region? (See above)
  • How is the high-tech shortage problem in the ECOWAS region being addressed
    currently and for the future? (Since the first two research questions address recruiting and retention, the first part of this research question [currently] has been addressed. The second part of the research question is speculation. The committee should have caught the double-barreled question involving speculation part and removed it.)

If the emerging scholar had adopted the two research questions along the lines I propose, and changed the research design from case study to descriptive, I’d be fine with the proposal. The title, which would normally be finalized after the study is complete, should not have had the word effect in it.

I have a lesser concern about the sample. The emerging scholar represents that each of the participants “were from global staffing and recruitment businesses…that focus on staffing for multinational companies in West African countries” (p. 124), and had “extensive knowledge and lived experiences related to the technical human capital shortage in West Africa” (p. 126). However, there was no evidence that the participants were currently active in recruiting high-tech workers or how long they have been active or inactive. I have knowledge of accounting and generally know how CPA firms recruit recent college graduates, but I haven’t been employed in a CPA firm since 1997. Is my knowledge the same as a PWC recruiter who is doing the job today in our current world and economy?

The emerging scholar identified some themes that align with her research questions (e.g., government infrastructure, lack of law enforcement and safety, brain drain). Unfortunately, some don’t make sense (e.g., Expatriate in charge of technology in Africa), some are mislabeled (recruitment strategies leads to an appropriate discussion about sign-on bonuses and local recruitment fairs; retention strategies leads to an appropriate discussion about merit bonuses, training and development, and knowledge transfer), and some are suggestions (which aligns with public opinion and is unrelated to this study).

From what I see, the emerging scholar did a satisfactory job in executing the study. The interview guide was adequate but items could have been omitted to not muddy the focus of the study; however, in my opinion the committee dropped the ball in helping the student with the title, properly frame the purpose of the study, developing research questions aligned with qualitative research, and, most of all, selecting the appropriate research method. In addition, communicating aspects about her sample, developing the interview guide, and communicating results must be borne by the student and the committee.

My advice to this emerging scholar would have been –

  • Name your study something like – “An inquiry into hiring and retaining high-tech workers in ECOWAS Member States
  • Change your purpose statement to something like – “The purpose of this qualitative, descriptive study was explore challenges facing HR managers in hiring and retaining high-tech workers in ECOWAS member states.”
  • Research Questions –
    • Why do HR Professionals have difficulty hiring high-tech workers for ECOWAS member state companies?
    • How do HR Professionals retain high-tech workers the ECOWAS member state companies?

Reference:

Jordan, T. S. (2020). Technical workforce shortage and its effect on economic development in the ECOWAS Region (Doctoral dissertation). ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global: The Humanities and Social Sciences Collection. (28090880)

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