I was listening to a Knowledge at Wharton podcast recently in which Peter Capelli was being interviewed. He described the mismatch in the USA between those who are looking to hire talent and those who job-seeking.
At the same time, my wife and I have been sharing about the number of friends we have in the USA who are jobhunting in their 50’s, having recently been laid off. Most are being replaced by younger staff – less expensive, better users of technology who are likely to improve their productivity faster.
Jamaica (and most of the Caribbean) doesn’t have that particular problem, but our youth would argue that we do little to develop new talent. That’s the topic I decided to focus on in this week’s article.
It’s a human resource mistake that appears, at first, to be a smart strategy: only hire people who can hit the ground running, without any training. Unfortunately, your company could be sowing the seeds of mediocrity in the form of a short-cut that draws long-term blood.
In the wake of the global recession, U.S. companies are complaining that they cannot find the workers they need. As a result, a huge number of jobs are going unfilled. At the same time, the unemployment rate among recent graduates is disturbingly high, as it is in Jamaica. According to business author Professor Peter Capelli, the reason is simple. Companies are looking for candidates with at least five years experience.
The logic, which also applies to local companies, is understandable. To fill an open position, just find someone with all the experience required. This is an extremely expensive option as these qualified people usually aren’t floating around looking for employment. They already have stable jobs and their employers are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to keep them happy.
This predatory approach is, according to Capelli, a way of compensating for a lack of internal training. In 1979, a young employee received 2.5 weeks of training per year on average. By 2014, only 29% had received any training whatsoever in the past five years.
My observation is that companies are expecting employees to train themselves.
This is not crazy thinking. Back in the 1990’s, thousands of workers sat in classrooms to learn Windows, Excel and Word. Today, almost no-one is trained to use these programmes… instead, without a single paragraph of explanation or a minute of video they get themselves and running in an instant. Today’s employee has learned how to teach themselves.
Unfortunately, this miraculous, modern-day skill doesn’t scale to include other areas of learning. Even the most adept self-learner has a difficult time picking up decent “soft skills” such as negotiation, time management and leadership. Furthermore, the horror stories I hear coming from university departments lead me to think that more academic education doesn’t help.
The ultimate answer is simple: change the way your company conceives of human resources and their role in the enterprise.
Unlike a computing or financial resource, a human resource has the innate ability to learn and grow in stature. However, in most companies how this happens is a mystery. They may have excellent internal processes for tracking every penny, but have no clue how a leader develops within their own walls. The actions required and the time someone needs to invest to learn these skills are the stuff of myths and anecdotes.
Many human resource professionals argue that it’s better to have the perfect training system than to be forced to search for the perfect employee. Yet, your company is cutting back on employee development and doing little to leverage the low-cost training available via the internet. Why is this happening?
Reason #1 – All Costs and No Benefits
Perhaps your internal management systems, like many others, is lopsided. It reports primarily financial metrics which highlight all the costs of a training intervention but none of the benefits. As a result, employee development is the first item your organization cuts from every annual budget. Making a balanced decision to offer training requires different tools, which your company lacks.
Reason #2 – Hiring for the Short Term
Disney and Southwest Airlines are a few of the companies known for their policy of hiring primarily for attitude. This is especially true in customer-facing positions where months (not years) of technical training are required. Their stance is that specific skills can be taught, but the right frame of mind cannot. This particular tactic makes perfect sense when your company takes a long-term perspective.
Reason #3 – Hiring a Whole Person vs. a Functionary
Your company may be typical in these recessionary times, hiring people for jobs they can perform right away. However, it runs the risk of staffing itself with people who are expert at soon-to-be-obsolete functions. A better strategy might be to hire fast learners who can pick up any technology quickly while changing their behaviour to suit new circumstances. Oftentimes, these nimble employees lack experience due to their age, but are better able to transform the job itself. Some of them may already be in your company, stuck in a dead-end job. Most companies are weak at identifying talent that is sitting right underneath their noses.
The trap of mediocrity can be avoided but great companies aren’t built by cherry-picking talent from outside. Instead, they build training systems that take available people, building enduring cultures around them. In these times, this approach “costs” more but there is no such thing as a company cost-cutting its way to market dominance. That only comes from investing in people with the highest potential.
Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity and a management consultant. To receive a free Summary of each of his past articles, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org