I read an article online that attracted my attention because this was the headline:
Ask The Headhunter: The Talent Shortage Myth and Why HR Should Get Out of the Hiring Business
Here’s the link to it: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/businessdesk/2013/04/ask-the-headhunter-the-talent.html
My immediate reaction is that it is no myth that there is a talent shortage, at least not for the technical, skilled jobs that I see go unfilled on a routine basis. But I admit I was curious about the rationale behind suggesting that HR (Human Resources) should get out of the hiring business.
I read it with an open mind, but was expecting the bias of someone who wants the hiring work instead of HR. Unfortunately, my expectations were met.
While I think the author makes some valid points, I think they represent what usually dwells in more extreme cases of HR isolation. While even the best-run organizations have occasional HR/Line/Staff excursions away from best practices into the realm of disaster, most make their way fairly well through a difficult jobs environment.
I say difficult in the sense that I do believe (and many facts bear this out) that there is in general a shortage of qualified candidates for skilled positions, which forces the broadening of recruiting practices in an effort to increase the population of viable candidates.
This presents a double-edged sword: the larger pool requires more initial screening to find viable candidates, and the larger pool potentially may prompt abbreviated screening in order to get through all of them, with the risk that some qualified candidates get screened out.
I found it also revealing that the majority of comments to this article were written as though HR is a monolithic silo within a larger entity, without connection or engagement with the actual hiring managers. While I have had a few clients that match that description, most well-run, well-led large organizations make a concerted effort to keep recruiting/hiring practices and procedures relevant to the end user – they wouldn’t continue to be functioning well if they didn’t. Most middle-size and small companies have management staff that necessarily covers so much ground that they typically are at full capacity – hence line and staff managers don’t have the time (nor the hiring expertise) to also take on the initial time-consuming task of preliminary screening. They should, of course, be involved in the review and selection of the final candidates, as they are the ones to determine personal, behavioral and technical fit within their organizations. Additionally, most trained HR staff are mindful of the legal do’s and don’ts of the hiring process, something that most line and staff managers are not knowledgeable of.
There are good reasons why HR departments exist.
Turning hiring over to a headhunter removes the ease of integration between hiring stakeholders – headhunters can’t walk down the hall to talk about a job or a candidate. Nor are headhunters essential stakeholders in the long-term success of the hire – if a hire doesn’t work out, the headhunter can always walk away. The company can’t.
Headhunters play a role, certainly, but they are no substitute for an HR department.
…it’s worth saying again.
In December of 2010, I wrote a blog entry regarding China that focused on the argument that China has a bigger problem than we do.
I believe not only that China has a bigger problem than we do, but that it’s gotten worse, and will continue to worsen, while our situation will only improve.
Look at what’s going on at home in the U.S.:
- Unemployment is down to 7.8% in December 2012 from 8.5% in December 2011.
- Manufacturing continues to grow – output is up 4% in 2012 over 2011.
- Manufacturers are bringing more offshore jobs back home – “reshoring” is now something you can search for and find many solid results.
- The economy is slowly picking up steam – GDP up 3.1% for the 3rd quarter of 2012.
Let’s look at what’s going on in China:
- Demands for a greater voice in the political control of certain regions is growing, even if in fits and spurts.
- Wages are rapidly increasing in the coastal areas where the greatest concentration of manufacturing is located.
- Working conditions have become a flashpoint that manufacturers are responding to.
- Access to the internet via cell phone is rocketing up.
It was the last point that caught my eye and prompted revisiting this topic.
In an article from Technology Review (MIT’s magazine) it is mentioned that there are 420 million cell phone users accessing the internet in China and overall 564 million online users in the country in 2012. In 2010 the number was 450 million. Keep in mind the U.S. population at the end of 2012 was roughly 315 million. At this rate, by the end of this year China will have twice our entire U.S. population with internet access.
What does that mean?
In the Technology Review article, Chinese users are hugely susceptible to cell-phone-based viruses.
But from my perspective, it also means they are, again, more and more able to see what “everyone else” in the developed world has that they don’t: dishwashers, microwaves, flat screen TVs, comfortable chairs, different food, more stylish clothes. Those accessing the internet are also the ones manufacturing all those goods that are shipped overseas to everyone else.
At some point, their economy will tip in the direction of building those products for themselves – a consumption economy – instead of shipping them elsewhere – an export economy. When that day happens, and it is getting closer and closer, we better be ready to make those goods ourselves.
This is the time for us in the U.S. to lay the groundwork for our industrial renaissance – the concatenation of causes, as George Washington referred to them, is pointing to the inevitable upsurge in industry and manufacturing that we will need in order to remain self-sufficient as China undergoes its consumption-economy upheavals.
It was worth saying in 2010; it’s worth saying again now.
I once worked for a global auto parts manufacturer where I was responsible for putting in place our version of the Toyota Production System in my Division’s facilities.
One of the aspects of that job was also acting as a corporate auditor, going to other Division’s plants to audit production cells that had reached our “World Class” targets to verify that their success was fundamentally built upon real and lasting changes, not superficial window-dressing.
This “external” audit (performed by auditors external to each Division) was crucial to establishing that the improvement process couldn’t be short cut and for verifying that a consistent standard for proficiency in our process was being met. We auditors were the gatekeepers.
But not Ghostbusters kind of Gatekeeper…
Gatekeeper. That’s the role of many of our assessments when used as part of a selection process for jobs with specialized knowledge. With a gatekeeper, only those who can come in the door and successfully function – who are sufficiently proficient to do the job – pass.
Companies who use our assessments rely on us as “external” auditors of what constitutes proficiency. It’s one of the most valuable aspects of our services.
For the last year I’ve been involved with developing a community effort to put in place complete education pathways for students that will lead to skilled jobs in our region. I’ve written about both the growing need for skilled employees, where they may come from, and the obstacles that have been in place for students whose personal gifts are to be found in places other than attending college. Our local efforts include our school system’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) department, our largest regional two-year community college, our Chamber of Commerce and, soon, our regional industrial partners.
We have a unique situation in that our school system has the potential to co-locate a CTE school within a new campus of our largest community college. This presents a dazzling number of new opportunities for adding 1 + 1 and getting way more than 2 through maximizing shared resources: instructors, students, curriculum and facilities.
The critical part of developing these pathways for our students, though, is gaining the involvement of industrial partners. We need them to provide on-the-job training opportunities, from job shadowing and internships to summer jobs and apprentice hiring – and the skilled jobs that are at the end of the pathways.
To make our pathways development work, instead of asking “what can you (industry) give us?” we instead must ask, “what can we give you?” Our pathway project can, and should, develop job candidates who meet industry’s needs. It is reasonable, though, for our potential industrial partners to ask this crucial question:
“What are you going to do to assure that these students – these potential employees that you are asking us to commit to hiring – can actually perform the work required of our jobs?”
Being able to answer this question to the satisfaction of our industrial partners will be a significant step towards establishing their engagement in our pathways project.
I believe the answer to this question is that no matter what the curriculum is, no matter what the passing grades are, no matter what the high school or community college certificates represent, when the students reach a hiring point on their pathway, whether for an internship, a summer job or apprentice work, they will need to pass a gatekeeper exam, to assure their proficiency.
By implementing an external assurance that student proficiency standards are met or exceeded, we can open the gate to the students so they can complete their paths.
I’m educated as an engineer and worked extensively in maintenance, where I learned to place significant value upon identifying the root cause of a problem, instead of reacting to the symptoms or effects of the cause.
Often, though, in the real world, you can see people scratching their heads puzzling over why they can’t fix an effect, because they aren’t aware of the cause.
Let me give you an example.
I’ve been volunteering my time with our local school system’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) Department, with the end goal of helping them review and revise their curriculum to make it relevant and rigorous regarding industrial content. As part of that work, I attend CTE’s Advisory Committee meetings, made up of businesses and other entities interested in CTE’s success. In a related effort, I’m part of a Workforce Development committee hosted by our regional Chamber of Commerce. For both groups, one of the topics of discussion is how the groups can be more successful in their engagement with industrial companies regarding skilled jobs.
At meetings earlier this year, I had the opportunity to address both groups and in so doing asked for a show of hands of those who represented industrial businesses or industry in general.
In both cases, the only hand raised was mine.
In my opinion, active engagement by our potential industrial partners in our educational and economic development goals will be crucial to the success of those goals.
However, the future engagement of industrial companies in CTE and Workforce Development plans and activities won’t be the cause of success, but rather the effect: the cause will be because we have made our plans and actions relevant and valuable to them.
How will we know?
By a show of hands.
When I was growing up, my family was the proud owner of a 1962 Buick Invicta Station Wagon. Ours was metallic beige. The third seat faced to the rear, which was a crucial feature as far as I was concerned. Why? Because of our road trips.
Each summer, we would all pile into the car and head off on a multi-week trip, usually to my Grandfather’s farm near Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, or up into Ontario, perhaps to arc back down through the Soo (Sault Sainte Marie, the narrows where Lake Superior flows into Lake Huron), or some other exotic locale. The rearward facing back seat was the prime location from which to see the world.
You may think I’m kidding about their being exotic locales – I mean, how exotic can a farm on the Shenandoah River be, or the crystal clear (and freezing cold) lakes a couple of hours north of Ottawa?
It all depends on you.
I grew up wanting to see different places, learn how things were done differently, or said differently (in Ontario it is “al-u-min-ium” not “a-lum-in-um”). Any place was new, even the farm – it was different one year to the next. The Soo? You bet it was exotic.
My family and I have just returned from our first long road trip, from Tennessee to New England and back. While we’ve been to the Northeast before, we’ve always flown. Because we were on a road trip, however, we were able to experience exotic locales along the way that we’d never see if we flew, such as Point Judith, RI or DUMBO (“Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass” in Brooklyn).
What did I see that was new or different? Lots, but here’s one in particular. In Rhode Island, every little community anywhere near the water (which is pretty much the whole state) has its own local ice cream joint with 30 or more homemade flavors. Every flavor we tried was amazing. Ginger ice cream, with chunks of crystallized ginger, the ice cream not too sweet. Perfect. From Aunt Carrie’s.
What do I want at home now? Either we concoct ginger ice cream ourselves, or try to persuade Cruze Farms (here in Knoxville) to make some.
So, what’s the point of this travelogue? What’s it got to do with business?
It’s the idea of the road trip.
For most who work for a business, the on-going environment, however dynamic it might be on a given day, generally remains the same.
For example, let’s take a manufacturing plant, where the processes, equipment and people are pretty much the same, each day. You can work well together to be creative, and continue to improve things as time goes by. But you don’t see, and don’t experience, new or different things – your context doesn’t change.
Take a road trip. You don’t need to visit a competitor – you’ll probably benefit more from going outside your area of experience and comfort. How much you learn, how much the road trip benefits you, will depend on you. Are you willing to look at something new or different and be open to a new idea to take back with you?
- Your company makes auto parts? Go see how medical devices are made.
- You make appliances? Go see how hybrid car engines are assembled.
- You’re in maintenance? Go see how Internet retailers pick orders flawlessly.
You get the idea.
Take a road trip.
See some exotic locales, come back with the business equivalent of ginger ice cream.
The hard part will be finding a good ride.
If this idea intrigues you, but you need help with figuring out how to make a road trip work, we can help. Call us.
No, not that type of operator.
This kind of operator.
Once upon a time, not long ago, the widespread use of computers to control our industrial processes prompted the equally widespread perception that the operators were just there to push the buttons – the computer programs really ran everything. The operators were there just in case something happened that the automated systems couldn’t handle – some sort of disaster.
What’s that, you say? That’s still the perception of operators in many industries?
Unfortunately, you are right.
Unfortunate, in that the greater the sophistication and complexity of the automation systems, the greater the need for their operating and maintenance staff to be skilled.
In many industrial operations, the operators are the constant eyes on the process. The more they understand that process and the equipment they run, the more capable they are of identifying potential issues before they become problems and reacting appropriately, and in providing accurate information to quality and maintenance staff when a problem does occur. Both are highly valuable and save money and resources.
How do you hire operators who are capable of learning your processes? Or of understanding the equipment they operate?
Choose the right assessments to use during the selection and hiring process.
We have them – or, if we don’t, we can create them for you, including validated technical assessments.
You can have them, too. It’s as easy as pushing a button.
And if you’ve already pushed the button, we can help you improve your employees’ performance through our training and consulting services.
You want me to hire you as an experienced welder. You tell me you are skilled and give me a list of where you’ve worked. But if I really want to know what you can do, I’ll take you to a welding booth, give you welding gear, some warm 7018 electrodes and a couple of pieces of ¼” steel plate and ask you to weld them together at a 90° angle to make a corner.
You’ve just come back from a training class about how to properly remove, handle, install, lubricate and adjust tapered roller bearings. How do I tell if you have retained that knowledge? Let’s go out into the plant.
That’s a nice phrase.
It’s also a crucial concept is assessing someone’s skill, whether you are looking at an apprentice completing a technical training module, a candidate for a job with specific required skills, or determining training needs for an incumbent workforce.
Why is this important?
We develop EEOC-compliant content-validated written technical assessments – and have our versions of off-the-shelf technical assessments – that do an excellent job of determining knowledge and skill. But there are two good reasons to have hands-on assessments in addition to those written assessments to determine someone’s demonstrable competency.
- Some skill or knowledge topics are more efficiently assessed by demonstration – welding skill being a good example.
- Some individuals, regardless of the level of knowledge or skill they possess, are limited in their capability to perform the actual, physical tasks required of a job in a time-efficient, effective or safe manner. Hands-on assessments are the additional screening tool that can assure demonstrable competency that will directly translate to work products on the job.
Skill and knowledge assessments for jobs with specialized requirements are excellent tools to employ, and the value they provide is reinforced by the additional use of hands-on assessments to assure demonstrable competency.
How do you know for sure?
Call us. Let us show you.
When you think of the idea represented by the word apprentice, what comes to mind?
Is it this many-centuries-old definition? I hope not.
One bound by indenture to serve another for a prescribed period with a view to learning an art or trade.
Or, perhaps, this 20th century version without the indenture? Probably so.
One who is learning by practical experience under skilled workers a trade, art, or calling.
Or, perhaps, this one?
Hmm. For some people, the only thing worse than a four-letter word is that five-letter word.
Why am I bringing this up? I’ve been talking with clients, colleagues and schools about the need for modern-day apprentice programs, and writing about them as well. What prompted this post, however, was a recent question from a colleague, who asked,
“Are apprentices automatically in a union?”
The short answer is… it depends...
That’s a helpful answer, isn’t it? But, as is usually the case, there’s more to the answer than that.
Traditionally – many decades ago – apprentice programs were associated with unionized industrial jobs and therefore their unions: they represented a progression path in both skill and wages within a business. In some places, the local unions managed the apprentice programs and worked with businesses to place apprentices for on-the-job training (OJT). Those apprentices, learning their trade in a union environment, with classroom training likely from union instructors, would be union members when they “top out” and become journeymen.
In the latter part of the last century, with the growth of manufacturing sites with non-union hourly workforces, apprentice programs that did not require union affiliation began to appear. These, however, were almost exclusively sponsored and managed by business entities for their own employees. Finding a non-union-affiliated apprentice program available to the public outside of these internal programs was difficult. Currently, public non-union apprentice programs are somewhat more available. Those attending are not union members when they top out.
An interesting thing about apprenticeships is that the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration made significant revisions recently to its apprentice regulations in an effort to make them more accessible, flexible and able to take advantage of current and future technologies.
Why am I telling you this? Because it is important:
- Program sponsors now have three different approaches they can use in creating an apprentice program: time-based (“traditional”), competency-based, and a hybrid between the two;
- Interim credentials are now possible for programs designed to include them;
- Electronic media and distance learning are now acceptable as part of the technical instruction.
I am really excited about what these changes will allow us to do. We can more easily create an effective apprentice program for communities – and high school students – who want that path and the good, skilled jobs they lead to.
The challenge will be bringing everyone together who has a stake in this: families, students, schools, businesses, unions and government agencies.
Why bother with that challenge? I believe modern industrial apprentice programs will be one of the solutions to our skilled worker shortage, as well as a key foundation block for our American Industrial Renaissance.
Apprentice is not a five-letter word – it’s a six-letter word – an important part of our Industrial Renaissance future.
Recently, I had an opportunity to talk about these topics on the radio.
WUOT-FM, the NPR/public radio station in the Knoxville, Tennessee region, where I live, broadcasts a monthly call-in topical discussion show called Dialogue. Earlier this month I was a guest on the show, hosted by Matt Shafer Powell, a National Edward R. Murrow award winner, along with Teri Brahams, a colleague in the workforce development field.
Here is the introduction to the program:
Not that long ago, manufacturing in Tennessee was king. Factories throughout the Volunteer State cranked out a variety of products from blue jeans to iron beams, from chemicals to car parts. As recently as 1990, more Tennesseans made their living in manufacturing than any other non-farm industry. But a lot has changed since then. Since 2001, Tennessee has lost more than 170,000 manufacturing jobs. Some have gone overseas, while others have been automated. So does that mean manufacturing is dead in Tennessee? Not quite. On this episode of Dialogue, host Matt Shafer Powell talks with Teri Brahams of Pellissippi State Community College and George Cooper of Development Concepts about the jobs that are out there– and what Tennesseans need to learn to fill them…
Let’s say that high school students have a curriculum available that introduces them to the path towards the journeyman-level craft skills necessary for industry and manufacturing. I’ve recently written about the need to change High School CTE curricula, and this post is about an equally critical step towards developing a new generation of skilled workers.
Here’s the rub: the high school students introduced to the path can get perhaps as far as halfway along the path before they reach a gap – the gap between the skills they have upon graduation and the journeyman-level skills that are truly employable.
This hypothetical situation begs this hypothetical question: why start high school students along the path to becoming journeyman-level skilled workers if they can’t complete the path?
If we accept as our basic premise that a completed path is the desired outcome for many students, how do we bridge that gap?
I believe the best structure of that bridge will be an apprentice program begun in high school and completed after graduation, comprised of classroom instruction, instructor-led hands-on (“lab”) training and on-the-job training (OJT). In theory, this should be straightforward.
“In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.”
(attributed to Yogi Berra)
In practice, to make the apprentice approach work, a great deal of agreement and coordination would be required of all who would be involved (our stakeholders) – and everyone would share in the commitment and risk.
- Businesses would agree to hire the students as apprentices and provide part-time OJT during the students’ junior and senior years and full-time, paid employment upon graduation for the remainder of the apprentice program. Upon successful completion of the program, the businesses would transition the apprentices to the appropriate journeyman position and pay grade.
- Students would agree to meet demonstrable standards of proficiency, to work for a company during their apprenticeship, and to stay as a journeyman at that employer for a minimum period of time.
- Education systems, secondary and post-secondary, would coordinate curriculum and instructor/lab resources in order to provide and maintain the necessary classroom and lab instruction.
- Local, State and Federal government agencies would provide apprentice program certification as well as financial support to establish and maintain the educational infrastructure and resources.
Working together, in this hypothetical situation, the stakeholders can create a path that will take high school students from unskilled youth to skilled journeyman employees, to the benefit of all.
Back in our real world, I believe it is time for our stakeholders to see the limitations of the existing path, and take it in a new direction – the direction we’ve just described.
As the sage Yogi Berra once said,
“If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”