By Marc Hequet
When hiring starts again after a recession, workers often need a new skill mix. If so, it’s the trainer’s job to make sure employees—both current and those being hired—have those skills.
In the cauldron of recession, businesses streamlined to survive—making changes that may have been overdue. “A recession is a terrible thing to waste,” says David Ulrich, who teaches executive education at the University of Michigan and is a partner at leadership training consultant RBL Group of Provo, UT. Many businesses, Ulrich says, used recession “as a license to make tough decisions that had gone undone”—often dropping workers with outdated skills.
Now that it’s time to consider hiring again, some new complications emerge. After layoffs, remaining workers likely took on more tasks and learned new skills. If new hires spelling them need the same mix, trainers will find themselves training on those new skills.
Yet trainers’ role is delicate as business begins hiring again. Are your company’s workers burned out covering for laid-off colleagues? As the economy eventually perks up again, will workers vanish, taking other jobs?
Instead, try individual development plans, counsels consultant Derrick Barton, CEO at Center for Talent Solutions Inc. in Denver. “If we offer a bunch of training,” he says, “we’re going to be the training ground for others—building capability for people to work in other places.”
Many people are out there looking for jobs. How do you pick the right workers for your own organization? What skills will they need?
Pat Hayes insists on something that you may not be doing: Clearly define skill requirements even before defining specific job skills. “For years, we have assumed that anyone coming in our door had the necessary core skills, as a graduate holding a secondary education degree,” says Hayes, founder and chairman of Fabric Images Inc. in Elgin, IL. “This has proved to be an incorrect assumption.”
Hayes no longer assumes new hires know math—or even can read. When his business moved to a larger facility recently, it hired the same firm that moved it nine years earlier. During the three-day move, however, movers betrayed a lack of core skills, says Hayes—including reading comprehension. They placed items hundreds of feet from where printed directions indicated and built lockers next to the wrong shop walls.
Likewise your own prospects, he warns “may have specific job skills, but without certain core skills, they have no potential for future growth.”
Hayes turns to something called the National Career Readiness Certification system (see sidebar below), which helps hiring organizations match their needs with prospects’ skills. NCRC is from ACT Workforce Development Inc. in Iowa City, IA, a unit of ACT Inc.—the college-readiness testing nonprofit. NCRC’s KeyTrain program sends prospects who nearly match a firm’s skill needs to a local community college for one-on-one skills training to fulfill core skills shortfalls. ACT also provides uniform soft skills assessments. “An A in math from one school is not the same as an A from another,” Hayes says. “However, a 5 in math on the NCRC is the same anywhere.”
Did recession magnify an existing problem—a skills gap trainers first identified in the mid-1990s? Maybe. “I would argue that a major contributor to recession is that people lack skills,” says Martin Scaglione, ACT Workforce Development’s president and chief operating officer. “This is not likely to change until we address the long-term issue of skill building.”
Coming out of a recession, Scaglione agrees that employers need a different set of skills—and not just from new hires, but from seasoned workers. Are you hiring for positions vacant for three years? Have those job skills changed? “Absolutely,” says Scaglione. That’s where trainers come in. “Does that hiring manager know what those changes are?” asks Scaglione. “What skills are necessary to meet the needs of that changing job?”
Michigan State University finds that, since the recession, skills employers want haven’t changed much, “but,” says Phil Gardner, director of MSU’s College Employment Research Institute, the required “level of performance or ability has grown significantly.”
Employers reportedly are wary of hiring college graduates this year. Thirty-six percent of companies that hired new graduates last year are either uncertain they will hire or won’t hire this year, reports CERI’s November 2010 survey. Among employers that didn’t hire new graduates last year, 76 percent said they won’t hire or aren’t sure. The uncertainty stems from companies’ long wait for sales revenues to return, says CERI.
Does it also have to do with the mix of skills and experience new hires need? Young workers may energize an organization, but veterans know what works. Recession, says consultant Ulrich, forced greater focus on identifying and serving customers, “so employees who have an intuitive sense of customer service will be more likely to perform well.”
Moreover, Ulrich adds, successful businesses must be at once efficient and innovative, so employees must be both cost-conscious and creative.
All this points to trainers getting more scrutiny in the new environment. Are you measuring and documenting return on investment? Skills training must directly address higher customer standards. Training is not just about content and process but about outcomes—why the training is done. “When trainers spend time doing things that are consistent with customer expectations,” says Ulrich, “the training will be of more value.”
WorkKeys Unlocks Skills Training
The National Career Readiness Certification system helps hiring organizations match their needs with prospects’ skills. NCRC is from ACT Workforce Development Inc. in Iowa City, IA, a unit of ACT Inc.—the college-readiness testing nonprofit. NCRC’s KeyTrain program sends prospects who nearly match a firm’s skill needs to a local community college for one-on-one skills training to fulfill core skills shortfalls. ACT also provides uniform soft skills assessments. You can find a WorkKeys testing center anywhere in the United States by typing in a zip code or city and state at this site: http://www.act.org/w....