Developing People as a Recruiting Strategy

Cisco, Schwab, HP, Wells Fargo, National Semiconductor, and Applied Materials — to name just a few — have learned that by developing people early in their educational or career paths, you can create the people you need. Schwab has literally hundreds of high school students working in their corporate headquarters in San Francisco as well as in their call centers all over the country. These students get training in interviewing, in dealing with customers over the phone, take short courses in finance and investing, and learn by example how to act, dress, and speak in a corporate environment. Many come back for two or three years and then go on to college with help and encouragement from the recruiting staff at Schwab. A few years later the company begins reaping what it has sown. It gets to hire smart, experienced, and now well-educated young men and women at a fraction of the cost of finding and training them later. Cisco, suffering like all high tech companies because of the shortage of qualified technical candidates, started an apprenticeship program earlier this year. They hired liberal arts grads and trained them in technology over an 18-month period. And, during the 18 months of practical and classroom training, they found these hires productive and contributing to the bottom line within a week of their starting. Why? Because they have carefully picked jobs that require a gradually increasing amount of technical knowledge to start them with. They answer phone calls from customers needing support and gather necessary information through a structured interview process. This process not only serves to gather the info needed, but to subtly train the new hire in what needs to asked, and then passes the info and the customer on to a more highly trained person for further diagnosis and resolution. The savings to Cisco are huge. Recruiting costs come down. The savings drop directly to the bottom line because these people are productive right away. These examples and many others have exploded the myth that kids and liberal arts graduates cannot do anything useful in the world of high tech or finance. What really is important is to have the understanding that investment early in education and development leads to savings and efficiencies later. It also helps create loyal and satisfied employees. All of the ones who eventually end up working for these companies have made a decision that they like the corporate culture and they can fit into the life style and work styles of the company. This is absolutely critical because it is very easy today to choose another employer. The kinds of programs these companies have put into place range from the traditional internships to leading edge programs like Cisco’s. Some companies have chosen the school-to-career approach used by Schwab; others have more informal programs with a few local schools. Some areas have developed local consortia of companies who pool jobs and resources and offer the students from several high schools or community colleges the opportunity to participate in work/learn programs. There are federal and state funds for many of these programs, such as those focused on welfare-to-work. Some companies are experimenting with part-time elderly workers who are also proving to be dedicated, creative and productive. Age, social status, race, gender, and even education, to some degree, have historically been used to screen and limit an excess number of potential workers. Until the Nineties, most companies had more applicants than they could possibly absorb – most of them fitting a narrow set of criteria. We can now see that many of these criteria were not valid and that a wide selection of people can be trained and educated to do most of the work we have to do without elaborate college education, advanced degrees or a sterling social pedigree. In fact, the Hudson Institute recently released its study called Workforce 2020 which predicts that the fastest growing jobs in the American economy will NOT require a college degree, but specific, certificate-level skill training. Microsoft, Cisco and Schwab already know this. Does your company or client?

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Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


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