What to Do If You Rely on Trained Employees

fed reserve chicagoRecently I got to be a fly-on-the-wall at the quarterly Industrial Roundtable luncheon at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Yes, it was a fancy lunch in a fancy boardroom, and I was very impressed — but that’s not the point. In the room, there were about 20 leading Midwestern industrial manufacturers and distributors updating the Fed’s staff economists on the state of their businesses and industries.

I’m neither an economist nor an expert in manufacturing, so many of the details of their reports were a bit over my head. I can say that no one in the room was particularly excited or worried by the economic situation. The general consensus was that modest growth was expected to continue for the near future.

I did hear some disturbing concerns, though.

People reported increased productivity through automation, but that they couldn’t find “qualified” people to hire. Of course! The jobs themselves require increasing sophistication in order to operate a variety of computer-aided machines — robotics, CNC training, new ERP software, etc. Much of this technology is new, so obviously there are few “qualified” employees on the market — they haven’t been trained yet.

Employers, educators, and government officials play “hot potato” with the responsibility to create qualified employees. Each group says that responsibility to train, re-train, or educate potential employees should fall on the other two. The real issue seems to be that no one wants to foot the bill. Training time for new technologies can be long. The cost of a mis-hire can be high.

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As a recruiting and talent acquisition expert, this is not the first time I’ve heard these concerns, but it was dramatically reinforced in the setting of the Federal Reserve Bank. Listening to very successful senior executives say they couldn’t find trained employees made me want to shout, “Hire for aptitude and pay to train!” It is the employer who will ultimately benefit from having the right people on board, so the cost of having those people is a cost of doing business. If your business success relies on trained employees, then do it!

The luncheon made me feel curmudgeonly, but I’m looking forward to the next one. It will be my second one and I think, if the opportunity presents itself, I’ll start that conversation.

Chuck Smith may be the only temp ever who bought his agency. With a master’s degree from the University of Chicago’s Divinity School in hand and few job prospects, he went looking for work in 1988. He answered a classified ad placed by a new temp agency looking for skilled workers. On his second temp assignment he was sent home from the job before it started because “the old geezers you’d be working for expect a skirt outside their door.” -- This according to the Office Manager for a large architectural firm in downtown Chicago. Undeterred, Smith went on temping at ad agencies, newspapers, and other architects. Next it was on to radio fame as a guest on Cathy O’Malley’s WGN radio program, appearing as the “male secretary” along with a female firefighter in a show dedicated to the changing workplace. Fast forward 25 years, Smith now owns and operates NewHire. NewHire provides the candidates, hiring tools and coaching to help small & mid-sized business hire better. He has interviewed more than 20,000 candidates for work, helping more than 4,000 people get jobs.


3 Comments on “What to Do If You Rely on Trained Employees

  1. One big fear regarding training that employers have (understandably) is that they may train somebody, only to lose them to a competitor. Yet it’s also been shown that if an employer creates a place where workers want to stay and pays well, who would want to jump ship? (Not every candidate is crazy about going through yet another hiring process and having to prove and reprove themselves.)

    Peter Cappelli of Wharton has written a lot about this issue of training over the past 2 to 3 years. He’s got a short book that gets to the point immediately. He’s also been quoted in Inc. Magazine, Forbes and other business publications. It’s worth looking him up and seeing his proposed solutions.

    Chief among these is to view training as an investment, not an expense.

    Also, with the ways things change so fast, it’s really preposterous to state that you as an applicant must know everything about everything before you’re hired.

    1. Great points Glenn. Reminds me of the internet meme going around, CFO says to CEO “What happens if we train people and they leave?” CEO to CFO, “What happens if we don’t train people and they stay?”

      Thanks for the recommendation to Cappelli. As to your last point, we find employers often look for “experienced” candidates only to find that the way the experienced candidates do the work differs from the way the employer wants the work done.

  2. Thanks, Chuck. Well-said, Glenn.
    I’m a “gloomy Gus” but I think that as an employee, if an employer showed enough concern for me to invest in some serious training (even if it were from purely economic reasons), that would be an incentive to work for them if new, and to stay with them longer if already there- it says that “I MATTER”….While writing this, it just occurred to me that with training comes an (implicit or explicit) expectation of a raise or promotion after the training has been successfully completed, so if that if someone were in an existing position with a company and DIDN’T get a raise/promotion, that WOULD be a strong incentive to “get the hell outta Dodge”.
    Happy 4th,

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