Why Hiring Has to Change.

The importance of reimagining the hiring and training process.

Viking Academy Students. Photograph by Jeffrey Bosdet.

Given our current hiring crisis, many employers are willing to hire anyone with a pulse. Some are so desperate that longheld expectations such as experience and knowledge no longer come into the process. The bottom line is that the shortage of skilled labour in our communities is acute and structural. This isn’t going away soon.

Given this scarcity — and the rising cost of experienced people — many employers wonder if hiring green (inexperienced) employees is a viable option.

It could be, but there are some important considerations. Inexperienced employees are often younger and therefore more likely to move on and less likely to have plotted their career paths. Then there’s the problem of training, which is especially critical in the trades world where  apprenticeship and safety regulations make things even more complex.

Sidney-based Viking Air is tackling the problem head on by setting up its own training academy. Many Canadian companies are taking steps to circumvent the hiring crisis, but these are one-offs. A coordinated national approach is needed.

Start Collaborating

Germany has had programs that mix work and education for years. Their national vocational training program cannot easily be transplanted to North America because it is embedded in an national educational and vocational system. But variants are sprouting up across this continent. However, while corporations like Volkswagen and Siemens have the resources to run their own vocational training programs, smaller businesses do not.

The way around that is to approach the challenge collaboratively with industry partners, business organizations — such as business improvement organizations, chambers of commerce and regional economic development agencies — and educational institutions. Both the Illinois Consortium for Advanced Technical Training (ICATT) in the U.S. and the Ontario Manufacturing Learning Consortium use collaborative models for their training. Recently at a Vancouver Island roundtable of business owners, participants floated the idea of customer-service training for a group of premier main street retailers frustrated by the lack of staff with customer-service training. I suggested they explore collaboration and work with a local business organization and local university to develop a customer-service training program.

Some Vancouver Island plumbing and HVAC businesses are considering collaborating on their own training program to create a pool of qualified pre-apprenticeship employees.

Hire for Potential

A benefit of these approaches is that they address one of my long-standing concerns where employers hire for technical skills over behavioural traits (aptitude before attitude).

I think we can all acknowledge that when employer-employee relationships don’t work, it’s rarely for technical failings and almost always for poor behaviour. Yet most employers do little to filter for attitude and behaviour.

So when we are forced to recruit people with the intention of training them, the bias for technical competence over attitude and social competence is minimized. Instead, we have to filter for the right attitudes and potential — and that can be one of the positives emerging from this hiring crisis.

Time to Plan

While we aren’t a match for Europe when it comes to visionary vocational training, Canada does have a history of industry and K to 12 and post-secondary schools collaborating in various types training initiatives.

It’s time to take it a step further. We must become more agile, more responsive and significantly more collaborative. We must expand the tent to include whole sectors, educational institutions and business organizations.

A collaborative DIY approach may be a way to manufacture talent from green stock when the ripe stuff is in scarce supply, but without a bigger, coordinated solution, our capacity for growth will continue to be defined by the scarcity of talent.

The Viking Solution

The Viking Academy, a good example of a Canadian initiative taking the hiring crisis into its own hands, offers a six-week paid program, covers the costs of training, and offers a training wage during the course. Completion of the program can lead to employment with Viking Air.

While Viking is a large enterprise with about 400 employees, small and mid-sized businesses who are struggling with hiring can still learn from the underpinning principles of its academy:

} Training and co-op programs are a way for an employer to ‘preview’ potential employees and their work habits, natural skills and social behaviours.

} Six weeks is long enough for a potential employee to get a sense if this kind of work is his or her thing.

} If the fit isn’t there, there is no disruption to the value stream of the work itself, and a clear trial period reduces the complexity of terminations.

} If the fit is there, when it comes time for the candidate to contribute on the shop floor, he or she has already experienced the culture, has a sense of the work, and has developed value-adding skills.

} Students in the Viking Academy program are paid a wage during their training, so they incur no student-loan debt to hamper them as they begin their new careers.

Clemens Rettich is a business consultant with Grant Thornton LLP. He has an MBA from Royal Roads University and has spent 25 years practicing the art of management.

This article is from the December/January 2019 issue of Douglas.