No question here, just an observation that I thought I would share: Companies simultaneously complain about not being able to find people, but they do not have a training program for new hires.

What prompts this is that I'm still having a rather strong reaction to a manager that I'm working with asking me about having certain technical skills that he is having trouble finding - ABAP in this instance (ABAP is the programming language for SAP). At the time, I just smiled and said I'd never done it, despite having programmed in nearly every other language that exists. Also, I'm not really interested in jobs where your qualification comes via technical skills.

But the question stuck with me. I'm thinking - If this company won't train someone to learn a programming language, what right do they have to complain about not being able to find people? Where would they expect someone to learn something like ABAP? On their own SAP system at home?

We all know that we [i]should[/i] hire for traits and train for skill. But how many of us actually do that? Outside of software vendors, who I believe almost have to train everyone they hire, I'm not aware of many companies that will provide training for a technical job. They expect you to know it up front.

I'm pretty sure I know when this happened - around 2001, during the tech crash. Many companies viewed their training programs as a cost center and cut them to the bone or beyond. We still have not recovered from that cut or the mentality behind it. It would be a huge advantage to a company to provide training; the candidate pool would be broader, salaries could be lower, more reqs would be filled and more productive work could be done. But it will take a revolution in HR to make that happen. Companies will need to fundamentally change the way they hire.

My suggestion is that if you're in HR and you have a resume database: stop. Your goal should not be to build a skills database of people interested in working at your company. It should be to assess every single person that applies to your company. Not necessarily in person, a phone call is sufficient. You want to assess their personality and cultural fit into your company. If you really want to hire for personality, as most experts suggest, you need to break the search for the perfect candidate. The only person on the planet with exactly the skill set you want might be the person who just left.

Yes, I do realize what that means. If you conducted 1/2 hour interviews every minute of your day, you might get through 15 people per day. So, don't do 30 minute interviews. Shoot for 5-10 minutes or less, maybe with a bit more time spent with people who are more promising. In a person-person interview, a lot of times you know within the first 30 seconds that a person isn't right. And you can't do it alone, you need more people to help out with the interviews. And people to train new hires as well as provide training for internal people. This should be HR's role in the organization. It also presents new challenges to the HR organization, many of whom have lost that ability to assess people. To be a truly great company, you have to start with great material, part of which is the people working for you.

On a related note - why do companies want to rely on the generally abysmal marketing skills of potential hires? You wind up hiring the best self-promoter, who is probably not the best candidate.

Just thoughts - even if it doesn't help you, it helps me get them off much chest.


jhack's picture

Interesting thoughts. Here are a few more...

This is older than 2001. It may vary over time, but this is an old problem.

Character and aptitude do matter much more than a specific technical skill. Both is the holy grail. It's much easier to measure technical skill, however, so it gets the attention from most HR and hiring managers.

Companies have been burned by technical people getting trained and moving on. Once burned, twice shy...

Each of us needs to ask what we can do differently, what we can do to demonstrate, through our team's performance, that there is a better way. We can't change HR (unless we're HR managers) but we can change our own behavior.

LouFlorence's picture
Training Badge


This is a great topic, one that I get to deal with on a regular basis. Should we hire the skills we need or provide the training -- which is the best long-term value driver?

I think the answer is that it depends on the market for each individual position. If the talent is out there with the traits and skills you want, great! Hire it. If not, get the people you want and train them. Flexibility is the key. Be prepared to create and eliminate training programs on a dime.

Stay aware of where your next hires are. HR's job here is to know the market (or work with the recruiters who do). Some skills may be in good supply locally, some may be specialzed enough to justify a national search and associated travel & relocation costs every time. Look at the all-in costs of training vs. relocating. Be prepared to pay a premium for the someone who has the right training already -- it can save a lot in the end.

An example from my facility (a big coal-fired power plant). We cherry-pick heavy equipment mechanics from the local machinery dealers. They only hire people who have 2-year diesel tech degrees, then provide up to a year of vendor training. We only hire one or two every few years and pay them quite a bit more than the dealers. No relo costs and hundreds of thousands in avoided training costs.

In the world of never-ending cost pressures, training will always be an easy target (especially around Q3 & Q4!). Our challenge in management is to find out the right training vs. hiring balance and to sell that inside the organization.

Ever the optimist,

WillDuke's picture
Training Badge

Let me put on my M&M hat here.

* Set the bar high
* Find a reason to NOT hire people

So I think M&M would say to hold out for both technical and personality.

That being said, once the new hire comes on, then there's coaching and development. I'm sure nobody thinks you shouldn't develop employees.

But why start low? Why not come out of the gate running?

attmonk's picture

We are seeing a huge skills shortage in the UK because most companies simply do not train people, mine is no different.
Since the decline of the huge nationalised industries from the 70's the number of apprentices has droped massively, and even in unrelated areas such as the building trade, everyone looks for ready trained people. Organisations do not want to put the investment into individuals because, as in another thread, they leave..they move on..they take their skills to the highest bidder.
It is a situation which makes itself worse, and we all add to it when we search for that certain employee who has all the skills we need.

bflynn's picture

I'm a fair realist here. This was just a hard day and I was tired of hearing this yet again.

I'm all for setting the bar high. However, I also think that you need to understand how much the bar height costs. One option is to hire experienced people, who already know the job and let them do it. Another is to carry the cost of training and selection, pay multiple new workers lower wages, then "prune and promote". The different workers produce at different rates, but which is the better cost structure for your organization? I don't know and I doubt many managers do either.

I frequently get the feeling that "set the bar high" is used as an excuse to cover for not doing this kind of analysis.


jhack's picture

Setting the bar high doesn't equate to only hiring those already skilled in the particular tools you need.

My perspective is shaped by needing to hire innovative software people. The skills can be seen two ways: I need someone specifically experienced in DCOM and VB6 - OR - I need a someone who understands asynchronous programming concepts and Microsoft technologies - OR - I need someone who can learn complex technical tools quickly and apply them.

The more specific the skill (DCOM/VB6) the more quickly it becomes stale in the tech world. (note to non-techies: DCOM/VB6 is, like, so 5 minutes ago). You absolutely want to retain people longer than the lifespan of particular tools.

The more broadly you define the skills (but in a specific way!) then you are getting away from the details. And yes, you will need to train them on the next hot thing (AJAX/.NET) and then the thing after that....

Who controls the job description? can you write a job posting in such a way that the skill set is more about the intrinsic than the toolset?

AND, reach into your network. Half my team comes from networking, not HR and the job postings. When you bring someone from your network into the process, most HR groups are HAPPY because they come pre-qualified, pre-referenced.

Thoughts for the day...

TomW's picture
Training Badge

Let me tell you all a little about my company: We are an architectural firm using a Mac-based environment and a software called Archicad. The industry standard is Autocad in a Windows environment. In our opinion, that was a lowest-common-denominator approach that did not fit our needs.

Our company hires for the person and their skills. We are looking for good designers, good project managers, a good detailers, or some other architectural skill. Once we hire them, we train them their entire first week on the Mac OS and on Archicad, tailoring their training to the type of work our company does and with our own in-house customizations.

We've made the mistake of giving someone's computer knowledge too much weight in hiring in the past and learned from it. I agree, it's much more important that the person has the right professional skills.

lmoorhead's picture
Licensee Badge

Ooh, this is one of my favorite topics! Fortunately, the fact that some companies can be reluctant or incapable of developing people can work in your favor, if you're trying to recruit someone away. :twisted:

I hired a new team member who had received very little formal training in her career, and learned most of her tech skills from the school of hard knocks. Note that she didn't come to us, we recruited her based on reputation.

When my recruiter described our company's tuition reimbursement program to her, she was interested. When I interviewed her and described how we do 1:1s, skip levels and written development plans for each team member, she was [i]very [/i]interested. Then I explained that our department policy was 2 weeks of training per person per year, but in my team you get whatever training you need and we'll figure out a way to make it work, even if it goes beyond the 2 weeks... in my opinion that was a critical factor in closing the candidate.

You may not have the funding to reimburse someone's MBA program, but there are ways to get creative about providing "training" opportunities in your organization. (We've done brown-bag sessions on a rotating basis; short term job swaps; mentoring relationships - none of these with involvement from HR.) If you have some flexibility, look at ways to shift budget around. You may also be able to do a "train the trainer" - perhaps you can't afford to send everyone to big expensive conference X, but maybe you can send one person and have them present what they learned back to the team.

asteriskrntt1's picture

This is also an interesting thread from the prospective employee's perspective. How so? Well, I am glad you asked. :lol:

If someone is reading a job description and sees things like a specific industry skill or experience required that they do not possess, they may get scared off and not apply to your company.

I know in my search, I see industry experience or skills asked for all the time. Most of the time, it does not seem like such a hurdle, but the recruiters screen on it. Based on my experience, I don't even apply to many of the postings anymore because the screeners are such boneheads about it and don't realize that 10 years industry experience is often (but not always) one year of experience repeated 10 times.

Mark often says something like "I will take 90% less skill for 10% more enthusiasm". So do any of us apply that concept while we are screening and figure in that the new hire needs training or that the wording of our job postings is going to prevent serious talent from approaching our company?


bflynn's picture

The 90/10 split is what I'm thinking about. I see a disconnect between what companies say and what they do. Because of the flawed process, the end result is not as good.

How to fix it? I don't know. But this is one that I've seen for a while. Its thoretical until I (we) can invent a better process and show that it produces better results. I'm not in a position to do that today, but I have hope that someone else will.