The Value of the Liberal Arts

For those of us (like me) who studied the humanities in college, a typical question we got was “So what are you going to do with a degree in [blank]?” I got tired of hearing it after a while and so I’d retort with this snappy comeback (especially if it was asked by a business major): “I’m gonna write about how computers are taking over your job.”

Aside from provoking extreme defensiveness, I do think studying English, history, political science, etc, really does give you the broad education that a college degree was always intended to provide. It forces you to learn to write clearly, digest huge amounts of information and do lots of critical analysis. These are skills that are important in any profession, including the medical field.

In fact, New York-based Mount Sinai medical school, considered to be among the top such schools in the country, sets aside slots for about 35 undergraduates a year specifically for humanities and social sciences majors.

Students admitted to the program can bypass the MCAT, the rigorous entrance test that applicants to most medical school programs must take before being admitted. Instead, Mount Sinai conducts a “boot camp” with accelerated courses on organic chemistry, physics and so on during the summer prior to when they enter med school. Students are admitted to the program on the basis of their SAT scores, high school and early college grades, two personal essays and interviews.

So how well do these lit majors and history buffs actually do in medical school? Turns out they do just as well as their counterparts who went the traditional pre-med, MCAT route, according to a peer-reviewed study conducted by Mount Sinai that compared outcomes for 85 students in the Humanities and Medicine Program with those of 606 traditionally prepared classmates.

So let’s hear it for liberal arts grads. We may not come equipped with specific skills, but we’re eminently trainable and have a thirst for knowledge.

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Changes at SHRM

Lon O’Neil out. Hank Jackson in.

Two years after taking over the helm at the Society for Human Resource Management, Lon O’Neil announced his resignation. “It was a personal choice. He chose to leave,” says Kate Kennedy of SHRM’s office of public affairs.

The change — which elevates CFO Jackson to the CEO and president position pending completion of a search for a new leader – was made announced Monday.

SHRM put a notice on its website today.

Kennedy says O’Neil greatly helped the organization by helping to “create a new vision for SHRM’s leadership role” by developing a strategic business plan (which we wrote in September 2009).

She says she can’t  address rumors that the organization had been disorganized under O’Neil’s leadership.

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Want to Work with Mad Men?

To celebrate the new season of Mad Men, (quite possibly the highest-quality TV series of all time, in this blogger’s humble opinion) the AMC Web site now offers an interactive “job interview” so fans can see how well (or not) they’d fit in with the mad men (and women) at the newly formed Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce ad agency.

Take the quick quiz and see how you do. (Full disclosure: After taking the quiz, I was not offered a position with the firm, but that’s probably because I asked too many pointed questions about their positions on equal-employment opportunities, family leave and accomodations for disabilities; none of which were on the law books in their current form when the show’s Season 4 takes place, in late 1964.)

But even if you’re not hired, there’s at least one way to still be a part of the action: The next episode of Mad Men airs Sunday at 10pm on AMC. Be there or be square.

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FDA Warns Lab: Make Better Hires

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently sent a warning letter out to Abbott Diabetes Care Inc., an Alameda, Calif.-based company that manufactures glucose-monitoring equipment.

(Tip o’ the hat to Jim Edwards who first wrote about it here.)

Among the varied charges leveled in the letter is that the company did not conform to necessary guidelines when hiring for critical positions at the company, especially ones that are responsible for quality control, calibration of equipment and regulatory affairs: 

4. Failure to have sufficient personnel with the necessary education, background, training, and experience to assure that all activities required by 21 CFR 820 are correctly performed, as required by 21 CFR 820.25(a). For example: 

a. The job description for the Director of Quality Systems requires that the person have a Bachelor of Science/Technical/or Engineering discipline. The person holding the position does not have this type of degree, but rather a Business Administration degree. 

b. The person holding the Regulatory Affairs Manager position lacks the minimum of 5 years of regulatory experience required in the job description. 

c. The person holding the Quality Control Supervisor position lacks the required Bachelor degree in science or the alternative five to eight years experience in Quality Control.  

d. The person holding the Calibration Coordinator position lacks the required Bachelor degree and the four years of relevant experience.

We have reviewed your response dated March 26, 2010, and have concluded that it is not adequate because the replacement Regulatory Affairs Manager does not have qualifications that meet the qualifications required in the job description. You stated that you are conducting a global review of personnel to compare qualifications and job descriptions of all individuals who have direct product impact to determine if their background and experience match the requirements of their current job description and are conducting a review of the Human Resources processes that support the development of job descriptions and the identification and selection of personnel. However, this process is ongoing and evidence of its completion and effectiveness was not provided.

For its part, the company says it is working with the FDA to clear up the problems.

“Abbott Diabetes Care has taken and continues to take the actions necessary to address the items outlined in the letter and is communicating those actions directly to the agency,” says Greg Miley, the company’s director of public affairs.

But with all the highly skilled – yet unemployed –workers out there currently flooding the job market, it boggles the mind to think that the company’s HR department is not able to find any qualified candidates for such important positions.

Furthermore, if you are an end-user of one of Abbott’s products, such as the FreeStyle glucose-monitoring and the Navigator continuous-monitoring systems, how sure are you that the product in your hand has been properly calibrated and tested for quality assurance if the people responsible for such things may not be qualified to do their jobs?  

When critical positions are filled by unqualified candidates, it’s a simply a recipe for disaster.

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Do You Hate Your Talent Management System?

Or, do you absolutely love it? Or do you love your system but hate the vendor that produced it? Or, do you feel it’s reasonably good but there are certain areas in which it, and other systems you’ve seen, need to improve?

Bersin & Associates wants to hear from you: they’re conducting their second annual “customer experience research study” and are trying to round up as many HR folks as they can to participate.

Given the rapid pace of consolidation in the HR vendor community of late, it’s more important than ever for the folks these vendors are targeting to make their voices heard. Click on the link to take the survey.  

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Cheezhead – Dead and Buried

Once regarded as one of the top HR bloggers, Joel Cheesman is all but dead and buried now. After the Cheesman Group was acquired by Jobing.com in September 2009, and Cheesman moved from Cleveland to an undoubtedly cushier job as senior vice president in Phoenix, he has become so mild-mannered that he is virtually invisible.

Gone is  the once-popular www.Cheezhead.com, named the No. 1 HR blog by Fistful of Talent and No. 2 by HR World. The URL now redirects the user to Jobing.com (try it). He does maintain www.joelcheesman.com but it reads more like a glorified Twitter page than the site of a hard-hitting industry watchdog. He still posts some industry-related content but now favors items about Lebron James and photos of his baby daughter eating a bagel.

Where is the guy who used to bash Monster on an almost daily basis?

Last year, Cheesman personally told me that his site would return but said “it will not be a place where other industry players are criticized.” 

I guess not. But this watered-down version? I guess I expected a little more.

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In Pursuit of Board Diversity

Investors have a bit more information to go on these days as far as evaluating the diversity levels of boards, since the Securities and Exchange Commission approved late last year rules to enhance the information provided to shareholders.

Calvert Asset Management, a mutual-fund company that invests in socially responsible companies, has been leading the charge when it comes to board diversity, with its most recent victory, involving Netflix, announced yesterday. Along with Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds, Calvert reported the successful resolution of its efforts to promote board diversity at the entertainment distributor. Netflix, headquartered in Los Gatos, Calif., recently named its first female director, Ann Mathers, to its board.

The Securities and Exchange Commission rules are vague when it comes to defining the word “diversity,” but pretty much every proxy now at least mentions it. Yet while everyone agrees race and gender diversity are important, Henry Stoever, a spokesman for the National Association of Corporate Directors in Washington, stresses the importance of the board reflecting the skills that are needed to achieve a business’ strategy.

For now, employers can expect investors such as Calvert to continue to apply pressure. Aditi Mohapatra, sustainability analyst for the Bethesda, Md.-based company, reports that her firm has been issuing a steady stream of shareholder proposals on board diversity, roughly nine or 10 per year, since 2002. “We’ve been targeting the bottom of the bunch, those companies where we see a lack of commitment,” she says.

Nor is it alone in its efforts. “We’ve had seven or eight different firms file proposals with us,” Mohapatra points out.

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The Human Side of BP and Other Disasters

With the latest news from the Gulf of Mexico suggesting an end to BP’s horrific leak may be in sight, and with the follow-up stories on the recent Duck Boat disaster in Philadelphia fading from view, I propose we take a little time to reflect on the human factors behind the crises and even, perhaps, some take-aways for HR.

Consider this recent write-up from the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Actually, it’s a joint write-up by Cliff Boutelle, SIOP’s head of information, and Rhona Flin, a professor of applied psychology at the University of Aberdeen’s Industrial Psychology Research Center.

Call Flin the guru of decision-makers’ competence and abilities during catastrophes, if you will. She’s been researching North Sea offshore oil safety since 1987, a year before the Piper Alpha oil platform fire and explosion in Great Britain left 167 people dead. In her studies, including of Piper Alpha, she finds common threads that led to problems because of incident commanders’ inabilities to immediately assess and be aware of developing situations.

Mind you, this write-up casts no aspersions about what went wrong or who did what on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig or the Duck Boat, or the barge that hit it. But who hasn’t wondered, knowing something had to be tied to someone, somewhere? Read what Flin says about how faulty the assessment and training is, in these industries and many others, of installation and production managers who may have to become crisis managers with only a split second to make a decision that could save or lose lives.

Read what she says about what went right when Captain Chesley Sullenberger landed his plane in the Hudson River in 2009. It all came down to training –  something called crew resource management teamwork — and it can be translated to a myriad and variety of team contexts in many different industries where danger may lurk.

Even for the seemingly safest of organizations, her views on crisis leadership might shed some light on the importance of having the right person, with the right training, at the helm when the ship starts going down.

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Vacations are Good for You

OK, a bit of soft news, but worth sharing: This recent release from the University of the Rockies suggests week-long vacations aren’t long enough for optimal benefits to occur — for both employee and employer.

The study – conducted at the Colorado Springs, Colo., graduate school that specializes in master’s and doctorate degrees in psychology – maintains the benefits of vacation length peak at about 10 days, which supports previous research findings that 10 to 14 days of vacation may be the optimal length.

What are the benefits to taking, or granting, a vacation of optimal length, you ask? According to this release, an increase in job satisfaction, a reduction of and protection against job stress and burnout, and an increase in professional well-being (which, of course, boosts employee engagement and morale and, in turn, boosts customer service, your employer brand, the list goes on).

I’ll be interested to see if anyone cares to comment on this, but it’ll have to wait awhile. I leave Thursday for vacation. I’ll be gone 10 days.

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Watchdogs or Snitches?

A new survey of nearly 3,000 doctors published in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that 36 percent “do not feel obligated by professional commitment” to report impaired or incompetent colleagues to the proper authorities.

“It’s possible that there’s a real cultural issue here,” Catherine DesRoches, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor at the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Harvard Medical School, told the LA Times. “It’s a topic that might not have been addressed back when they were in medical school, so they do not know how to handle it.”

DesRoches also told the newspaper: “It’s concerning that there’s this somewhat large portion of physicians that don’t agree with the commitment to report when they have direct personal knowledge of a colleague that is in need. Since physicians themselves are the primary mechanism for detecting such colleagues, we must look to them to improve the situation.”

While the study only looks at doctors, one wonders how other specialized workforce segments that are involved in keeping the public safe and healthy – such as airline pilots, police officers, and firefighters, to name a few – handle that same situation when confronted with a colleague’s behavior that could very easily put someone in harm’s way.

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