Investing in Skilled Workers Gets Measurable Results

We’ve all heard plenty about the skills-gap problem, that not nearly enough incoming workers — or would-be incoming workers — have the skills and knowledge needed to help the United States climb out of its quagmire of sluggish recovery and more long-term non-competetiveness in the global market.

There’s been plenty of blame to go around — from failing public schools and mediocre colleges that don’t teach the right skills, to parents who don’t enforce homework and discipline, to employers that don’t work hard enough with local businesses to ensure the right skills are being taught.

And the beat still goes on. Job candidates keep coming to interviews unprepared for what’s needed. Worse still, many of the best entry-level workers businesses can find are being hired to fail, basically.

I guess against such a backdrop, this recent study by Corporate Voices for Working Families carries a lot of promise. The report, Why Companies Invest in ‘Grow Your Own’ Talent, shows employers that embrace workforce-readiness training for their current and incoming entry-level employees are finding promising results and an imprressive — and measurable — return on their investment. (Take a look at the paper; it includes an online Return-on-Investment tool designed to help you calculate the costs and benefits associated with workforce-readiness programs.)

Researchers in the Washington-based nonprofit business-membership organization looked at several companies — including CVS/Caremark, the Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. — and found that, despite different approaches to implementing training programs, their investments saved money through improved retention, reduced turnover and rehiring costs … and intangible plusses, such as greater workplace diversity, enhanced customer and client loyalty, and an improved reputation in the communities these companies serve.

“These forward-looking companies have shown that investing in the workforce of tomorrow is a smart decision for today,” says Stephen M. Wing, managing director of Corporate Voices Consulting, a division of CVWF. “By leveraging partnerships with the public Workforce Investment system [part of the U.S. Department of Labor] and other experts in their communities, these employers are improving the odds of success for their valued employees and strengthening their own bottom line.”

I think, if I were a business owner, I would put it a little more succinctly: “If no one else is going to give this next generation of workers the skills and knowledge they need to grow my business and shore up my country’s competitiveness, well, I guess I have to do it myself.”

IRS on the Trail of Expatriates

The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) — which was inserted into a jobs bill last year — is having unexpected consequences for American workers overseas.

According to an article in The New York Times, the law was created to ensure Americans cannot create secret offshore accounts to evade taxes. In reality, however, the law demands that all financial organizations outside of the United States — which an American uses — must file Department of Treasury and Internal Revenue Service reports or be fined:

The IRS, under pressure from angry and confused financial officials abroad, has extended the deadline for registration until June 30, 2013, and is struggling to provide more detailed guidance by the end of this year.

But beginning in 2012, many American expatriates — already the only developed-nation citizens subject to double taxation from their home government — mut furnish the IRS with detailed personal information on their overseas assets.

One advocacy group says the new form may add three hours to tax preparation for expatriates. For smaller foreign banks and financial institutions, it could drive them out of business.

Another “totally predictable consequence” of the law, according to Reason magazine’s Hit & Run blog is that foreign banks “are just stone cold not allowing Americans to open up bank accounts.”

Hmm. Guess that could pose some payroll issues for multinational companies. Looks like 2012 is starting out as another roller coaster of a ride — just for all of you HR professionals who don’t have enough to do already.

Work/Life Center Expanding Scope Beyond Work/Life

I look on this as a sign of the changing times. Starting in January 2012, the Center for Work-Life Policy will be going by a new name: the Center for Talent Innovation. Its flagship project, the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force, will also now be known as the Task Force for Talent Innovation. (Here’s the full name-change announcement.)

You might not think this is significant, but I do.

When I came on board as Human Resource Executive®’s managing editor in 2000, work/life balance probably topped the buzzword list. Employers, it seemed, were just starting to take this conundrum seriously — parents, namely moms, whose full potential as productive and often top-talented employees was being compromised by the more uncompromising 40-plus-hour, office-bound workweeks.

Now, I take this switch to suggest we’ve graduated to a more inclusive concern about the talents of both genders. Working dads are just as compromised as working moms, I’m thinking the thinking goes.

The Center describes its reason for the name change as twofold: “to drive groundbreaking research that leverages talent across the divides of gender, generation, geography and culture; and to create a community of senior executives united by an understanding that full utilization of the global talent pool is at the heart of competitive success.”

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, founding president of the Center, says her organization “is deepening its scope and reach; these last two years, we have ‘gone global.’ ”

She also says the name changes “are driven by enormous growth in the span, scope and stature of the organization. Eight years ago,” she says, “the CWLP was a small, U.S.-based nonprofit centered on women’s retention and acceleration issues.

“Today, it’s a global think tank with representatives in San Francisco, London and Mumbai, and projects in Brazil, China, India and Japan. … Men are newly center-stage in our work. When we look at ‘the X Factor’ — 33-to-46-year-olds — or ‘Asians in America,’ we focus as much on men as women.”

I’m fine with heading in new directions. I’m fine with the notion that concern for women has graduated into a much larger concern for the full realization and utilization of talent overall. I get it that we’re all on a global stage now.

I just hope no one is lured into thinking that that old “conundrum” of the late 1900s and early 2000s — that women leave careers more than men out of concern for their children and that workplace fexibility still isn’t flexible enough for them to reach their full potential and still give their children the lives they deserve — has really been solved.

Part II: The Losers

In my last post, I shared a list of some of this year’s winners. Well, here’s my selections of people and organizations that didn’t fare as well in 2011. (Of course, there’s always next year.)

Unemployed workers, who were in some cases being denied work because they were unemployed.

Zynga—Before going public, the social game maker came under fire for demanding that certain employees who were given stock rights in the early days of the company surrender a portion of those shares or be fired. (Certainly, we could cite those “certain employees” as losers too.)

Public-sector unions, which continued to loose clout in states like Ohio, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

Renault, which wrongly accused three executives of selling company secrets—and then terminated them. (Apologies and settlements promptly followed.)

Amazon, which became the subject of an Allentown Morning Call story about horrendous 110-degree working conditions at one of its Pennsylvania warehouse facilities. (Likely the same facility that ships many of the goods that show up on my porch.)

SHRM, which took a lot of heat in 2011 over allegations of a lack of transparency (primarily from a recently formed group named SHRM Members for Trasnparency). Granted, while political squabbling between these two groups contributed to the allegations,  the attention they got did undermine the credibility of SHRM’s leadership.

Herman Cain, whose run for the nation’s highest office swiftly came to an end following allegations of sexual harassment during his tenure as CEO of the National Restaurant Association (and allegations that we was having an affair).

Here’s to the Winners

Say what you want about 2011, but I don’t think many of us started the year figuring it would be as much of a roller-coaster ride as it was. I personally expected a somewhat smoother journey. Just wishful thinking, I suppose.

Like most years, 2011 had its share of winners and losers. Below, I list a few of my 2011 winners. (My next post will identify some of the losers.)

Drum roll  …

Wal-Mart, following a High Court decision to reverse an earlier controversial ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Dukes v. Wal-Mart could proceed as a class-action lawsuit against the retailer.

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Leo Apotheker, who left HP with more than $25 million in severance after just 11 months on the job.

Boeing, following a National Labor Relations Board decision to drop its controversial charge against the aircraft maker for its plans to build a factory in South Carolina.

Vendors of cloud-based HR applications, some of which became takeover targets for software giants such as SAP and

San Jose, which was ranked No. 1 on CareerBliss’ top 10 “happiest cities to work” list this year.

Apple Computer—for successfully demonstrated the merits of good succession planning leading up to the passing of founder Steve Jobs.

and finally …

Inflatable rats, which, thanks to another NLRB ruling, could now be visibly displayed in front of picketed facilities.

Women Still Not Making Big Strides as Business Leaders

Not the greatest news for women leadership in business, if you go by recent reports from Catalyst, the New York-based organization dedicated to expanding women’s opportunities in the global marketplace.

According to the 2011 Catalyst Census: Fortune 500 Women Board Directors, Executive Officers and Top Earners and prior Catalyst censuses, women in corporate America have made no significant gains in the last year and are not further along the corporate ladder than they were six years ago. Youch.

Here are some of the more discouraging statistics, based on responses from 497 U.S.-based companies: Women held 16.1 percent of board seats in 2011, compared to 15.7 percent in 2010. (If we were rounding these, which we usually do, they’d be the same.) In both 2010 and 2011, less than one-fifth of companies had 25 percent or more women directors, while about one-tenth had no women serving on their boards.

There’s more. In both years, women of color still held only 3 percent of corporate board seats. And the number of women holding executive-officer positions actually went down, from 14.4 percent in 2010 to 14.1 percent in 2011.

The salary picture is no brighter for these women executive officers, either: In 2010, women held only 7.6 percent of executive-officer top-earner positions, a percentage that actually went down a tenth of a point in 2011, to 7.5 percent. That leaves men accounting for 92.5 percent of top earners in the year we’re about to usher out the door. Lastly, in both years, nearly one-fifth had 25 percent or more women executive officers, yet more than one-fourth had no women executive officers at all.

How can this be? Hard to say. Ilene H. Lang, president and CEO of Catalyst, says that — considering another Catalyst study demonstrates sustained gender diversity in the boardroom correlates with better corporate performance — “continued obstacles to progress make no sense.”

I know in my 11 years here, we’ve written many stories suggesting top-talent, high-performing women are rethinking the corporate-ladder top-leadership track because of its detriment to their very delicate work/life balance. But I would have thought corporate America would be further along than this by now in helping women solve those challenges — through greater flexibility, leadership development, telecommuting and teleworking options, coaching and mentoring, you name it … just sayin.

At least, on a positive note, a more expanded look by shows more advancement. According to a recently launched “Women at Work” infographic by the Foster City, Calif.-based digital resource for online education, some 78 million women are projected to enter the workforce by 2018, with 10 percent of women over 25 holding an education beyond a bachelor’s degree in 2009, compared to only 1.7 percent in 1960.

OK, well, there’s that. I just hope those 78 million are being supported better by then.


NLRB Approves Election Rules

In what some in the business community say is a holiday gift to labor unions, the National Labor Relations Board approved new rules on Dec. 20 that it says will “reduce unnecessary litigation and delays.”

The rule is primarily focused on procedures followed by the NLRB in the minority of cases in which parties can’t agree on issues such as whether the employees covered by the election petition are an appropriate voting group. In such cases, the matter goes to a hearing in a regional office and the NLRB Regional Director decides the question and sets the election.

Going forward, the regional hearings will be expressly limited to issues relevant to the question of whether an election should be conducted. The hearing officer will have the authority to limit testimony to relevant issues, and to decide whether or not to accept post-hearing briefs.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace immediately sued the Board, saying the “new ‘ambush election rule’ … will make it significantly more difficult for employers, especially small employers, to respond to union campaigns.”

The Chamber charges the Board is imposing “unprecedented and sweeping changes to the procedures for conducting workplace elections” by speeding up the process, depriving employers of a “fair opportunity to explain to employees the costs of unionizing and curbing employers’ opportunities to bring legal challenges to proposed representation elections.”

The National Association of Manufacturers also blasted the Board’s “activist agenda” and said the “ambush election rule is a guaranteed pathway to creating a fractured American workplace.”

And on it goes.


Real Life or the Movies?

Here's one of my favorite holiday broadcasts -- A Rugrats Chanukah!

From CareerBuilder — which always seems to have its elves devising fun and interesting surveys — comes the poll results of 4,500 workers on which Christmas movie character most resembles their bosses.

And the results …

1. George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life” — 19 percent
Well-liked, always willing to help others.

2. Rudolph from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” — 14 percent
Can navigate successfully through tough situations.

3. Willie, the main character from “Bad Santa” — 10 percent
Rough around the edges but not a bad person deep down.

4. Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” — 8 percent
Stays focused on one goal and thinks about nothing else.

5. Kevin from “Home Alone” — 8 percent
Very resourceful and independent.

6. Ralphie’s father from “A Christmas Story” — 8 percent
Old school, swears a lot when things don’t go as planned.

7. The Grinch from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”- 7 percent
Keeps a distance from others, but longs to be a part of the group.

8. Clark Griswald from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” — 7 percent
Likeable but nothing seems to go right for him or her.

9. Santa from “Miracle on 34th Street” — 6 percent
Jolly no matter the circumstance.

10. Buddy from “Elf” — 5 percent
Naive and easily awed.

Jobs Forecast: Sunny, With a Chance of Rain

In what it’s hailing as “the most promising hiring Outlook since 2008,” ManpowerGroup finds that U.S. employers expect hiring to increase slightly in the first quarter of next year, according to its latest Employment Outlook Survey. The survey, which polled 18,000 employers, finds that when seasonal variations are removed from the results, the net employment outlook for Quarter 1 2012 is +9 percent, up two percentage points from Q4 2011 and “stable” when compared to one year ago.

Employers in all four U.S. regions reported a positive net employment outlook, with those in the Midwest reporting the strongest at +10 percent and those in the West reporting the weakest, at +6 percent. The employment forecasts for Florida and South Dakota, among the weakest one quarter ago, are now among the brightest forecast, the survey finds.

Of course, there’s a bit of cloudiness mixed in with the sunshine: The survey reports a historically high level of employers that are unsure about their plans, with 7 percent reporting reporting they’re unsure of their hiring intentions going into the new year. This increase, up from 3 percent for the previous quarter, is ” the most significant quarterly increase since 1977,” according to the report, and represents “the highest percentage of uncertain employers surveyed since 2005.” Uncertainty: seems to be a continuous trend in this current “recovery,” doesn’t it?

Conflicting Reports on Employers’ Gift-Giving This Year

It’s hard to get a real hold on just where we are economically if you go by what extras employers are willing to give — or not give — their employees.

Just today, my news analysis entitled “Nitpicking Incentive Travel” went live on our magazine’s website, HREOnline, pointing out that companies are struggling right now to fund reward trips for workers — this, according to the Incentive Research Industry’s latest survey of incentive-travel providers, suppliers and buyers. 

In fact, more than three of five (62 percent) say they’re struggling more now than earlier this year to pay for such trips and that the economy is the culprit. The IRF says that percentage hasn’t been this high since July of 2009.

The survey says companies are also cutting down on some of their reimburables, such as incidental and “non-meal” components of incentive trips.

Then comes this latest release from CareerBuilder saying companies are offering more perks — i.e., bonuses, parties and gifts — than last year. In fact, 40 percent of the more-than 2,600 employers polled say they plan to issue holiday bonuses this year, up from 33 percent in 2010. And 14 percent plan to increase the amount!

CareerBuilder also says 58 percent are holding holiday parties this year, up from 52 percent in 2010, and 30 percent plan to give out holiday gifts, up from 29.

“Employers have been working hard to build back their businesses over the last year,” says Rosemay Haefner, vice president of human resources for CareerBuilder, “and this holiday season are planning to reward their biggest asset — their people … .”

I guess so long as they’re staying put and not boarding a plane for the Bahamas, right? Like I said, hard to put your finger on it.