Posts belonging to Category career development

Now Serving: Free College Degrees

150px-Starbucks_Corporation_Logo_2011_svgIf you happen to notice your local Starbucks barista acting even more upbeat and happy than normal, it may not caffeine-related.

Starbucks employees nationwide will be eligible for a free college education through Arizona State University’s online program beginning this fall, according to

The new initiative, touted as the first of its kind, will allow many of Starbucks’ 135,000 workers to graduate debt free from ASU with no requirement to repay or stay on with the company. The funding will come from a partnership between ASU and Starbucks.

ASU President Michael Crow is scheduled to appear in New York on Monday with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to launch the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, as it is called.

“Starbucks decided human capital is one of the most important things they can invest in,” Crow said. “Everybody is concerned about what are the ways to get through college.”

In a news release, Schultz talked about “the fracturing of the American Dream.” He said: “There’s no doubt, the inequality within the country has created a situation where many Americans are being left behind. The question for all of us is, should we accept that, or should we try and do something about it.”

Kudos to Starbucks for this initiative, and here’s hoping many other organizations follow suit in an effort to increase the country’s knowledge base.

h/t to USA Today



Low-Wage Workers: Trapped in a Catch-22?

It’s no secret that employees are hungry for career development. In survey after survey, it almost always ranks near the tops of their lists of sought-after employer offerings. But as just-released research from the Center for Poverty Research at the University of California, Davis suggests, career development can often be elusive, especially if you’re trying to make ends meet in a low-wage job.

88257844Earlier today, the Center posted a policy brief on an ongoing study that finds low-wage workers are very much caught in a Catch-22. Written by UC Davis Professor of Sociology Victoria Smith and Graduate Student Brian Halpin, the brief reports that “low-wage workers know they have to enhance their skills to escape low-wage jobs, but long hours and multiple jobs make skill-building and education nearly impossible.”

Smith elaborates …

The very conditions of low-wage work necessitate that workers hold multiple jobs, and that they have to put in long hours if they can. People find themselves very caught up, just treading water. The fact that they often are supporting other people heightens their need to take extra hours when they can get them.

[The study] found that low-wage work limits opportunities to learn new skills needed for better jobs. To sustain their livelihoods, these workers keep the jobs they have while searching for additional opportunities through relatives, friends and work networks. They patch together multiple full- and part-time jobs to maximize their paid hours.”

Workers told Smith and Halpin that their employers often expect them to be on call and available—even for overtime—without advance notice.

As a result, the researchers found, these workers were left with little time to take advantage of education and training opportunities, which typically require scheduled attendance.

(Smith and Halpin arrived at their findings through in-depth interviews with 25 low-wage workers, all of whom are first-generation immigrants in the Napa/Sonoma area. Interviewees worked in several sectors, including food service, landscaping, domestic work, office cleaning and construction, with some of those interviewed working in multiple sectors.)

No doubt these findings will provide policymakers on the local, state and federal levels more data to chew on as they continue to rigorously debate various minimum-wage initiatives. But there’s little question they also provide employers, especially those employing low-wage workers, reason to pause and reflect on their own workplace policies and practices and whether they’re improving these conditions or standing in the way of progress.

Also worth reflection, of course, is the notion of self-direction and self-responsibility—even in the face of significant hindrances.

As Career Systems International Founder and Chairwoman Beverly Kaye said when I asked her for her thoughts on the study’s findings, many employers would go out of their way to respond were a low-wage worker to express an interest in advancing their careers. “If one of those workers in Napa were to ask if there was a way he or she could go about learning wine making,” she said, “I would think an employer would find a way to help.”

Simply put, Kaye raises a point that probably shouldn’t be overlooked: People need to be “self-empowered” about their own careers.

I guess so long as they have any time at all to do so.

More Than One Way Up

multiple pathsSince our publication’s inception, we have presented our HR Executive of the Year award to 25 recipients, and have named 83 individuals to our HR Honor Roll.

Each year, our editorial staff interviews these honorees in an effort to gain some insight into what’s made them leaders in the HR profession.

And each year, we find many of our winners have traveled winding career paths, and we frequently hear our honor roll recipients saying things like they “sort of stumbled into HR” or they “hadn’t planned on a career in human resources” when they started out.

If some recent survey findings are any indication, this phenomenon isn’t unique to HR.

In a poll conducted by Los Angeles-based Korn/Ferry, 68 percent of more than 600 executives said they are not working in the careers or industries they planned to work in when they began their undergraduate careers.

In addition, 66 percent said focusing on broader leadership skills that can be applied to multiple jobs is more important than concentrating on specific disciplines such as finance and marketing. Moreover, 42 percent of the executives surveyed predict that up to one in four current college freshman will ultimately find themselves in professional positions that don’t even exist yet.

These findings underscore the growing need to seek out employees and cultivate future leaders with broader skill sets that can be applied in multiple settings, according to R.J. Heckman, president of Korn/Ferry’s leadership and talent consulting business.

“This survey casts new light on education and executive development,” said Heckman, in a statement. “One takeaway is that, while specific disciplines like finance and marketing will always be important, more ubiquitous skills such as the ability to influence and motivate others and apply past lessons to new challenges are key to career advancement regardless of industry or role.

“To use a baseball analogy, the leaders of the future will be ‘five-tool players’ who can run, field, throw and hit for average and power,” continues Heckman. “They will be agile executives who can readily adapt to any industry and challenge.”

A Little Help?

little helpI recently spoke with Mark Royal and Mel Stark of The Hay Group, to discuss the latest edition of the annual “Most Admired for HR” list; a group of companies Hay and HRE annually identify among Fortune’s Most Admired Companies as those that typify best HR practices.

Over the course of our approximately 50-minute chat—snippets of which will appear in our December cover story highlighting a few of this year’s winners—we talked a lot about the traits Most Admired organizations share.

When asked what sets the HR functions at these companies apart, both Royal and Stark repeatedly pointed to their ability to redefine career arcs; getting employees involved in customizing their professional development courses—wherever they may lead—and helping them create plans for navigating their chosen paths.

Leading employers, for example, “are clarifying where employees should expect career development to happen—in their day-to-day job roles versus through formal development initiatives—as well as the roles and responsibilities of employees, managers and the organization in career development processes,” said Royal, senior principal at Philadelphia-based Hay Group Insight.

Some recent data, however, suggests the “average” employer hasn’t yet latched on to this idea.

For example, a recent survey from Woodcliff Lake, N.J.-based talent mobility consulting firm Lee Hecht Harrison asked 379 U.S.-based workers if their organizations used career planning and development to prepare employees for roles. Respondents said:

• Rarely (35 percent)

• Never (30 percent)

• Sometimes (19 percent)

• Frequently (10 percent)

• Nearly always (6 percent)

So, if you’re scoring at home, that’s just 16 percent of employees saying they are the beneficiaries of career planning and development support on a consistent basis, with 65 percent saying they hardly ever receive such support, if they receive any at all.

Those numbers align with Hay Group employee opinion norms, which reveal that only 57 percent of employees hold favorable views of their opportunities for learning and development in their organizations, and just 44 percent rate their opportunities for advancement highly.

Without the proper career planning and development support, workers will naturally scuffle, said Kristen Leverone, senior vice president of global talent development practice leader at Lee Hecht Harrison, in a statement.

“Pressures are mounting for a hyper-efficient workforce made up of just-in-time employees who are skilled and ready to take on roles and responsibilities quickly,” said Leverone. “But, with just 16 percent of employees [in the LHH survey] reporting they receive career planning and development support, many employees will struggle to succeed if they lack resources to build the skills needed to perform optimally.”

And, employees that aren’t adequately equipped to perform their jobs aren’t typically happy employees, which creates employee-engagement and possible retention issues as well, adds Royal.

“Opportunities for growth and development,” he says, “are among the most consistent predictors of employee engagement.”

On the SHRM-HRPS Alliance

It’s common knowledge that the Society for Human Resource Management has long wanted to strengthen its position among senior HR executives. So it was hardly a surprise to learn yesterday that it has agreed to “join forces” with HR People & Strategy (otherwise known as HRPS).

Earlier today, HRPS board chair Kevin Rubens, who has been involved with HRPS for about 10 years and is also a senior partner at Korn Ferry International, told me the affiliation will enable his organization to address a long-standing issue: “We’ve always struggled with how to grow our association so it could have the kind of impact it should, considering the caliber of people involved with it. This affiliation will provide us with the opportunity to leverage the resources of a much larger organization and finally achieve these aspirations.”

Meanwhile, SHRM President and CEO Henry G. (Hank) Jackson, who will be joining HRPS’ board, said in a press release announcing the alliance:

“Together, we will be better positioned to impact the practice of human resource management for business results globally, as well as deliver high-quality programming and services to all HR professionals no matter where they are in their career.”

allianceBut there seems to be little question SHRM moved forward on this alliance because it viewed it as a way to leverage HRPS’ preceived senior-level brand.

SHRM currently serves a global community of around 260,000 HR professionals while HRPS’ membership ranks are around 3,000, including local affiliates.

Specifically, the SHRM-HRPS affiliation will:

• Provide dual membership opportunities for both groups’ members;

• Create a stronger, higher-impact and unified voice on human capital issues both domestically and globally;

• Share research to develop and deliver stronger programming; and

• Provide information and resources aimed at helping HR professionals keep up with future trends as well as influence regulations and compliance guidelines.

Under the agreement, SHRM will take over HRPS’ operational duties, which currently are outsourced to an association management company.

Susan Meisinger, a former president of SHRM and HRE‘s HR Leadership columnist, describes the alliance as good for both organizations, noting “there’s a great mutuality of interest between the two associations and they should be stronger together than as two different entities.”

Similarly, Boston University Professor Fred Foulkes believes it has the potential for “good synergy,” giving HRPS members access to SHRM’s extensive resources and SHRM members access to HRPS’ strong programming.

Less clear, he adds, is how the affiliation will play out on the chapter (in the case of SHRM) and affiliate (in the case of HRPS) level, particularly in those cities where they overlap and have previously competed. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Entrepreneurs Not Wanted

entrepreneurIn February, I took to The Leader Board to discuss a study that found more workers itching to pursue their own entrepreneurial endeavors as opposed to “traditional jobs or careers.”

Now, new research suggests employees striking out on their own may find doors closed to them when seeking re-entry into the corporate world.

According to researchers from the University of Vienna, the Munich School of Management and Erasmus University Rotterdam, entrepreneurs and freelancers attract fewer interview invitations than comparable job candidates with recent corporate experience. In the United Kingdom, the researchers found the self-employed receiving nearly two-thirds fewer interview requests compared to similarly qualified applicants who had worked exclusively for large- and mid-sized employers.

This finding may seem a bit counterintuitive, given how much HR is said to prize self-starters with the ability to think independently, innovate and take calculated risks; common traits among those with an entrepreneurial streak.

But, researcher Philipp Koellinger, associate professor of economics at Erasmus University Rotterdam and study co-author, has a possible explanation for why the self-employed may—fairly or unfairly—be getting the cold shoulder from hiring managers.

“My hunch is that many entrepreneurs would actually not fit very well into established organizations, although they may be very productive and able managers themselves—as long as they don’t have a boss,” said Koellinger, in a statement. “Employers may attach that stereotype to everyone who was self-employed.”

Interesting theory. And if there’s any truth in it, then a lot of would-be entrepreneurs walking away from the office could have a tough road back if their plans don’t work out. On the other hand, there may be just as many hiring managers shutting out a segment of the job-seeking population that could be a tremendous asset to the workforce.

Sweating the Soft Stuff

soft skills gapAre today’s entry-level job candidates ready for the workplace?

That depends on who you ask.  

For example, a recent survey conducted by Bryant & Stratton College and Wakefield Research found 80 percent of the 18-to-34-year-olds polled reporting they are “job-ready and possess all the skills, experience and education needed to advance in their desired career path or obtain their next job.”

Employers, however, seem to disagree.

I’ll refer you to our January 2013 online piece, “The Talent-Job Mismatch,” where Managing Editor Kristen B. Frasch delved into recent data from New York-based McKinsey & Co. As that story points out, the New York-based consulting firm found nearly 40 percent of employers citing a lack of skills—in the “softer, behavior-based competencies” as well as harder, job-specific skills—among entry-level applicants as the primary reason for positions remaining unfilled.

The figures coming from Bryant & Stratton, however, seem to suggest these job candidates aren’t exactly sweating the “soft” stuff.

For example, only 16 percent of the 18-to-34-year-olds surveyed by Bryant & Stratton said they view soft job skills such as critical thinking and sophisticated problem-solving as being necessary to career advancement.

Now consider a recent poll conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, which found 93 percent of 318 employers saying soft skills such as critical thinking, communicating clearly and complex problem solving are weighted more heavily in the hiring process than an individual’s academic credentials.

These are just a few numbers, handpicked to illustrate a point here, but it looks like the talk we’ve heard about a troubling soft skills gap may be on the mark, and the chatter may not be slowing down any time soon.

LinkedIn Founder: Sign Up for a ‘Tour of Duty’

The lifetime job guarantee is over. Everyone knows that. But what’s replaced it? Are all of us destined to join “Free Agent Nation,” with employees constantly on the move between companies while companies hire and fire based on the latest economic gyrations? There has to be an alternative, because the prevailing arrangement ill-serves both parties, writes LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman (with coauthors Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh) in the latest Harvard Business Review.

Today’s laissez-faire arrangement means that although employees have a natural incentive to stay adaptable and marketable, the most entrepreneurial of them end up taking their talents elsewhere, while employers reap some cost-savings but gain little in terms of innovation and adaptability, they write. What’s needed is a “new compact,” they argue, in which both employee and company acknowledge the likely impermanence of their relationship while seeking to build trust and investment anyway:

As allies, employer and employee try to add value to each other. The employer says, “If you make us more valuable, we’ll make you more valuable.” The employee says, “If you help me grow and flourish, I’ll help the company grow and flourish.” Employees invest in the company’s adaptability; the company invests in the employees’ employability. As former Bain CEO Tom Tierney used to tell recruits and consultants, “We are going to make you more marketable.”

The authors cite Hoffman’s own LinkedIn as an example, where he set the initial employee compact as a four-year tour of duty, with a discussion at two years. If the employee “moved the needle” on the business during the four years, the company would help advance his or her career — ideally at LinkedIn, but it could also mean a position elsewhere.

A tour lasting between two to four years is ideal, they write, because that time period tends to sync with a typical product-development cycle, “allowing the employee to see a major project through.” This sort of arrangement works better than typical retention programs, which are saddled with fuzzy goals and fuzzy timeframes that essentially ask the employee to commit to the company without it making a commitment in return, according to the authors. A tour of duty, on the other hand, can serve as a personalized retention plan “that gives a valued employee concrete, compelling reasons to finish her tour and that establishes a clear time frame for discussing the future of the relationship.”

Ideally, tour of duty agreements with key employees will include explicit terms, focused goals and clear expectations. When possible, they write, the agreement should include giving the employee a shot at a “breakout entrepreneurial opportunity” that might involve a new product, reengineering an existing process or “introducing an organizational innovation.” I think this is an intriguing concept that that’s based on a core reality — impermanence is here to stay — yet codifies a mutually beneficial arrangement in which employee and employer make a (time-limited) commitment to one another. Be interesting to see if this gains some traction. Of course, it’s also aimed at highly specialized talent — what about the rank and file, who may not be superstars but with whom you could not run your organization?

NAHR’s 2013 Essay Contest

HR’s always talking about the importance of having a robust talent pipeline. But what about its own pipeline? Is the profession doing enough to develop the next generation of HR leader?

To that end, the National Academy of Human Resources launched its Ram Charan HR Essay Contest in 2011, aimed at recognizing thought leadership among university undergraduate and graduate students in the fields of HR, industrial/labor relations and related fields.

medallionThe contest is made possible through a generous donation by NAHR Distinguished Fellow Ram Charan to the NAHR Foundation.

For the 2013 contest—which has an Aug. 1, 2013 deadline—the students are being asked to address the topic of electronic technology and social media, and how these are affecting the employment relationship (from hiring to engagement to retention) between employers and employees; as well as the roles, responsibilities and contributions of HR organizations. Clearly a timely and relevant topic.

Prizes of $20,000, $10,000 and $5,000 will be awarded, with the winners being officially announced at the Nov. 7 NAHR Annual Dinner. (Essays will be evaluated and judged by a panel of HR professionals who are Fellow of the NAHR.)

Kudos to Charan, a respected author, speaker and business consultant, and the NAHR for providing students with this worthwhile opportunity. Details can be found on the NAHR site.

Lean In and Hear What Holds Women Back

496065AX.TIFFacebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In was just released last week. Conversation about the book, however—in which she “cut[s] through the layers of ambiguity and bias surrounding the lives and choices of working women,” according to—has been heating up for a while.

Last month on The Leader Board, our own Andrew McIlvaine offered a snapshot of Lean In, in which Sandberg shares her views on what often impedes women from achieving leadership positions within their companies. For example:

We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. [The result is that] men still run the world.”

Sandberg’s perspective is certainly not shared by everyone, as McIlvaine pointed out, referencing a New York Times article in which business consultant Avivah Wittenberg-Cox opined that Sandberg “does what too many successful women before her have done: blaming other women for not trying hard enough.”

The Times also references Princeton professor, former State Department official and Sandberg’s “chief critic,” Anne-Marie Slaughter, noting her claim that Sandberg—and feminism, for that matter—has been guilty of holding women to unrealistic professional and personal standards.

So, it’s safe to say that Sandberg has her detractors. But she may also have a point, according to an online poll being conducted by The Economist.

The still-open survey (you can vote here if so inclined) asks readers if they think that women derail their own careers. The answer? Yes, at least according to 64 percent of the 9,564 voters who have participated in the poll since it opened on March 15.

Interesting. This is a thorny subject, and a complex argument, to be sure. But it seems Sandberg is far from alone in the views she puts forward in Lean In, and she has started a dialogue that may only be heating up. In fact, if you want to feel some of that heat, take a look at the six-plus pages of comments on The Economist’s poll page and watch the opinions fly.