Category Archives: training

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.

Happy Days are Here Again?

Businesses is picking up — for HR at least.

According to Bersin & Associates TalentWatch, 14 percent of HR professionals surveyed said their budgets are increasing by 10 percent or more. Only 5 percent (down from 16 percent a year ago), are seeing budget cuts of 15 percent or more.

TalentWatch is based on a survey of 265 human resource, learning, and business leaders.

As Jason Hanold, managing director of Russell Reynolds Associates notes in this story about the cutbacks and financial struggles in HR departments from a few months ago, HR is a “bellwether of the economy.”

So, as HR goes, so goes the nation? I guess we’ll see, but the Bersin survey also found that nearly one-quarter of respondents said that market expansion is also a high priority — up from only 16 percent a year ago.

The survey also saw an increase in respondents whose companies are undergoing mergers and acquisitions and introducing new products and services.

“It’s clear,” says Josh Bersin, president of the organization, “that business and HR leaders — particularly in financial and professional services, healthcare and hospitality — are preparing for growth. Instead of focusing on how to rapidly restructure and lay off people, we see leaders beginning to shift attention back toward skills development, globalization, innovation and rebuilding.”

The survey doesn’t actually correspond to his comment that organizations are focusing on skill development, however — as it notes that HR budgets for learning and development “are generally flat.”

Bersin suggests that HR leaders focus their training dollars where they can get the “biggest bang for the buck” — in areas such as coaching, efficient knowledge sharing and collaboration, onboarding, and management training.

From Cradle to C-Suite

You can never get started too early when it comes to building the workforce of the future.

Certainly that premise is at the heart of SHRM’s decision to join a business coalition, managed by the Pew Center, to study later this year what steps employers should be taking to prepare the nation’s infants and toddlers so they’re able to lead tomorrow’s businesses. The initiative was mentioned during a press briefing held on the conference’s opening day.

“One of the things we’ve learned is that meeting the needs of the workforce of the future means meeting the developmental needs of children today,” explained Deb Cohen, chief knowledge officer of SHRM.

A SHRM brochure describes the challenge as follows: “In order to compete, U.S. employers must attract and retain a team-capable, job-ready workforce that can spur and maintain continual innovation. The foundation of skills required to achieve that end is built in the earliest years of life—between birth and age 5—yet we do not give our young children the early educational, health and social supports they need to get there.”

Fed Intern Program Comes Under Fire

The Office of Personnel Management’s internship program came under fire during congressional hearings yesterday.

A story posted on the Washington Post’s Web site reports OPM Director John Berry was the recipient of “pointed questions” pertaining to the government’s Federal Career Intern Program and its use by federal agencies to circumvent hiring practices.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) told Berry she was “ ‘shocked’ to learn that almost half of the federal hires are done outside the normal competitive process,” according to the report. The story notes that the internship program is “designed to allow agencies to quickly hire for certain vacancies, without the need to follow rules that apply to competitive positions.”

Obama has instructed Berry and the OPM to evaluate the federal government’s internship program and suggest possible changes. Considering the grilling he received on Capitol Hill regarding this issue, perhaps the issue is now a bit higher on his priority list.

The Never-Ending Saga of Hard-to-Fill Jobs

Surprisingly, with all of the layoffs and restructurings that have taken place in the last year or two, the survey of more than 35,000 employers in 36 countries found that 31 percent of employers are having a difficult time finding the right talent. In 2009, that number was 30 percent.

The most difficult jobs to fill in the United States are in the skilled trades, sales reps, nurses and technicians, according to the just-released Manpower Talent Shortage Survey.

Jonas Prising, Manpower president of the Americas, attributes the problem to “a talent mismatch. There are not enough sufficiently skilled people in the right places at the right times.”

Making it worse, he says, is employers “are seeking ever more specific skill sets or a rare combination of skill sets.”

Seems to me that’s all the more reason that employers should ramp up their training and development programs — an issue that Wharton professor Peter Cappelli explored not that long ago in one of his HREOnline™ columns.

In “Difficulties in Finding Qualified Workers“, he writes: “There is no shortage of people with the appropriate education credentials for any jobs I’ve seen. The skills that are in short supply are work-based skills, the kind that are only learned on the job: Experience with these vendors, knowledge of these work practices, an understanding of this industry.”

So why are so few employers willing to train and develop the people they need to implement their business strategies? That’s another difficult question to answer.

Remembering the Fallen

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis honored today — Workers Memorial Day — with a reference to Mother Jones (the woman and labor organizer, not the magazine) by quoting her: “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”

While government data shows that fatal workplace injuries (PDF) have decreased each year since 1992 and other workplace nonfatal injuries and illnesses (PDF) have done the same since 2003, even one injury is too many.

Solis notes that this has been a “tragic month for the nation’s working families,” citing the oil rig workers in Louisiana, the branch Mine workers in West Virginia and victims of the refinery fire in Washington.

“More than 4.6 million workers suffer serious injuries each year,” according to her statement. “And, every day across America, more than 14 men and women lose their lives in preventable workplace incidents. That’s nearly 100 preventable deaths per week!”

HR leaders should already be aware that OSHA has hired — and plans to hire even more — enforcement agents, but besides preparing for stepped up enforcement, companies need to review their own safety programs. A recent story on HREOnline looks at some of the inadvertent reasons workplace safety programs don’t play out in reality as they do on the drawing board. 

There may be some heartless and ruthless employers out there, but I would guess that number is pretty small.
While the overwhelming majority of employers may look askance at some of the rules, regulations and opinions coming from the DOL, I would guess nearly all agree with Solis’ statement today: “No one — regardless of his or her occupation — should have to be injured or killed to earn a paycheck.”

HRD on the Hudson

In its April 25 edition, BusinessWeek published an interesting article on CEO Jeff Immelt and General Electric: “Can GE Still Manage.”

The story devotes a decent amount of ink to Crotonville, which continues to be at the center of GE’s leadership development efforts. “Crotonville remains the company Mecca,” writes Senior Editor Diane Brady. That was certainly clear during a media day event last November, attended by HRE‘s Senior Editor Andrew McIlvaine.  His report noted that despite the economic downturn, more employees than ever are cycling through Crotonville — so many that the dormitory is routinely overbooked and GE is forced to accommodate the overflow at a nearby Marriott.

Some critics quoted in the story wonder if the campus is more of a distraction than a “virtue.” But as the latest BW story reminds us, GE continues to be more committed than ever to Crotonville. Time will tell if that continued commitment is justified. But until GE proves it has successfully regained its mojo, Immelt and his team can be certain of one thing: Critics of Crotonville aren’t going to go away.