Category Archives: workforce development

Millennials: Not So Entrepreneurial

Earlier this month I wrote about some surprising research that suggests many millennial workers defy the slacker stereotypes and are apt to be workaholics.

ThinkstockPhotos-485914233Here’s another surprise: It turns out that millennials are shaping up to be less entrepreneurial than previous generations, too. That defies not only the general preconception about this generation, but the millennial self-image as well.

Add these findings together and we may be getting a glimpse of the future: Millennial workers, if treated right, may turn out to be more industrious and loyal to their employers than anyone imagined.

The entrepreneurship data came early this year in a study by the Small Business Administration that didn’t get as much attention as it deserved. Credit goes to the Economic Innovation Group and EY for highlighting the data in September along with results of their own survey of millennial workers. (Hat tip also to the Washington Post’s Wonkblog for reporting this first.)

millennial-entrepreneursSBA economist Daniel Wilmoth’s study, published in February, used Census data to look at self-employment rates by age for three generations: millennials (born after 1981), Gen-Xers (1963-1981) and baby boomers (1944-1962). In short, he found that self-employment rates declined for each succeeding generation (see graphic above) .

“At age 30, less than 4 percent of millennials reported self-employment in their primary job in the previous year, compared with 5.4 percent for Generation X and 6.7 percent for baby boomers,” Wilmoth writes.

Of course, self-employment isn’t quite the same as entrepreneurship. And each generation grew up in different economies, with different technology. And we don’t know what may happen as that generation ages. But I think this research provides persuasive — and surprising — insight into millennial workers.

Those of us who  — ahem — happen to be in an older generation may not be the only ones surprised. Millennials might be as well. The Economic Innovation Group survey found that 55 percent of millennials surveyed believe their generation is more entrepreneurial than those that came before.

And 62 percent said they’ve considered starting their own business. But 42 percent said they can’t afford to take that step.

Little wonder: It’s well known that millennials have higher student-debt loads that previous generations did at comparable ages, and that their entry into the job market often was hampered by the Great Recession.

So it’s not unreasonable for employers to be optimistic about millennial workers. They may not turn out to be the job-hopping, disengaged, self-centered population some have imagined. If nothing else, this number from the Economic Innovation Group survey should be encouraging: 88 percent of millennials agreed that “hard work is an important factor to get ahead in life.”






Leadership Development Needs Sponsorship at Top

There has certainly been no dearth of studies and stories, both here at HRE and beyond, on the challenges and failings of leadership-82821233 -- business leaderdevelopment programs. Here, for instance, is our last look at this problem that Staff Writer Mark McGraw wrote about on Nov. 30.

In that piece, sources told McGraw a major stumbling block keeping most leadership-development initiatives from succeeding is the tendency for line leaders to hand the LD reins over to human resources without taking responsibility for the huge role they, themselves, play in steering those initiatives.

As Debbie Lovich, head of the Boston Consulting Group’s  Leadership and Talent Enablement Center in Boston, says in that story:

“As soon as [those reins are handed over, talent issues are] disconnected from the business. You see it happen when line leaders are developing plans for their businesses, and ownership for anything to do with talent goes to HR. … [T]he best-in-class companies don’t just throw it over the fence to HR.”

Now, the latest global study on this issue by Los Angeles-based Korn Ferry suggests the inherent problems with leadership development have less to do with who’s taking responsibility and more to do with who’s sponsoring the effort.

The study, Real World Leadership, which polled more than 7,500 executives from 107 countries, found a “lack of executive sponsorship” to be the chief barrier. Survey respondents not only indicated there was a general lack of active sponsorship, buy-in and support from the top, but they expressed disappointment in the programs altogether, with 55 percent of respondents ranking their return on such efforts as only “fair” to “very poor.”

“Executives have identified the crux of the problem,” says Noah Rabinowitz, a Korn Ferry senior partner and global head of leadership development. “The next step is to identify practical steps to create a solution.

“Given the central role leadership plays in the success of any organization,” he adds, “the view of leadership development has to shift from a ‘nice-to-have’ to a ‘must-have’ business process, as integral as the supply chain, marketing or IT.”

Dési Kimmins, Korn Ferry’s principal consultant, had some very specific and practical advice for HR leaders seeking executive buy-in for leadership development:

“The first step … is to start with strategic business needs. Executives must examine what challenges the organization currently faces, where the business is going and the leadership profile that will help the company get where it needs to go. This process starts with the C-suite, and must sustain that level of endorsement and sponsorship to be successful. The most senior leaders need to engage in the development strategy and insist the impact is regularly measured and reported.

“People assume that development happens naturally, but that’s not necessarily the case. A CEO, for example, not only has to run a business but also [has to] deal with a large number of external stakeholders, such as shareholders, the board of directors, business partners and even the media …  . That’s why stepping into the CEO role is sometimes described as a career change, not just another step on the career ladder. Development and feedback even at this level are essential when so much is at stake.”

Even more specifically, the report lists tips for increasing the effectiveness of leadership development and creating a robust and sustainable leadership pipeline:

  • Embed leadership development in the culture and strategy, ensuring it is consistently sponsored by top executives.

  • Embrace the idea that leadership development is a continuous process and not just made up of one-time classes or one-off events.

  • Make leadership development more relevant and engaging by focusing programs on the organization’s current strategies and business issues.

  • Roll out relevant and appropriate development for all levels in the organization, including senior-most executives and the C-suite.

  • Don’t cut back on investing in leadership development when times get tough. That is the time to double down on efforts.

Rise of the Intelligent Machines

“Smart machines,” aka cognitive computing systems such as IBM’s Watson, robots and other systems incorporating artificial intelligence, could profoundly change the workplace. Researchers at Oxford University, for example, predict that 47 percent of U.S. occupations could be automated within 20 years thanks to smart machines.

Most managers are excited about the prospect of smart machines: 87 percent told Accenture that these smart systems will make them more effective and their work more interesting. About one-third, however, fear that these systems will threaten their job, according to the Accenture study. The study, titled Managers and Machines, Unite!, is based on a survey that queried 1,700 managers in front-line, middle and C-suite levels at organizations in 14 countries on their attitudes and expectations regarding cognitive computing’s impact on their job roles and skills.

The managers said they spend the bulk of their workday on planning and coordinating work (81 percent), followed by problem-solving and handling exceptions (65 percent), monitoring and reporting performance (52 percent) and maintaining routines and standards (51 percent). The study’s authors, Accenture’s David Smith and Bob Thomas, write that intelligent machines can take on much of these tasks, freeing up managers for “judgment work” such as complex thinking and higher-order reasoning.

However, managers in certain industries tend to regard these systems with more trepidation than enthusiasm, largely because of the potential threat to their jobs. Managers in the electronics and high-tech industries are most concerned (50 percent), followed by 49 percent of banking managers, 42 percent of airline managers and 41 percent of retail managers.

The study’s authors urge company leaders to address managers’ fears and concerns, explain to them the benefits of these systems and how they work, and counsel managers on developing the skills that will continue to be important. Indeed, the survey found that managers prioritize skills such as digital and technology skills, creative thinking and experimentation, data analysis and interpretation and strategy development, but place relatively little weight on soft skills such as social networking, people development and collaboration.

“Managers are not entirely sold on the benefit of intelligent machines and it is up to senior executives to address their concerns,” says Thomas. “They need to help their managers not just improve their technology skills but develop greater interpersonal skills to lead the workforce of the future.”

But given the inevitable disruption that smart machines will almost certainly wreak on the workplace (remember those Oxford predictions), one of the skills leaders will undoubtedly need is the ability to be honest with managers (particularly those on the front lines and in middle positions) about the impact this disruption will have upon them. After all, many predictions were made about how technology will free up employees (including those in HR) to focus on “more strategic tasks,” and while that has proven true in many cases, it also led to the elimination of many jobs and not a small amount of pain.

Taking a Multipronged Approach to Global Mobility

We’ve reported in previous stories that the use of short-term assignments continues to grow in popularity, as companies look for ways to get a bigger bang for their global-mobility buck. So it’s no surprise to see that most multinational companies (56 percent) expect to increase their use of this approach during the 2015-2016 period, according to a just-released report by the consultancy Mercer.

ThinkstockPhotos-71080038The more noteworthy finding in Mercer’s Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies and Practices report is probably the increased level of diversification that companies are using when it comes to global employee mobility.

More precisely, over the next year or so, about half of companies anticipate an increase in the use of permanent transfers (54 percent), developmental and training assignments (50 percent), and locally hired foreigners (47 percent).

As for traditional long-term assignments? Well, a smaller but still respectable percentage (44 percent) of the 831 multinational companies studied expect to see an increase here as well.

As Steve Nurney, partner and leader of Mercer’s North America global mobility business, explains, “companies are using a more varied range of assignments in order to respond to evolving business needs and changing patterns in the global workforce.”

The report also noted a marked increase in companies with multiple policies (64 percent, up from 57 percent since 2012), further evidence of a trend toward diversification.

Other findings in the study worth noting …

The number of female assignees increased by 6 percent, on average, since 2010;

Dual careers and cost remain key barriers to mobility, but less so compared to 2012; and

Employers are embracing a wider definition of ‘spouse’ to cover same-sex couples in benefits arrangements.

As Nurney appropriately points out, the greater diversification is inevitably going to add more complexity to HR’s job, especially when it comes to compliance issues. So HR and mobility leaders, I might add, are obviously going to need to make sure they have the mechanisms in place to effectively manage a more complicated global-mobility process.

But Nurney also correctly suggests that the shift to a more diversified approach to mobility creates an opportunity for HR leaders to impact the overall business strategy in a meaningful way.

So now, I would think, it’s up to HR and mobility leaders to demonstrate that they’re fully up to the task.

Obama’s New TechHire Initiative

President Obama has announced the Department of Labor’s  TechHire initiative as part a new campaign to work with communities to get more Americans rapidly trained for well-paying technology jobs.

According to the White House, TechHire is “a multi-sector initiative and call to action to empower Americans with the skills they need, through universities and community colleges” but also nontraditional approaches such as “coding boot camps,” and high-quality online courses that can rapidly train workers for a well-paying job, often in just a few months.

According to the White House memo:

Employers across the United States are in critical need of talent with these skills. Many of these roles do not require a four-year computer science degree. To give Americans the opportunity they deserve, and the skills they need to be competitive in a global economy, we are highlighting TechHire partnerships.

The initiative includes:

  • A $100 million H-1B grant competition by the Department of Labor to support innovative approaches to training and successfully employing low-skill individuals with barriers to training and employment including those with child care responsibilities, people with disabilities, disconnected youth, and limited English proficient workers, among others. This grant competition will support the scaling up of evidence-based strategies such as accelerated learning, work-based learning, and Registered Apprenticeships.
  • Expanded regional employer hiring and paid internships for IT jobs (e.g., coding, web development, project management, cybersecurity) sourced from accelerated training programs based on demonstrated competencies instead of only selecting candidate using standard HR ‘markers’;
  • Expand slots, upgrade quality, and diversify participants in accelerated training pipeline – expand local programs like coding boot camps, the best of which have 90 percent job placement rates – to enable more Americans to master the skills required to fill technology jobs and create a strong pipeline of technology talent that local employers demand and will hire that can be ready in months not years; and
  • Support from locally intermediaries – municipal leadership, workforce development programs and other local resources – that help connect people to jobs based on their skills and job readiness and help employers engage local talent trained in both alternative and traditional programs.

To kick off TechHire, 21 regions, with more than 120,000 open technology jobs and more than 300 employer partners in need of this workforce, are announcing plans to work together to new ways to recruit and place applicants based on their actual skills and to create more fast track tech training opportunities.

Examples of TechHire Community commitments include:

  • St. Louis, MO. A network of over 150 employers in St. Louis’ rapidly expanding innovation ecosystem will build on a successful Mastercard pilot to partner with local non-profit Launchcode, to build the skills of women and underrepresented minorities for tech jobs, and will also place 250 apprentices in jobs in 2015 at employers like Monsanto, CitiBank, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and Anheuser Busch.
  • New York City, NY. With employers including Microsoft, Verizon, Goldman Sachs, Google, and Facebook, the Tech Talent Pipeline is announcing new commitments to prepare college students in the City University of New York (CUNY) system for and connect them to paid internship opportunities at local tech companies. NYC will also expand successful models like the NYC Web Development Fellowship serving 18-26 year olds without a college degree in partnership with the Flatiron School.
  • State of Delaware. The new Delaware TechHire initiative is committing to training entry-level developers in a new accelerated coding bootcamp and Java and .Net accelerated community college programs giving financial institutions and healthcare employers, throughout the state, access to a new cohort of skilled software talent in a matter of months. Capital One, Bank of America, Christiana Care and others are committing to placing people trained in these programs this year.
  • Louisville, KY. Louisville has convened over 20 IT employers as part of the Code Louisville initiative to train and place new software developers, including Glowtouch, Appriss, Humana, ZirMed, and Indatus. Louisville will build on this work in support of the TechHire Initiative: the city will recruit a high-quality coding bootcamp to Louisville and establish a new partnership between Code Louisville and local degree granting institutions to further standardize employer recognition of software development skillsets.

With more than half a million unfilled jobs in information technology across all sectors of the economy, the initiative could be poised to help employers fill their high-tech talent gaps.

Not Ready for the Real World?

college studentsBrace yourselves, HR leaders: Some recent research suggests you may have your hands full with this next wave of employees about to join the workforce.

Earlier this week, the Association of American Colleges and Universities released Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success, which finds today’s college students ill-equipped to make the transition from campus to career, at least in employers’ eyes.

The report, conducted by Hart Research Associates, summarizes findings from two national surveys: one of business and non-profit leaders, and a second poll of current college students.

In the first survey, only about one-quarter of 400 employers said that recent graduates are well-prepared in terms of critical thinking and analytic reasoning, written and oral communication, complex problem solving, innovation and creativity, and applying knowledge and skills to real-world settings. Around 30 percent said the same with regard to new grads’ ethical judgment and decision-making skills.

Not surprisingly, students disagree with this assessment, as more than 60 percent of the 613 college students surveyed rate themselves as well-prepared with respect to critical thinking and analytic reasoning, written communication, teamwork skills, information literacy, ethical judgment and decision making, and oral communication.

This report’s release comes on the heels of a Council for Aid to Education test of nearly 32,000 students, the results of which suggest that four in 10 U.S. college students graduate without the complex reasoning skills to manage white-collar work. For example, the 40 percent of tested students who failed to meet a standard deemed as “proficient” were “unable to distinguish the quality of evidence in building an argument or express the appropriate level of conviction in their conclusion,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

The exam, known as the Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus, was administered at 169 colleges and universities throughout 2013 and 2014, in an effort to measure the “intellectual gains made between freshman and senior year,” evaluating “things like critical thinking, analytical reasoning, document literacy, writing and communication—essentially mimicking the baseline demands for professionals,” according to the Journal .

Taken together, the data from these studies paint a grim portrait of college kids’ prospects for success in the working world, at least early on in their careers.

Employers taking part in the AAC&U have some suggestions for making that picture a bit brighter.

These companies strongly endorsed putting an emphasis on applied learning, with 87 percent saying they are “somewhat more likely” or “much more likely” to hire a college graduate if he or she had completed a senior project in college. Sixty percent said all students should be expected to complete a significant applied learning project before graduation, while 96 percent said all students should have educational experiences that teach them how to solve problems with people whose views are different from their own.

These are just a few specific steps toward better preparing the workforce’s next generation for taking the leap into the workplace, of course. But, in a broader sense, one theme emerging from this research is that more employers are seeking the prized—if increasingly elusive—blend of both field-specific and more wide-ranging knowledge and skills.

“Very few [organizations] indicate that acquiring knowledge and skills mainly for a specific field or position,” the AAC&U report notes, “is the best path for long-term success.”

Men, Women, Competition and Cooperation

Common stereotypes may tell us that men are more competitive and women are more cooperative, but researchers at Aalto University in Finland recently studied the physiological responses to both competitive and cooperative play in order to investigate respondents’ emotions to see how males and females are motivated to behave in these situations.

So, what did the researchers find?

While males did enjoy competition more than cooperation, females enjoyed both competition and cooperation equally.

(The results of the research were published in an article in the international science journal PLOS ONE.)

“Although there is a lot of research on gender differences, nobody has studied the emotions – the physiological mechanism that steers our behavior – of competitive and cooperative activities in males and females before. This gives a better insight into why people behave the way they do. You may unconsciously give false information about your motivations, but your body doesn’t lie,” said researcher Matias Kivikangas.

Kivikangas also said the results suggest that parts of the common stereotypes are untrue, at least in that women are not enjoying cooperation any more than competition.

And, he added, “it seems that the fact that men do enjoy competition more than cooperation might actually be a consequence from gender expectations rather than innate differences.”

According to the press release announcing the findings, the two studies employed cooperative and competitive digital games to test the responses. While this makes the responses more natural than a contrived experimental procedure, the intrinsically motivated nature of the activity limits the generalizability of the results.

‘Neither males or females experienced notable differences in negative emotions, indicating that only positive emotions are relevant in motivating competitive behavior. However, separate studies with other activities should be carried out as well, because I’d suspect that competition that the individual has not chosen themselves might elicit different emotional reactions’, Kivikangas added.

The implications of this study could indeed have some far-reaching  consequences in the workplace, especially in terms of how work groups are organized (i.e. competition-based vs. collaboration-based).

But for this admittedly male writer, the findings only confirm what I already learned from my childhood experiences playing (and losing) board games with my mom and sister: Women can be just as competitive — if not moreseo than — men.

Some Passing Thoughts on HR as the New Year Nears

On this, the last Saturday in 2012, I went hunting and pecking for a few things I might share about the HR profession — looking back on the year that will soon be history as well as anticipating the one to come.

With healthcare and the impending Affordable Care Act enactments that much closer, this list from Mercer of the top five priorities for employer-sponsored health plans in 2013 seemed a helpful one. I was especially drawn to its specific suggestions for customizing plan designs and contributions in today’s high-health-cost environment, and for making health exchanges work best for you.

One blog post from an Edwardsville, Ill.-based employment, payroll and workforce-services company, Extra Help Inc., lays out its leading seven concerns HR professionals should be attending to right now. Though some of the list is aimed at Missouri and Illinois businesses, and promotes its services, it’s still a nice, succinct rundown of things you should have on your front burner — such as whether you’re fully versed in healthcare-reform requirements, whether you’re up on all you’re supposed to have posted around your environs and whether you really have the best plan in place when employees start leaving as the economy continues to improve.

Looking across the pond, I found this post from CIP HR, based in Buckinghamshire, England, that — interestingly — echoes many of the same cost-centered concerns HR professionals in the United States face in 2013: making sure the right talent gets into the right post to begin with, making sure younger workers get the kind of development opportunities that will encourage them to stay since they can’t climb the corporate ladder the way their parents did, and making sure social-media policies are crafted correctly, to keep you out of court.

Couldn’t find quite as much out there on top HR issues of 2012, but probably wouldn’t/couldn’t have found anything better than our own Winners and Losers list for 2012 from HRE Editor David Shadovitz. And, in keeping with other lists’ overriding focus on healthcare and healthcare reform, no surprise that his No. 1 winner is Obamacare.

Also, for the record, here again is Web Editor Michael J. O’Brien’s blog post on what you blog readers read the most this past year on The Leader Board. May be a reflection of what caught your eye more than what has been or will be keeping you up at night, but a reflection nonetheless.

And, as I intimated up top, there’s probably no better time to reflect than when one year bites the dust and another one is born.

Happy New Year everyone.


Why Are We Failing Community Colleges?

Regardless of your political affiliation (or lack thereof), I think most of us who watched it can agree that former President Bill Clinton’s speech at the recent Democratic national convention was effective and memorable. In his speech, Clinton noted that despite the nation’s persistently high unemployment rate, about 3 million jobs remain unfilled due to a scarcity of qualified technical talent.

It’s an astounding number. Even more astounding is the fact that community colleges–of which a huge number of employers have come to rely on to train the next generation of technical talent–are being left to scrape and scramble for funding to try and fill those jobs.

Workforce Training in a Recovering Economy, a new report released by the Education Policy Center at the University of Alabama, includes a survey of 49 state community college directors. Forty-five of them said business leaders in their communities see the schools as primary workforce training providers–up from 34 respondents in a similar survey conducted last year.

And yet, the report notes, funding sources intended to support training programs at these colleges–such as the Workforce Investment Act–have been exhausted, while state funding remains under threat because of the poor economy. As a result, many of these colleges are struggling to provide the sort of technology-rich training courses that most closely correlate with employers’ needs.

Lack of funding isn’t the only problem. The report finds that 31 of the college directors say a significant shortage of faculty in high-cost technical areas exists in their states. So, combine these challenges with the fact that community colleges are experiencing record enrollment rates–in some cases, having to turn students away–as unemployed workers try to upgrade their skills by going back to school, and it’s easy to see why the report concludes on this somber note:

With exhausted training funds and continuing state budget cuts, the ability of community colleges to serve workers in need of retraining, and to build the workforce of the future, is, without doubt, constrained.”

I can’t help but think there’s a role for HR leaders here. What about lobbying state and federal sources for greater support for these institutions? Perhaps arranging for talented technical staff at your organizations to get involved with teaching a course or two at the local community college to compensate for the shortage of qualified faculty? And, what about biting the bullet and convincing your organization’s leadership to pony up a bit of cash to support these schools’ mission? After all, that mission most likely includes helping to train your future workers.

Lifting Boeing’s Pay Grade

At this week’s Total Rewards 2012 conference in Orlando, speakers from Boeing reminded attendees that there often is more than one way to read a piece of data.

During a session titled “Compensation, Fix Employee Pay! When Compensation Professionals are Asked to Address Low Scores on Employee Surveys,” two Boeing comp professionals—Senior Compensation Specialist Cindy Jorgensen and Compensation Specialist Ron Steele Jr.—talked about their efforts to get to bottom of why employees at Boeing’s South Carolina facility had a low opinion of the company’s pay practices.

Steele told those in the room that Boeing’s pay is extremely competitive in South Carolina—where the company employs about 6,000 workers who are dedicated to the building of its 787 (pictured here). But apparently that wasn’t the consensus among Boeing employees there.

Asked to rate the fairness of pay during a 2011 employee survey, workers at the South Carolina operation gave Boeing low marks. (The survey was conducted with the help of Kenexa.)

At first glance, Steele said, the data pointed to a pay system that needed fixing.  But a closer look suggested there might be other factors at work here.

To figure out what those factors might be,  the comp folks began to drill deeper into the data, looking at (among other things) how the South Carolina findings compared to those found at other Boeing operations and in other industries; and by reading through page after page of verbatim comments from the employee surveys. (Boeing employees “aren’t shy,” Steele said.)

This was followed by a series of employee focus groups, which eventually shed some much-needed light on the issue.

In the end, the group’s persistence paid off.

Jorgensen and Steele concluded that the low scores had less to do with what employees were being paid and more to do with employees who didn’t really understand the pay system at Boeing.

That, in turn, led to a much more meaningful response (my words) focusing on initiatives that could have a positive impact, such as managerial training and employee education.