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In hiring, employers need an attitude adjustment

Rochester Business Journal
October 25, 2013

At a dinner with more than a dozen local CEOs of fast-growing Rochester-area companies, the challenge of finding good job candidates came up. The problem isn't so much technical skills as finding people with the right attitudes. It's a real problem, and it's not just a Rochester phenomenon. Apple, Google, Zappos and other notable companies have found that hiring people with the right attitude is perhaps the most difficult hurdle to finding qualified talent.
 
Why is attitude so important? There are several reasons. First, employers believe they can train most people to have the right skills, but it's very difficult to change a person's attitude. And rather than invest in attempting to change attitudes, they want people with the right attitude from day one. Second, they find that people with good attitudes learn faster, perform better and work with others more productively. So the challenge is to find people with the right skills and the right attitude.
 
What are the "right" attitudes? It depends somewhat on the company culture, but in general, people with great attitudes show up for interviews on time; they are neat and clean; and they are ready to talk about themselves and why they are interested in a job with this particular company. They know they will have to begin with an entry-level job and work their way up, so their expectations are not out of line. They appreciate the opportunity to be considered and know how to act and respond in a conversational and professional manner. Additionally, they took the time to do some research and are prepared with a few insightful questions about the company and the job they want-something more than hours, pay, benefits and vacation time.
 
Last month, when the same CEO group met, we invited Monroe Community College president Anne Kress and Todd Oldham, MCC's vice president for economic and workforce development, to join us to discuss this and other issues. MCC has a surprising array of more than 90 programs, some of which are very rigorous and highly regarded (nursing and engineering are two examples), and many of which are carefully tailored to the needs of specific employers and industries, such as optical systems technologies.
 
But what about attitude? Does MCC address the attitude challenge? Todd acknowledged that the attitude issue is a fairly recent concern, not just for employers but for the educational system as a whole. Students generally develop positive attitudes through family, social and school experiences, but in recent years more students have not had a good grounding in what is called "life skills" or "common skills."
 
MCC is addressing the concern in a number of programs. One example is the new six-year high school program called Rochester Pathways to Technology (Rochester P-TECH)-a partnership with the Rochester City School District. Included in the P-TECH curriculum will be a strong life skills component. Students will learn how to act in a professional environment and what is expected of them as employees. In addition, they will get mentoring from professionals in how to work in a team and other critical workplace skills. While the P-TECH program is just starting, MCC is having success in developing such skills in other programs.
 
As for companies, it's clear that the old approach of hiring simply on technical skills is very expensive if you need to address attitude problems after a candidate is hired. A second approach is to interview a larger number of candidates to find both the right skills and attitudes, but that increases resources needed during the employment process, including the time needed to churn through more applicants. A better way is to rethink the entire selection process.
 
We are likely to see a trend of employers developing "feeder" sources, especially for larger groups of employees such as technicians. Instead of spending increasing resources on more thorough screening of a large population, this approach focuses on a smaller population that is more likely to have the necessary qualifications. MCC is an example of such a source because it is preparing candidates with both hard and soft skills, including attitude. Developing a relationship with a school such as MCC as a "feeder" for good employees makes a lot of sense.
 
Is it time to rethink your sourcing strategy?

Bob Legge is president of Legge & Co. LLC, a strategy implementation and change management consulting firm.

10/25/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


 


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