HR Group, founded in Edmonton Alberta in 1993, is a partnership of highly experienced management consultants who specialize in organizational effectiveness and human resource management, and promote participative, lean, and cost-effective management practices. All partners are Certified Human Resource Practitioners with extensive senior level experience in both the private and public sectors.

Scarce Labour: No Excuse for Poor Hiring

Reprinted from “Productive Workplaces” (October, 2006), the HR Group newsletter.

Yes we know it’s an employee’s market. Yes we know that qualified staff are extremely rare, if not non-existent, in certain fields. And yes we know that employers are desperate for staff now, not later. BUT, this does not excuse some of the shoddy hiring practices that we are now increasingly seeing. This doesn’t mean that employers should automatically settle for second-rate staff. And you do have alternatives.

Times are extremely tough for employers in all fields of work, but the situation is only exacerbated when you hire unqualified, incompetent, or underachieving staff. As a home builder, would you like to hear the prevalent comment these days that “one shouldn’t buy a house that’s been built lately, as they are so poorly constructed.” Or the other comment today regarding so many retail stores – that the current staff “are totally useless, know absolutely nothing about the product, and don’t care to boot.”

There is absolutely NO excuse for not conducting thorough reference checks – regardless of where the prospective applicant is from. There is also no excuse for not verifying the applicant’s credentials. This will take more time and more effort, but the consequences of not doing so are serious enough to warrant that time and effort. Poor staff can cause you untold grief and possible legal consequences and financial loss due to proven negligence on your part. Poor staff also seriously affect the performance of your other staff, who resent having to work alongside someone who isn’t qualified, who doesn’t work as hard, and who doesn’t care, yet gets paid the same amount of money and probably does so in a far shorter period of time.

We have recently seen employers hire staff who have lied about their credentials and even forged the signatures of referees. We have seen employers hire staff who have been terminated from several previous employers and for good reason. They obviously did not do due diligence in checking references or chose to ignore them. We continually see employers knowingly hire staff who are not qualified and without any plan for ensuring that they do become qualified.

There are many alternatives, which employers should seriously explore. The larger employers, such as those in the oil patch, are going out of province and out of country to recruit and train their required labour; they have the political and economic ability do so. But the smaller employer also has alternatives.

If it is a particular skill that one is seeking, why not consider sharing with another employer? Information Systems Technology expertise, for example, is hard to find in the more rural locations – so why not share with another employer? Smaller employers, especially, should seriously consider the benefits of sharing with a larger employer. Another alternative is to contract out specific skills to those organizations that specialize in them. You might have to make some concessions in terms of when the service is available to you and for how long, but at least you are getting the expertise that you require.

Perhaps first and foremost, employers should consider cross-training their existing staff. Cross- trained staff are the biggest help to any employer’s manpower flexibility. Employers are less dependent when some staff are absent and are secure in the knowledge that they are utilizing their best talent, rather than some unproven off the street recent hire. They will have to pay more, but it’s worth every penny. The staff involved usually appreciate cross training as it adds more variety to their job and increases their skill level.

Employers can also plan ahead and start training their existing staff in the trades and other scarce areas of the labour market. If employers wait for the government and educational sectors to produce more graduates, the cycle will have already turned by the time the next crop of graduates is ready to enter the workforce.

One can also establish internal “apprenticeship” programs in areas other than the formal trades. Manufacturing plants, for example, are ideally suited to implementing such programs together with a “pay for skills” compensation plan.

The retirement of so many baby boomers is also adding to the staff shortages and the lack of skill and experience that is so desperately needed. Many baby boomers, however, have no intentions of fully retiring and would welcome the opportunity of proving their worth on a part time basis. Employers need to quickly shed some of the archaic human resource management restrictions that they have regarding recruitment practices. Be prepared to hire above the minimum of the range, be prepared to offer whatever hours are convenient to the applicant, be prepared to pay for full benefits for part-time staff, and be prepared to provide vacation benefits that are commensurate with the baby boomer’s extensive experience. In other words, be prepared to BE FLEXIBLE. Traditional human resource practices are extremely bureaucratic and of little assistance.

A flexible approach is also what is required to the whole area of employee benefits and hours of work. Why not let staff choose the benefits that are applicable to their age, family status, and lifestyle? Many employee benefits carriers provide for such a “Cafeteria” style approach with a maximum benefit dollar amount per employee. Why not be flexible for mothers with young children who need to have flexible hours and time off? Why not show the same flexibility for those who have elderly parents to take care of? Why not let staff work from home if the type of work allows for it? As long as the quality and customer service is maintained, why not be flexible? Studies have repeatedly shown that there is greater productivity on the part of staff that are provided with flexible working arrangements to suit their individual and family circumstances.

Be prepared to staff full time positions on a part time basis. Who says that a manager’s job can’t be shared? Who says that part time staff aren’t as committed as full time staff? Who says the extra benefits for two staff instead of one is a waste of money? It’s time to get rid of this traditional bureaucratic mindset.

Why not hire women for positions that are typically male dominated? We have frequently told our manufacturing clients over the years, that having a good mix of male and female staff on the traditional male dominated plant floor is highly beneficial to plant morale, plant productivity, and employee relations in general. There is far less acrimony and disruption on the plant floor when there is a good mix of male and female. Quite frankly, we have found in our experience, that female plant staff are usually on average more productive than the typical male plant worker.

With the shortage in the building trades, why not hire more women? We just heard from a former female coworker that, at the age of 50, she left a national accounting firm, picked up a hammer and shovel, and started work at a construction company. She says that she is earning more, feels healthier, and has lost weight!

We fully understand the current problems with trying to recruit in the Alberta labour market, but as we said in the beginning, scarce labour is no excuse for poor hiring.