Q: What are some of the key strategic differences for workforce development in the union environment versus a non-union environment?
A: I think that all of you who work in the union environment know that, when I talk about engaging managers, when you work in a unionized environment you cannot leave out the union. Right? So, as you’re making any decisions about the importance of workforce development programs, having your union leadership engaged in those conversations, when appropriate, is very, very critical. Again, for those of you who work in a union environment, you know that the best thing you can do is gain the support of your union leadership. And, the best way you can do that is to make them feel like they’re a part of the HR Planning process. So, I think that’s a really key piece of making sure that whatever I’ve mentioned - getting leadership involved or getting managers involved - that if you work in the union environment that you insert union in there, as well.
Q: What is employee ramp time?
A: Ramp time is the time it takes to get an employee to full proficiency. And, maybe not even full proficiency. But, how long does it take until you can leave an employee at their desk and they can accomplish the work that you need them to accomplish? As we all know, when you walk into a new job you don’t know where the bathrooms are and you don’t know what day you get paid and you don’t know who’s who and you don’t know how to get stuff done. And, sometimes, you don’t know who to call if your computer breaks. All of those things add to the amount of time it takes before an employee can sit in, work at their job, get fully up to speed and do the work that you need them to do.
Q: Can you please define employee mobility restrictions?
A: For those HR managers who have multiple operations, you may actually find that you need to move an employee from one place to another. And, if you’ve got somebody who is not willing to make that move it should be noted. Anything that would prevent an employee from working in the other operation would be really important. This is especially crucial if you happen to work in an organization that is expanding globally. Are you going to hire employee talent within that country or are you going to send your employees internationally? So, that’s what’s really important to know about employee mobility restrictions.
Q: What is a typical response from employees to the data gathering that must occur to have an effective workforce development program?
A: I chuckle because at one organization that I worked for, as soon as we started going around and asking employees about this they immediately became, like, “What are you doing?” Unfortunately, for a lot of organizations, they do this process right about the time they’re doing layoffs, or a reduction in force, so when you start asking employees about their degrees or their skills or things they like to do, they get antsy. As they should, because a lot of times they know what the next part is.
I am adamant about HR communications. I know that it’s going to vary from organization to organization how much you can communicate and what you can communicate. But, the absence of communication by leadership or HR [is dangerous]. Communication’s going to happen one way or another and when the leadership and HR management does it, then we have the ability to actually get the correct information out there. So, my suggestion to any HR managers engaging in this type of activity is to be honest and communicate openly and often with employees in emails, in meeting format - making sure your managers are well-versed in how to talk about this with employees. I think it’s a crucial part of any initiative you undertake. Going into any change or major initiative without a clear HR communication strategy is really difficult. It can be darn near impossible.
Q: So, how does this workforce development program apply to smaller organizations that are looking at long-term growth?
A: I think the same process of HR planning applies. I think it’s just a little bit easier because, hopefully, you have a smaller group to work with in terms of understanding the needs of your organization. But, in a small organization, especially that may not have a completely well-developed strategic HR plan underway or the strategic plan may be about one year out, instead of five years out, I think the workforce development process is essentially the same. Know where you’re headed, know what employee talent you have, know what employee talent you need and know where the workforce development gaps are. And, I think it’s the same process in a smaller organization.
Q: How long does it take to implement an effective workforce development program? Does it depend on the size of the organization?
A: Certainly it depends on size but we’re not talking about something that you have to do all at once. Workforce development doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. You can implement this tomorrow by simply saying, “Every time a vacancy comes up I’m going to question this from the perspective of workforce development.” And, you can simply call that implementation right then and there. So, I don’t believe that a workforce development program has a start and an end. I believe that it is a constant part of what we do and so I think that it is really, really important that you take time to find where you can make an impact in the organization and to start tomorrow.
Q: How is a workforce development program best resourced? How many people are needed to implement?
A: Again, if you’re going to start asking the organization for people to implement this HR plan I can tell you that the answer will be “no.” At least in every organization I’ve worked for because if an HR program requires people then you’re going to have to justify it and that’s going to be a whole other thing. I think you do it with the people you have and you do it where you can in the places where you can, now. And, if it gets to the point where it’s so great and it’s so valued by the organization that they want to add resources to it, all the better. But, don’t start by asking for resources. From my experience in HR, that will kill it right away.
Q: How do you deal with the challenges of an organization that does not value HR management’s input for workforce development, staffing plans and other departments?
A: That is and will always be HR’s role: to understand how it can add value to the organization, how the voice of HR can be respected. And, it will be what we will continue to have to work towards. And, I will hold firm to my belief that if you know your business and you understand your business and you talk the language of your executives, you gain what is needed in terms of their trust and their willingness to listen to what you have to say.
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