Does Lowering the Bar Always Mean Lowering Standards?

Recently, I’ve wrote about how IBM was looking to remove college degree requirements for many of their jobs.  The rationale behind this change was to remove employment hurdles that may be leading to racial discrimination while not being indicative of future job performance.

Since that post, we’ve seen how employees/job seekers are now in the driver’s seat in terms of employment choices and salaries in ways we have not seen in many years.  There are a lot of factors that are causing this, including:

  • People wanting to keep the autonomy WFH gave them.
  • An economy that was pre-COVID and is creating jobs faster than the population of the US is growing.
  • Social pressure on some companies to provide a “living wage.”
  • Generous COVID unemployment benefits, relative to pay, in low wage states.

At some point, companies are going to be challenged as to how they can fill some of their jobs.  Paying more almost always helps, but unless you are paying the most for people of a certain education/experience level, you’re eventually going to lose that battle.

When you are experiencing labor shortages for your positions, it’s generally best from a talent perspective to make you pool wider rather than diving deeper into it.  One way to do that is to recruit from spaces, schools, etc. where you haven’t before.  Another way to is to re-examine your degree and experience requirements.

Yes, that’s right, removing unnecessary degree requirements can improve your talent pool and reduce discrimination.  Here’s my favorite quote from the article:

“By creating your own dumb barriers, you’re actually making your job in the search for talent harder.”

Yes, this does put some more responsibilities on Learning and Development departments as well as hiring managers.  Some may see this as a return of more investment in employees.  Others may see it as a gap filler between what new hires are taught in school and what they need to know.  Future data will tell whether this improves engagement as well.

Note that this approach should not affect whatever validated pre-employment assessment you are using.  The knowledge, skills, and abilities required are not going away—only the assumption that the only way to obtain them is through a degree program.  There are instances where necessary skills are more readily obtained in school (yes, I’d prefer that my surgeon has gone to a medical college and served a residency).  But, there are many jobs, especially in computer technology, where this just is not always the case.

At some point, the labor market will swing back the other way and employers will have a bit more leverage.  However, we are at a unique moment where companies can alter their paradigms.  They have the opportunity to re-evaluate some requirements that will give them, and job seekers, more choices while reducing discrimination.  Or, they can try to dig their way out of a hole while they are still standing in it.

Adjusting HR to Robotic Process Automation in a Post-COVID World

Regular readers have seen my posts on how automation has impacted the skills required for jobs among hourly workers.  Since the beginning of the industrial age, technology has been used to reduce physical labor and repetitive tasks.  Whether it is in fast food or warehouses, technology has changes how humans fit into the labor equation.

The COVID pandemic has accelerated this process.  While futurists can disagree about how fast technology changes were coming to work, labor being forced to be away from the office has accelerated the pace in which companies have implemented robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) in order to meet customer needs and improve efficiency.  What is different now is that this technology is being applied more to salaried positions than before.  Whether the new jobs in creating this tech will be equal to the number of people displaced by it is an important question for future college graduates.  But these changes should also get companies thinking about their recruitment, validated selection, and training processes.

One of my clients does back office processing of financial information.  This is exactly the kind of thing where RPA can eventually take over some the tasks currently done by their analysts.  Currently, we test job candidates for their willingness to follow procedures and their detail orientation (among other characteristics).  If RPA were applied to this job, we would need to analyze what the skills, abilities, and personal characteristics were still valid and what any new ones would be.  This would likely lead to the elimination of certain parts of the current test and emphasizing others. This would likely impact recruiting and training as well. In a broader sense, when organizational change comes, the updating of recruitment, selection, and training of employees usually is done (seemingly) as an afterthought.  As companies apply RPA and AI, and nearly all of them will in one way or another, they should be prepared for the impact on how employees do their work, not just whether they will still have a job.

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