It’s a job candidate’s market, not an employer’s. With the high competition for skilled employees, how can organizations attract candidates who will not only want to work for them but who will hit the ground running once they’re hired? One strategy is preboarding.

What Is Preboarding?

In our 2019 trends report, Training Industry, Inc. identified preboarding as a market opportunity for providers to add to their services. “Think of it as a ‘train-to-hire’ approach to recruiting in which applicants are placed in a job once they are fully trained,” wrote Doug Harward, Ken Taylor and Michelle Eggleston Schwartz, noting that technical, health and safety companies are already offering such services.

“In a tight labor market, it makes a lot of sense to do this,” says Jason Roberts, global head of technology and analytics at Randstad Sourceright. “If you have someone who’s a solid fit for you, but they’re missing some pieces of what you need, it broadens your pool that you’re able to look at.”

Preboarding also demonstrates to job candidates that your organization is already invested in them, says Marie Davis, director of national employer partnerships at Penn Foster. If the employer provides education before the candidate has even accepted a job, the candidate can be relatively confident it will do so during his or her career there, too.

Filling the Skills Gap

Every day, articles bemoan the “skills gap” – the distance between job candidates’ and employees’ skills and what companies need to succeed in a rapidly changing world. This gap, or at least the perception of a gap, is especially prominent in the tech industry. “Last year alone there were more than 500,000 open computing jobs, and our universities, nationwide, are producing around 60,000 computer science graduates to fill those positions,” says Chris Coleman, president of Woz U.

To help address that gap, last fall, Woz U announced a partnership with Allegis Group’s CareerCircle in which CareerCircle offers Woz U training programs online. Coleman says, “In the event that an employer is interviewing candidates that may be a great fit for their team but are lacking a few critical skills, CareerCircle can alert those candidates on how to leverage its Woz U offering to become qualified for the position.”

Davis adds that the skills gap is an issue of a reactive versus a proactive employer response. “The skills gap comes because we’re not listening and learning, both from our employees as to what they need to get to the next level,” she says. “Especially with industry-based skills and learning and development, I think that it can be done first by working together, the employers working together to come up with what’s next, and putting actions and putting training programs into place before there is the gap.” Preboarding is one of those proactive training strategies.

Strategies for Effective Pre-boarding

The first step in using pre-boarding to upskill and hire talent is to decide what you need using tools such as job analyses and competency models. “Identify a successful employee or somebody who’s moving up the ranks,” says Davis, “and determine, what do they have that has made them successful, and what do others need?” Then, share that information with the pre-boarding provider, along with other information that will help them “ensure the lessons being taught focus on the practices being used” at your company, Coleman says.

Make sure you “strike that balance” between providing support to potential employees and asking them to do too much, says Roberts. Because jobs are so easy to find right now, candidates may be reluctant “to go the extra mile.” Work with the preboarding provider to find that balance for your company and your job candidates.

In addition, Roberts says, there are some topics that should be saved for onboarding rather than included in preboarding. These topics include job-specific activities and proprietary information, which you shouldn’t share with non-employees and which “people should be paid” to learn. “Training people in a skill that can apply in multiple places going forward,” he says, “is absolutely valid and worth doing.”

What’s Next?

“For [preboarding] to make sense, you have to have a tight labor market,” says Roberts. “We just got a jobs report saying that there were quite a few more jobs than predicted added in the month of December, so the U.S. labor market at the moment looks really, really solid. I anticipate that to stay the same for a little while.” There are some signs of a slow down in other parts of the world, including Europe and China, so it’s important to consider the job market in every area where your company is recruiting talent.

“Unemployment is low; demand is high,” says Davis, which has implications for employer branding. “Just as much as employers are looking for candidates to meet certain requirements, right now, it’s an employee’s market. It’s the supply side that’s really picking and choosing where they want to go, and employers do need to show that they’re committed and invested in their workforce.”

Done well, preboarding is that sign that your organization is committed to developing and engaging its workforce.