We put a lot of pressure on our onboarding processes and training. We try to use it to address human resources (HR) and administrative needs, provide a high-level overview of the organization, and orient learners to their departments and their respective roles. Through all of this effort, we aim to create a positive experience that promotes a strong affiliation with the organization and decreases the amount of ramp-up needed for the new hire to contribute and succeed in his or her role.

For better or worse, we usually measure success in levels of enthusiasm and then cross our fingers that we’re hitting performance targets. HR, information technology (IT) and everyone else outside of the hiring manager is checking the box that he or she has provided all the necessary overviews and introductions. Meanwhile, the hiring manager scrambles to cobble together the most relevant resources, training and job shadowing for the new hire.

This approach is far from ideal, but it has been minimally functional in many organizations for quite some time.

Hiring for Attitude

Because we put so much into onboarding — ATD’s 2018 “State of the Industry” reports that it’s nearly 10% of all of the training that we do — there are a variety of challenges worthy of our attention and in need of innovation. One the biggest, particularly in a time of increasing skills shortages, is how to onboard talent with known or likely skills gaps.

We know that we’re going to have to become more creative in terms of hiring. It’s one thing, however, to say that you’re hiring for attitude or aptitude; it’s another to recognize that your new hires lack some of the skills that would be prerequisites if the talent economy weren’t so competitive.

For example, suppose you’re hiring for a technical skill set that is in short supply. It may be that you will have no choice but to take a chance on talent that seems to have the aptitude even if they don’t have all of the specific skills. In these types of situations, onboarding isn’t enough — the new hires need further development in order to be successful.

Here is where the traditional division of labor in our HR departments breaks down: If our talent acquisition professionals are telling us that the company cannot acquire the necessary talent, whose job is it to do that development? Is that outside the definition of onboarding? It certainly has to be part of our talent strategy and likely goes beyond the types of challenges that our business unit leaders can deal with on their own.

Developing New Hires

If the goal of onboarding is readiness, we must begin to talk about developing new hires and not just orienting them or onboarding them. In a survey of more than 1,000 U.S. workers, BambooHR found that almost one-third had quit a new job within the first six months. This problematic reality quickly becomes costly if much of that six-month period is spent developing new skill sets that may never provide a return for the organization.

It can be difficult to assess or estimate the cost of developing new hires without looking at some of the possible solutions for closing the gaps. Here are some recommended next steps for evaluating and designing possible solutions:

Assess the Overall Skills Map of the Team

Rather than treating each new talent search as a separate challenge, it’s worth looking at the overall skills required for success on the relevant team. What competencies does the team require now and in the future? What technical skills does/will it need, and at what level? Ultimately, it’s important to identify where you’re going to have talent or skill shortages before you can determine an action plan.

Consider the Design of the Role

While mapping the team’s requisite skills, it’s important to determine whether you can simply complex roles. Can you tier a role so that a new hire can contribute more quickly without as much development? Can you create a related role as an introduction or a support to the more complex role, so that the new hire can learn on the job? It’s important to consider how different roles — some more simplified and others more specialized — might change the equation in your workforce planning.

Set Parameters for Evaluation

How do you evaluate readiness for candidates during the hiring process now, and how would you like to evaluate the readiness of new hires (who may not have all the necessary skills) in the future? There is a subjective but important difference between what you consider to be ideal and what you consider to be good enough.

Furthermore, a new hire’s stated readiness and his or her actual readiness may differ dramatically. Talking about these evaluative guidelines will help you to know where the targets are — and at what point the new hire is sufficiently equipped to begin practicing on the job.

Create a Formal Apprenticeship Program

One way to address the skills gap is offering an apprenticeship program to new hires and existing employees. A formal apprenticeship — as opposed to job shadowing or informal mentoring — can provide enough structure to measure progress and align the results with the parameters that you established for evaluation.

Create a Learning Cohort

A cohort provides many advantages, including scalability. By working with a pool of new talent, you can minimize the effects of early attrition and maximize camaraderie and other benefits of social learning. The cohort will learn to help each other solve problems, and learning transfer will improve, particularly when cohort members will be working on the same teams.

Include a Bootcamp

A bootcamp approach to filling skills gaps can promote diversity in hiring and provide upward mobility for existing employees. The bootcamp may run for two or three months and can include both the technical and the soft skills necessary to be successful in those hard-to-fill roles. These experiences typically culminate in a portfolio or capstone project that demonstrates readiness for job responsibilities.

Consider Outside Partnerships

Freeing up your internal subject matter experts can be difficult, particularly when their skill set is in short supply. Outside partners may have existing bootcamps, micro-credential programs and other offerings that you can integrate into your pathway for new hires. This strategy usually works best in combination with other onboarding and skills development that is specific to the organization. A good integration includes coordination with the hiring manager and the teams on which participants will eventually work.

To be successful, it’s important to define multiple pathways to channel talent into our organizations. Whether we think of new hire development as onboarding or not, it should be one of those paths. By broadening our definitions — of talent acquisition, of onboarding, etc. — we can leverage the new hire experience to increase commitment, minimize attrition and ensure readiness. Onboarding then becomes a key strategy to support organizational growth and innovation.

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