Updated: Dec 20, 2019
The university hospital reached out to their local community college in a tremendous hurry- they needed phlebotomists. Like, yesterday. Could the community college help? So the community college pulled together a phlebotomy training program- a fairly low-skill but high precision entry-level role in health care- and recruited students. Months later, all of the jobs had been filled, but none of the phlebotomy program graduates had been hired. The program director hadn’t communicated with the hospital’s HR team. They posted the ad but didn’t prioritize graduates from the local community college program. Other candidates had more experience, or additional skills. In a competitive job market, these newly-trained phlebotomists were no better off than people who didn’t have any training at all. Taxpayers were certainly worse off, because this taxpayer-funded training hadn’t led anywhere for the people who invested the time to take it.
This is the thing that every workforce program and every labor economist seems to forget about. Training does not guarantee a job.All training does is buy the person access to the arena. But other people may know the gatekeepers or have played in this arena before. Other people may understand the rules because they’ve been playing longer. And, with the exception of McDonald's, no employer wants to be a person’s first employer.
One of the ways to get around this experience gap is by introducing work-based learning programs like internships and apprenticeships that promote skill and relationship development at the same time. But doing so requires employer capacity that few companies possess, particularly in rural communities.
“Our HR people just like to hire from the same five universities they’ve always hired from,” an executive from a major telecom business told me. This is common across every sector, at every level of business. Sometimes it feels like HR is less about seeking the right person for the job and more about guaranteeing the least amount of hassle and work. This is no slight to HR professionals- who among us wants to introduce complexity into our workflow? Except that this isn’t Hogwarts and we shouldn’t be putting people into a sorting hat, particularly since our “houses” are far from equal. So maybe we should rethink the way we sort people? Algorithms aren’t so great at this, as it turns out.
“Economic mobility has far too few on-ramps and far, far too many off-ramps. Everyone has potential, but not everyone has opportunity," says Brandee McHale, president of the Citi Foundation.
Who are the people who are ultimately in charge of those on-ramps? Business owners. Employers. And, perhaps most critically, human resources professionals. It’s time that the people with the gatekeeping power started taking responsibility for their part in this process. It’s time business learned to hire better.