The U.S. unemployment rate remains steady at 3.5 percent, which is a 50-year low (December 6, 2019; Bureau of Labor Statistics). And, if you talk to people with children in high school, they generally believe that if their child obtains a four-year college degree, he/she will be set up for a great career. But 30 percent of students who attend four-year public universities fail to graduate in six years. The graduation rate is even worse at private universities.

There is another path to long-term career success — today there are over 30 million jobs in the U.S. that pay an average of $55,000 per year and DON’T require bachelor’s degrees.  In fact, in manufacturing and various construction and skilled trades areas (e.g., electrician, carpenter, etc.), the starting wage is often over $50,000 per year!  Yet these jobs remain open for months, or years (All Things Considered; NPR, 2018).  Why?

The dilemma is the vast majority of these jobs require education and/or training beyond high school in the form of technical degrees and/or specialized internships or apprenticeships.  However, beginning in the 1970s high schools discontinued career and technical education (CTE) leaving most students unaware of the many opportunities in manufacturing, construction, and related fields (B.A. Jacob; Brookings, 2017).  Today, thousands of companies are feeling the effects of this trend resulting in few qualified and/or interested candidates for these many jobs.

Challenge:  E.A.S.I•Consult® has been assisting many manufacturing clients face this challenge for years.  Recently, we partnered with a manufacturing company in order to address this problem in a novel way.  In addition to evaluating candidates on their background and “work attitude” (i.e., work ethic), we developed a process for evaluating their “aptitude to learn” key skills required to succeed in the company’s job training program.

Solution:  Meeting with key manufacturing department managers and engineers, along with human resources personnel, we outlined a “hands-on assessment” that would be able to quickly evaluate each candidate’s ability to learn and complete a simple assembly task.  A three-step process was undertaken to bring this hands-on assessment to fruition.

Step 1:  Working with key persons in manufacturing, including high-performing assembly employees, we completed an analysis of the various entry-level jobs, and detailed the key capabilities that new employees needed to possess prior to being hired.  These included: 1) ability to use basic hand tools (e.g., screwdriver, pliers, wire cutter, etc.) properly and safely; 2) ability to follow step-by-step instructions showing an assembly task; 3) ability to maintain a clean and safe work area.

Step 2:  Working alongside several of the high-performing assembly employees, each step in the assembly task was explained and documented. An Assessment Station with necessary tools and parts was designed, and a top-performing assembly employee was videotaped as she slowly completed each step of this assembly task. This video was then edited, and a professional announcer then recorded all instructions into the DVD. Finally, an accompanying Instruction Manual was also produced so that each candidate would be able to first view an “expert” complete the assembly task, and then follow detailed instructions when they undertook this “hands-on” task at their Assessment Station.

Step 3:  Numerous Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) reviewed the DVD and Instruction Manual to identify any necessary adjustments, and then they completed the content validation of the hands-on assessment. Finally, persons with varying levels of skill and experience working with tools and completing similar tasks, “piloted” the entire assessment process. Based upon their input, several adjustments were made to the Instruction Manual, and “qualifying scores” were established. Finally, after more than fifty initial candidates were assessed, minor enhancements were made and the qualifying scores were adjusted slightly.

Outcome:   This hands-on assessment has been used for months with hundreds of candidates completing the assessment. Within the first two weeks of implementation, several manufacturing leaders recognized a significantly improved level of skill in tool-usage and learning work instructions, along with a heightened understanding of work procedures, among the candidates who successfully completed the hands-on assessment.  Overall, the addition of this 15-minute hands-on assessment has provided this company with a valuable advantage in its continued quest for top-quality hourly manufacturing employees.

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About the Author

Joseph Gier, Ph.D is the Vice President of  E.A.S.I-Consult®E.A.S.I-Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. E.A.S.I-Consult’s specialties include leadership assessment, online pre-employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring advisement. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about E.A.S.I-Consult, visit, email or call 800.922.EASI.