Discovering Job Candidates in Unusual Places

As the demographics continue to shift in the U.S. and more baby boomers begin to consider retirement, companies of all sizes are facing a key challenge – finding candidates to fill jobs left vacant by that generation.

Although this was initially seen as a problem for large companies – such as retailers and fast-food restaurants – that generally have larger staffs, even small businesses are now seeing this job-candidate crunch.

Finding “appropriately skilled job candidates” is one of the most difficult challenges for small business, according to the results of a survey recently released by professional staffing firm Robert Half that polled more than 300 small businesses. To address the staffing gap, some social media sites have begun offering opportunities to post job openings and recruiting information. LinkedIn, for example, now has a Talent Solutions section that is designed for both companies and job seekers.

However, at the heart of many of these hiring challenges is the reality that the required number of qualified job candidates simply does not exist. And this is quickly becoming a reality for many parts of the country. Coupled with an increased crackdown on immigration, this problem is likely to worsen over the next five years.

So, what’s an employer to do?

As we have seen for many years, a growing number of companies have opted to expand outside the U.S. and begun employing people in those foreign countries. Of course, this is not likely an economically viable solution for most organizations, particularly small businesses.

So, the solution requires some outside-of-the-box thinking. And that’s exactly what some entrepreneurial groups are doing by identifying and training people who perhaps were previously overlooked as viable job candidates.

One of the boldest approaches comes from an organization called The Last Mile (TLM).

Created by venture capitalist Chris Redlitz and his wife, Beverly Parenti in 2010, TLM runs a Technology Accelerator inside of California’s San Quentin State Prison to train inmates in computer programming, website and logo design and other tech skills they can use to gain employment when they are released. Perhaps more importantly, through the curriculum, prisoners also learn crucial social skills like working within a team, accepting criticism, gaining confidence in their ability to grasp new ideas, and being able to change direction when they are heading down the wrong path. Those skills, by the way, all fall within the dimensions of the Burke Learning Agility Inventory(Burke LAI™) – Collaborating, Feedback Seeking, Performance Risk Taking and Reflecting, respectively.

As you might expect, this idea was initially met with skepticism.  However, according to TLM’s website, the U.S. has only five percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. And since 1970, our country’s prison population has grown by over 700 percent.

Obviously, there are a large number of people sitting in U.S. prisons, and more than 80 percent of them will get out some day but the recidivism rate for parolees remains high – approximately 60 percent.

TLM saw this as a numbers game – the growing number of ex-convicts could solve the problem created by the decreasing number of traditional job candidates.  With the help of volunteers, guest speakers, and leaders from the business community, the TLM participants are introduced to the latest technology… amazingly, without access to the internet. Since internet access is not allowed in prisons, TLM created a proprietary programming platform that simulates a live coding experience.

And the experiment proved successful. Since its foundation – and after adding a coding program to San Quentin in 2014 – TLM has graduated 20 prisoners, none of whom have returned to prison. The program has also expanded to three other prisons.

Of course, the challenge is identifying and training the most promising of these prisoners. As noted in last month’s Perspectives, the “ability to learn throughout one’s lifetime” has been recognized as critical for success in a new environment. Underlying this ability, of course, is learning agility.

Dr. Warner Burke, professor at Teachers College, Columbia University created and validated the Burke LAI.  And, as the exclusive partner with Burke, EASI•Consult® has already incorporated the Burke LAI into various efforts to identify and develop persons for a variety of leadership and non-leadership positions alike.

As companies continue to search for potential employees that may come from unique backgrounds – and as work demands and environments shift more continuously – determining a candidate’s learning agility will become more crucial to the future success of every company’s workforce.

Joseph Gier, Ph.D. is Vice President – Consulting Services at EASI•Consult®, and is a licensed Psychologist. EASI·Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. EASI•Consult has incorporated the Burke LAI™ into various solutions including leadership and individual assessment, leadership development, executive coaching, professional-level individual contributor assessment, and 360-degree feedback. EASI•Consult also offers online employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about EASI•Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com or call 800.922.EASI.


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