High Innovation Hiring?


dilbert on training

I have been researching the difference in approaches to learning between Boomers and Millennials. I recently started reading and hearing about a new approach to hiring and learning called a “high innovation system”.

We know there has been a sea-change in the old hiring for life contract between employer and employee. And the union agreements are disappearing faster than you can say “retiring boomers”. There is also a newer change in the way companies view employees learning.

We originally had a “high commitment system,” which valued long-term employment and on-the-job training. The new approach is called “high-innovation”. Here’s the idea in a quote from  Andrew S. Ross writing in SFGATE

Engineers are typically hired because their skills and knowledge are required for a specific technology or product being developed. This system is seen as cost-effective, since the company can hire required skills and does not have to retrain experienced workers, who usually command higher wages than new graduates. Of course, this puts engineers, who are no longer retrained by their companies, at a disadvantage as they age.

I had an epiphany about why older workers over 40 are becoming an endangered species, not only in the high-tech industry, but in companies worldwide.

I come from a generation of continuing education – workers tagged to go from event to event to learn new skills and improve or update old ones. I wondered why we consider so many older (read post-40) workers as part of the ‘long-term unemployed’. The answer is that “knowing” has replaced “learning”. According to the SFGATE article, if a company can find a worker with a specific skill to fill a job that requires that skill, then there is no need to spend the time and money training someone to learn it.

In today’s flat and hypercompetitive world, it’s the equivalent to trying to teach a square peg ‘roundness’ when simply finding a round peg will do.

It is the difference between the “high-commitment system” in which employees expect to be taught and learn and improve skills while they are working in order to improve their performance, and the “high innovation system” in which people only become employees when they can already perform the skills that are required. How they learned them is not important. Being able to prove they can do them is all that counts.

In the industrial economy, where change happened more slowly, there was time and money to train someone in a new skill. In today’s Digital economy, where there is more talent out there than time or money for training, the trend among some companies is that learning and development is irrelevant. The digital revolution happened so fast that an entire segment of the workforce now has an ‘use by’ date stamped on their foreheads.  It appears that what a Digital Native has already knows will always be in higher demand than what a Digital Immigrant can learn.

To quote Mark Zuckerberg: “I want to stress the importance of being young and technical,” Facebook’s CEO told a Y Combinator Startup event at Stanford University. “Young people are just smarter. Why are most chess masters under 30? I don’t know. Young people just have simpler lives. We may not own a car. We may not have family. Simplicity in life allows you to focus on what’s important.”

The problem with this approach to hiring and learning is that it may work for hard skills, but with regard to softskills – for example people management – learning never stops. You may temporarily find the round peg for the round job, but wait a few months and the shape of things will change. The Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives must both be continuous learners of softskills. And the experience of the older workers – especially in the area of soft skills – will always be an important part of the younger workers learning. Mentors are not born, but only made by adopting and adapting to success, failure, more success over lots of time.

Training for hard skills will soon become as obsolete as the chalk board. My prediction is that it will soon be replaced by performance support utilizing the Internet of Things (IoT) to help people who simply want operational or procedural information on the job.

Training for hard skills will soon become as obsolete as the chalk board. My prediction is that it will soon be replaced by performance support utilizing the Internet of Things (IoT) to help people who simply want operational or procedural information on the job.  Using embedded chips or beacons, machines or equipment will be able to ‘talk’ to you. They will tell you what to do to make them work, how to troubleshoot a problem, instruct you about fixing a broken part, walk you through completing a safety inspection checklist or finishing a regulatory compliance report form. That finally solves the problem of your mind falling off the forgetting curve and takes hard skills training – and the many millions of dollars and uncountable hours of development time – off the high-commitment table.

It’s the people-to-people skills that are still and always will be hard to learn, especially for people who prefer to spend time focused on things or ideas. You cannot put a performance support beacon on a worker and have it instruct you about what to say if their performance is not meeting the company’s expectations. Or they need time off for an operation. Or they are depressed over someone’s death. Or … or … or ….

So that still leaves us with the need to learn soft skills. An area from what I understand Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook could go to school on.

How would you define your company, as high-innovation or high-commitment? And as time marches on is this just a temporal blip on the hiring radar of the Millennial generation? Is high-innovation a symptom of an outmoded approach to training that no longer really works? Will a culture of learning evolve and replace what we once called the high-commitment company? You tell me ….