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Hiring for Heart, Hunger and Humility: Employer Partners Share Truths About Human Skills and Hiring Decisions

Published May 08, 2019 by Peter Beard

A person with the right attitude can go far in life.

Having heart, ambition, persistence humility, and the ability to build relationships can be the difference between career advancement and unemployment.

It’s okay to come to a job with no experience because a good hire can develop necessary skills with on-the-job training or through educational opportunities sponsored by an employer.

These statements may not sound like career advice from experts from leading employers within industries that require a workforce that’s highly skilled in a craft or trade or that uses cutting-edge technology, but it is.

Representatives from several employer partners of the Greater Houston Partnership's UpSkill Houston initiative shared this advice for students and young people with CTE instructors and administrators during two recent career readiness panels. The partners participating in the event that was organized and held by the Region 4 Education Service Center included Construction Career Collaborative (C3), Group 1 Automotive, LyondellBasell, MAREK, Mustang Cat, the Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, and Turner Industries.  Regardless of industry or working environment (office, work site, or shop floor), human skills are key for hiring and critical to success.

The commercial and industrial construction, petrochemical manufacturing, and transportation industries are critical to Greater Houston’s national and global competitiveness and they’re expanding thanks to increased investment and growing regional needs. But they also face workforce shortages in part due to attrition and in part due to a lack of awareness or understanding of workforce opportunities. 

UpSkill Houston’s partner panelists confronted misconceptions around working conditions they know keep young people from pursuing otherwise attractive occupations in their industries that come with high pay, job security, and opportunity for growth:

Being an automotive technician isn’t just about turning a wrench, and today’s service areas are clean and equipped with the latest diagnostic technology.

The construction industry encompasses a wide range of occupations (from rigger to millwright to welder to pipefitter), each with a path for sustainable employability.

The petrochemical manufacturing industry – like the commercial and industrial construction and transportation industries – place safety above all else and want employees to return home after each day or shift just they way they arrived at work.

These points highlight the critical role of business leaders to make meaningful connections and share insights with educational partners committed to helping students make smart decisions about their careers and futures. These industry insights are important for students, parents, and young people across the region to recognize and understand as they explore the wealth of career opportunities that await after high school and to know the skills needed for success. 

Learn more about UpSkill Houston's work to address both the regional skills gap and people gap.

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Tapping Into Hidden Talent By Recognizing Soft and Other Skills

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the disruption of entire industries along with the way work can be done. And as technology and other forces reshape the nature of work, recognizing soft and other skills as real drivers of success can have more profound effects on rebuilding a high performing workforce, regaining employment and choosing good careers and education pathways than ever before. Recently, Greg Hambrick, co-founder and CEO of the skills identifying company Fast Forward Works; Dr. Fred Oswald, organizational psychologist and professor at Rice University’s School of Social Sciences and Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences and Director of Graduate Studies; and Mandy Williams (AKA Black), managing partner at RED+BLACK, recently shared their research, analysis and personal experience to help employers, educators and community leaders understand just how important recognizing soft and cognitive skills can be. The conversation was part of the UpSkill Houston initiative’s UpSkill Works Forum Series, hosted by Partnership Senior Vice President of Regional Workforce Development Peter Beard, and centered on: How employers can focus hiring practices on skills to tap into a talented and diverse workforce;  How individuals can identify the skills they possess and highlight them while pursuing employment; and How recognizing and developing soft and cognitive skills can help workers and students excel. Soft skills, including teamwork, communication, time management, empathy and negotiation, have applications across diverse industries and occupations. According to Hambrick, whose company helps organizations and individuals identify their cognitive skillsets, they are generally dynamic and are learned through experience.    Job analysis can drive better hiring decisions Most hiring decisions are based on what a hiring manager can measure. Soft and cognitive skills are difficult to measure; grades and standardized test scores are far easier. But “clearinghouses” that screen candidates heavily based on education are likely weeding out candidates who, based on the skills they possess, would be good fits. Thus, talent is and can remain hidden because organizations simply don’t know enough about their candidates. Employers can identify specific skills needed on a team or by a new employee by looking at two things. First, what key skills do high performers in similar roles possess. Second, what past issues or absence of certain skills caused problems within a workplace or contributed to a former employee’s transfer or termination. Once these skills are identified, employers can adjust recruiting strategies to find candidates who possess them and consider training programs develop and strengthen these skills, Oswald noted. Employers can also assess how far a candidate (or employee) with those skills can progress within an organization. This type of attention to skills on an employer’s side – as opposed to attention just to education or prior work experience – can particularly help overlooked populations like veterans or second-chance individuals who have a variety of skills be recognized as fits, Oswald and Hambrick said.  Diversifying how employers seek and select talent can also diversify a workforce, Oswald said.  “Grades are important to reflect knowledge, but knowledge is, obviously, not the only component of a good employee,” Oswald said. For their part, job candidates can list on their resumes the skills they believe they have and then be prepared with examples that demonstrate these skills, if asked during an interview. Interviewers can tease out these skills by asking leading questions, Williams said.   Recognizing skills helps students plan for careers build confidence The earlier skills can be measured the better because students can be made aware of their strengths and deficiencies. Once students recognize these skillsets within themselves and begin to understand them as foundational for various careers or educational curricula, they can begin to more clearly identify their own career and education paths, Hambrick said.  Hambrick noted that we generally describe high achievers to be students who make high grades or score high on standardized tests. We aren’t guiding and assisting the students who are generally not considered to be high achievers by helping them understand the strong and valuable skills they do possess, like teamwork, leadership or creativity. By doing that, we can empower them to believe in their own potential, Hambrick said. “When you can show somebody that in an objective way, it makes a huge difference on their outlook and I think raises the ceiling on what they are able to accomplish,” he said.                      AI will enhance the need for soft skills Hambrick, Oswald and Williams believe that soft skills will remain critical – if not become more critical – as automation of certain repetitive and routine tasks becomes more widespread and changes the way individuals and teams function and work gets done. Skills that underlie human-to-human interaction, such as communication, negotiation, empathy, will remain necessary and individuals who possess them will become more highly prized. “You’re always going to need individuals with the ability to adapt to change and manage the human side of work,” Williams said. The UpSkill Works Forum Series is a series of interviews with business and community leaders, policy makers, and leading thinkers on the key workforce issues our region confronts. Learn more about Fast Forward Works here. Learn more about Dr. Fred Oswald’s work with Rice University here. Learn more about RED+BLACK here. See the UpSkill Houston and RED+BLACK Soft Skills series here.  Skills assessment resources can be found through the Society for HR Management. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management and the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Related Reading: Hiring for Heart, Hunger and Humility: Employer Partners Share Truths About Human Skills and Hiring Decisions.  
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COVID-19 Shocks Labor Economy and Drives Unprecedented Job Loss—the Case for Upskilling and Reskilling

The painful and significant disruption to Houston’s labor economy caused by COVID-19 has been a “shock to the system” but will not effectively change the economy’s fundamental makeup. So says Parker Harvey, principal economist for the Gulf Coast Workforce Board.  Harvey shared that and other insights into the changing labor market during a virtual UpSkill Works Forum hosted by Greater Houston Partnership Senior Vice President of Regional Workforce Development Peter Beard. Harvey and Beard discussed some observed unprecedented unemployment figures, employment indicators and ways in which the region’s workforce can set itself up for recovery. Disruptions to the labor market are unprecedented  From February to March, the region’s unemployment rate jumped from roughly 3.9 percent to 5.1 percent, an increase on par with that of May of 2009, and one of the biggest one-month jumps ever seen. These figures only account for the first half of March, before the region’s Stay Home – Work Safe orders were made. This roughly 30% growth in the number of unemployed individuals outpaces the national increase of about 20%. Houston, Harvey noted, is experiencing the dual effects of COVID-19 and the downturn in the oil industry. Between the beginning of March and mid-April, around 314,000 individuals filed initial claims for unemployment insurance, cumulatively; about 10 times the number of claims made during a typical six-week period when the economy functions normally. Using this figure, Harvey projects unemployment rates to be closer to 12%-12.5% in the next couple months. This would reflect record unemployment, Harvey said.  Unemployment claims data by industry and by county from the Texas Workforce Commission can be found here. Employment losses have been widespread across industries, though notably large within construction, manufacturing and the leisure and hospitality sector. The leisure and hospitality losses break the long-time trend of unbroken job gains in those areas between the months of February and June. Moving forward, Harvey expects to see layoffs shift from the service sector to the white-collar workforce. Job posting data as market indicator and seeing hopeful signs Specific, localized data around which industries and occupational types are contracting or growing takes time to gather and analyze, and data that exist do not yet reflect the climate of the last several weeks. Analyzing online job postings can provide a proxy. And although the number of active job postings are down by about one-third from this time last year, there are still about 90,000 active jobs posted across the region. Based on an analysis of job postings, Harvey has seen a surge in demand for editors, producers and translators (he noted the tremendous amount of news and other media content that has been created around the crisis). Public education systems are also hiring. Selective hiring is occurring within the health care sector.  Workforce Solutions posts active job openings on its website here. Harvey has started seeing some good news more generally in these postings: The number of employers removing job postings has started to decrease. The point at which more employers are increasing their number of job postings than are decreasing it can be seen as an indicator of some recovery, but Harvey believes that point is still in the distance. Sequencing of recovery is unclear Harvey expressed uncertainty around whether the service sector would recover before the professional sector, or vice versa, but he believes businesses that instill a sense of confidence in consumers around delivery of service and safety and health will recover more quickly as they re-open than those that do not. He predicts the economy in Houston will recover in a sort of “W” shape, with starts and stops before a full recovery begins, especially if there is a second wave of COVID-19 infections, thus rocking consumer confidence. Harvey expects industries that rely on a density of customers, like mass transportation and entertainment, will be slow to recover. The Greater Houston Partnership has developed 15 principles to help businesses develop plans to protect the health of their employees and customers by reducing the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus. Learn more about this Safe Work Program here.  Reskilling should help workforce recovery COVID-19 could have long-term effects on the types of skills Houston’s workforce needs. New types of trainings and skill development programs may be needed to manage hygiene protocols to keep workers and customer safe. Digital skills, which were already becoming increasingly important in many industries and sectors, could become even more important if jobs that could have been done in person become a little more remote more often. Preferences for online shopping habits could increase – or decrease -  Harvey is concerned that young workers who relied upon entry-level jobs as a pathway into higher-level employment and older workers approaching retirement could face challenges returning to the labor market and said the Gulf Coast Workforce Board will explore how to address these needs through reskilling. Harvey believes individuals who have been acquiring skills over the last several weeks will have an employability advantage over those who have not.   The UpSkill Works Forum Series brings you interviews with business and community leaders, policy makers, and leading thinkers on the key workforce issues our region confronts. This week’s webinar will take place on Wednesday, May 6 and focus on “Understanding Skills to Navigate the Changing Nature of Work.”  Learn more about UpSkill Houston here.   
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