Advanced Manufacturing Requires Next-Generation Employees

by Foley & Lardner LLP

Last week, Scott Kaspar addressed the “skills gap” that concerns high-tech manufacturers with state-side production facilities. But manufacturers need employees with more than mere technical skills. Workers should be able to solve problems, respond to change, work in teams, and innovate. To find employees with these “Next-Generation Dimensions,” run-of-the-mill recruiting techniques— including stacks of resumes and basic interviews—simply will not cut it. Unless more sophisticated tools are implemented appropriately, they can expose companies to considerable legal liability.

Traditional job interviews are a deeply flawed method of selecting employees, and they rarely reveal if a candidate possesses Next-Generation Dimensions. This is true for a variety of reasons, including the fact that interviewers are often unprepared or not trained properly. More important, many interviewers, and even companies’ management, do not understand which attributes are the most vital. Selecting employees possessing these Dimensions requires more than traditional recruiting techniques.

Big Data analytics can help identify potential employees with Next-Generation Dimensions. Many companies have analyzed employment and turnover histories in combination with employee profiles. Using these analyses, managers and companies can identify what attributes appear to predict success within their organizations. Managers are often surprised to learn that the “most qualified” employees have not been the most successful. Of course, analytics are not enough, so managers must use the data, in combination with their knowledge of the organization, to identify the Dimensions necessary to meet their company’s needs. Then, recruiting techniques should be tailored to finding the right Next-Generation employees.

Advanced selection devices, like simulations, personality profiles, or structured, patterned job interviews, can be valuable tools for selecting and retaining an advanced manufacturing workforce. However, potential legal hurdles can accompany these devices. For example, what used to be called “paper and pencil tests” had a discriminatory impact on certain racial minorities. As a result, in the 1970s and 80s, such tests generated litigation in which companies were liable for illegal discrimination because of these tests and the employers’ inability to prove that the tests, in fact, predicted success on the job.

In 1978, a number of federal agencies including the EEOC and Department of Labor issued the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (“UGESP”). These federal regulations were designed to ensure that selection devices would not be used in a discriminatory manner. Companies using employment tests and other sophisticated selection devices already should be familiar with the UGESP. For those unfamiliar, the reach of the UGESP is extremely broad. The UGESP encompass paper and pencil tests, strength and agility tests, assessment centers, and virtually any other device or methodology used in making employment-related decisions. Using a selection device that adversely impacts a legally protected group exposes a company to great liability, even if the impact was unintentional. When a selection technique is discriminatory, a whole class of applicants, not just an individual, usually has a legal claim against the company.

To minimize potential legal exposure, employment tests and evaluation tools should be validated. Validation involves analyzing a selection device to determine if it truly predicts success on the job. UGESP establish the standards an employer must meet in order to prove their selection devices are “valid” for the particular jobs they are filling. Employers should be skeptical of any test publisher’s generalized representation that it can prove that a test would be valid for a particular company. Under the UGESP, each employer typically has to be able to demonstrate a test’s validity within its own workplace and specific jobs. Thus, off-the-shelf exams, even if they seem intuitive, could put a company on the losing end of a large lawsuit. Companies must usually retain the expertise of a qualified industrial psychologist or testing expert during the validation process. After properly validating a selection tool, management will have the evidence needed to dispense with lawsuits claiming the selection tool is discriminatory.

Testing for Next-Generation Dimensions can be an extremely valuable tool in hiring successful employees. For many companies, analytics should be an integral part of this process. That said, in utilizing these modern tools for recruiting, manufacturers must do it right or prepare to face litigation. Proper implementation requires consultation with testing and legal experts. To recruit a Next-Generation workforce, manufacturers should carefully implement tools that identify qualities indicative of future success.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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