NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Fine-Tuning the Perfect Employee

December 8, 2011

Faced with a dearth of skilled labor, more companies are taking employee education into their own hands.  Unemployment figures are high, but finding workers with the right skills for the job -- especially for highly specialized roles such as power plant technicians or laboratory chemists -- remains a big challenge, says the Wall Street Journal.

In a survey from Lloyd's, the British insurance concern, U.S. executives considered lack of skilled workers one of the greatest risks their companies faced in 2012, second only to loss of customers.  So rather than wait for the perfect candidates to walk through the door, companies have decided to school their in-house staff or train new hires who may lack the exact skills they are looking for.

Companies have long devoted resources to training and development, either internally or through partnerships with universities and community colleges.  But many companies cut back on programs or cancelled them altogether to save money during the downturn.  That appears to be changing:

  • According to the American Society for Training and Development, U.S. employers spent 36 percent more on learning and development in 2010 than in 2009.
  • Direct expenditures for learning, as a percentage of payroll, rose to 2.7 percent in 2010 from 2.3 percent in 2006.

Aegis Sciences Corp., which conducts drug-screening services and other forensic testing, says it puts about 5 percent of its revenues into training.

  • There are about 50 positions for scientists and lab technicians, among others, open at any given time, according to Cheryl Hild, Aegis's director of quality.
  • The company says it can't find enough experienced workers to fill those jobs, so it taps recent chemistry graduates who have university lab training but little or no experience at a professional lab, where quality control and consistency are critical.
  • Aegis then trains employees in skills such as how to extract certain materials from blood or urine samples and analyze them for the presence of various drugs.

Source: Lauren Weber, "Fine-Tuning the Perfect Employee," Wall Street Journal, December 5, 2011.

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