Human Resources: Increasing the Competency Level

If you have read any of my books or articles or heard me speak at a conference or convention, you have heard me emphasize the need for a competent, stable, well led workforce. When owners and managers look for talent, they expect that every job applicant is fully qualified and ready to go from day one. The reality is far different.

Finding the competent individuals needed in the modern print shop is getting more difficult each day. Despite the downturn in the economy and the number of print shops that are closing their doors, there still are very few viable candidates for many of the positions in today's business.

There is no need to despair. It is just important to recognize the need for a new approach to building a competent team. Despite the rising unemployment rates, it is highly unlikely that the employee you hire is going to have all the skills you want them to have. All too often, we hire the person who appears to have the skills we are looking for and they still fail. They are terminated not because they lack the skills, but because they lack the proper attitude and behavior. I encourage business owners to hire not for skills, but for aptitude, attitude, and personality. During the hiring process you find out about these important characteristics. If they have the necessary aptitude, attitude, and personality, then you can train them.

Training can no longer be an afterthought. It must become an integral part of your business strategy. It is also necessary that a budget be established for training.

Why Train?

Gain competitive advantage: The skills of your employees are clearly essential to delivering the goods and services that your customers want. More important is their ability to understand new processes and techniques and to adapt to the changing technologies of your business. Employees must have the capacity to acquire new skills in order to cope with these changes and help your business beat the competition.

Retain employees: Given the intense competition for available labor, it is important to have a real commitment to your employees and a desire to make them a strong, loyal team. That is accomplished through a viable and meaningful training program. You must teach skills in order to bring your employees to the level of performance you need. Employees must believe that you want them to succeed and grow and that you are ready to help them achieve that.

The Team Approach: Our success no longer depends on the ability of managers to beat employees into shape. The emergence of the teaming approach and the need for greater interpersonal skills to facilitate teamwork and avoid conflict makes it imperative that we teach the necessary leadership skills that will make a difference. It is no longer appropriate to promote employees into managerial positions just because they have technical skills or years of service. They must know people and how to handle them. Managers must have the appropriate training to manage and lead their teams.

There are many methods of training: seminars, workshops, vendors, OJT coaching, mentoring, etc. The selected method should best fit the needs of both the employee and the business. Clearly, cost is a consideration, but the quality of the training is critical to your success.

During periodic performance appraisals, training needs should be assessed and real plans developed jointly by the manager and the employee. The nature of the training must be the result of a focused and disciplined process to determine what is needed. Employee training should be planned and what is accomplished should be recorded. This training record should be part of the employee file.

The Training Needs Analysis

Training must be cost effective. It is not desirable to send employees to seminars and conferences if the subjects do not fit your needs and contribute to your competitive advantage. Here are some ways to determine what is needed.

1. The Job Description: Accurate job descriptions are integral tools for developing a training program. Show the job description to the candidate during the interview process so they are aware of exactly what the duties and expectations of the position are. The candidate should acknowledge that they are able to complete the requirements of the position, or give an indication that they will need training in order to perform as expected. Once the candidate accepts the position and becomes an employee, they sign off on the job description, acknowledging their understanding of the expected tasks. If they need training for certain tasks, a training program should be initiated.

2. Find out what they want: It is also important to understand what training the employees feel they need. You can find out through surveys, questionnaires, and meetings. Clearly, the best opportunity to find out what the employee needs is during the performance appraisal discussion. Remember that the training process is definitely an individual program and should be treated as such.

3. Ask your leadership team: Brainstorm with key staff members about what skills will enable the company to increase its competitive advantage. Such advances might need new equipment and techniques, and those depend on training. Examine the training that is needed to implement your strategic plans for business success. You need to know where you want the company to go and understand what it will take to get it there in terms of skills and teamwork.

4. Observe: Management by walking around (MBWA) puts you in touch with employees in the workplace. Frequently discuss with individuals what they are doing and how they are doing it. Try to determine if added skills would make a difference in their performance. It is important to know that employee morale is dependent on the understanding of the job and the ease with which it can be accomplished. Added skills will make a happier employee.

Training must happen for each individual and for each position. Since our industry is in a constant state of change, it is even more critical to look at every person and each position at least once a year to reassess the training needs. No longer can you hold off training until you have better financial times and cut it when the numbers don't look so good. Training must be a stable, continuous part of your company strategy and growth plans. It must be a key factor in the development and retention of employees.

Debra Thompson is president of TG & Associates, specializing in human resources for the graphics and mailing industries. She can be reached at 877/842-7762 or Visit for free tip sheets on managing and motivating people. If you don't have job descriptions, she can provide them for every position in the graphics industry.