Best-in-Class Hiring: Blue-Collar Workers

In Part 1, we discussed simplified hiring systems and good hiring tools. Part 2 covered hiring better technical professionals; Part 3, managers; Part 4, salespeople; and, Part 5, customer contact folks. In this part, we will discuss hiring blue-collar employees. Blue-Collar Employees A few years ago, the blue-collar employee could be seen carrying a lunch bucket to work where he or she would spend long hours doing the same mindless, repetitive task. No more. Today’s blue-collar worker is more likely to be trained in computer skills or six-sigma quality tracking. He or she is able to operate a variety of complex equipment, make quality decisions, and even deal directly with customers. Skilled and semi-skilled worker productivity differences are similar to customer service representatives – about 30% of base salary. This means a group of 60 blue-collar workers earning an average of $35,000 will cost the organization $630,000 each year due to productivity differences (60 x $35,000 = 2,100,000 x 30% = $630,000). There are many significant changes to blue-collar positions that make these folks more like semi-professionals than unskilled workers. For one thing, the level of required problem solving is considerably higher than ever before; decision making is often passed down from manager to operator; work teams make their own quality decisions and often decide among vendors and work processes; and ongoing improvement suggestions are an expected part of the job. The world has changed, and anyone who believes they can hire “Pat Lunchbucket” to perform “Pat Quality’s” job won’t be able to get there from here. All these increased requirements means that entry-level employee quality has to increase as well. This is a problem. Politicians eager to seek favor among their constituents have watered down already-watered-down public school accountability. The result is that many high school graduates don’t have the skills to balance a checkbook or read a bus schedule. Requiring a high school diploma is not the same guarantee of “the three Rs” it once was. In fact, some organizations are unable to find people who can read operating manuals and perform basic addition and subtraction. They have to hire teachers to conduct in-house classes in basic math and reading. And reading and writing may not always be enough. Another of my clients used a very thorough testing and behavioral interviewing program to hire assembly workers. They were surprised to find later that employees did not get along with each other. When we ran workers through a simple teamwork simulation, we saw that people who did poorly on the simulation also did poorly on the job. If this organization had added a short teamwork simulation to their hiring process, they could have avoided employee conflict. Measuring Blue-Collar Competencies The following section outlines a few common competencies for the skilled and semi-skilled blue-collar positions (they may not be all inclusive for your jobs, but that is the reason why “job analyses” are necessary). You might also notice that competency names are similar to the customer service representative. That’s normal. Competencies are always defined by specific job activities (e.g., problem solving for troubleshooting equipment problems and problem solving for resolving customer service problems are significantly different):

  • Ability to learn
  • Problem solving
  • Planning work
  • Mechanical ability
  • Teamwork
  • Initiative
  • Communication
  • Primacy of work
  • Quality focus

You might notice that, like the customer service position, there are only a few key competencies for this position. Again, it’s not because the job is any less important. It’s because the job is less complex. Let’s see how the competencies look when they are organized by skill area. Below is the risk of not measuring a specific competency, what to measure, and some tools that will provide the highest degree of predictive validity. As always, each tool should be either content (or criterion) validated before use.

1. Skill area: Ability to learn, solve problems and make decisions.

Job risk What to measure Competency name
Not being able to learn new operations or processes Ability to quickly learn and apply information Ability to learn
Not able to resolve equipment or manufacturing problems Ability to quickly assess problems and recommend solutions Problem solving Mechanical ability
Most effective hiring tools: Customized problem solving simulations; behavioral event interviews; ability to learn tests; mechanical ability tests.

2. Skill area: Ability to plan, organize, and follow courses of action.

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Job risk What to measure Competency name
Failure to meet deadlines or schedule projects Ability to plan work to achieve goals Planning work
Most effective hiring tools: Behavioral event interviews; scheduling exercises.

3. Skill area: The ability to get things done through people.

Job risk What to measure Competency name
Not able to get along with team members Ability to work effectively with co-workers Teamwork
Inability to communicate effectively Ability to communicate with team members Oral communication
Most effective hiring tools: Behavioral event interviews; teamwork problem simulation; customer service simulation.

4. Skill area: Specific attitudes, interests, and motivations associated with doing a job (these are really not “competencies,” but we will stick with the term to avoid confusion).

Job risk What to measure Competency name
Bored by repetition, frequent absenteeism General attitude toward work Primacy of work
Unwilling to make suggestions for improvement Always wanting to improve process or product Initiative
Not caring about quality, doing only enough to get by Wanting to produce defect-free product Quality focus
Most effective hiring tools: Behavioral event interviews; tests of specific attitudes, interests, and motivations.

You can also use this list as a diagnostic tool. Just look over some of the reasons why your blue-collar people tend to fail and you will see which skill areas need better measurement.