Why Does it Take a European to Tell Us How Thin U.S. HR Practices Are?

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Nov 5, 2012

The speaker’s thinness comment woke me up. I’d been nodding off all week due to horrible jet lag, and sitting there in the opening keynote of the 2012 HR Tech Europe conference last week was no exception.

Until the thinness comment. Snickers came from the Europeans, and uncomfortable chair shifting from the American contingent. He might as well have said vagina.

The keynote speaker was the brilliant and cynical idealist, Thomas Otter, a 15-year Gartner HR technology analyst out of Germany. His entire speech kept the room real for both buyers and vendors alike as he talked of cloud computing, big data, and social technologies.

“HR processes in the U.S. are thin”

The part that really got my attention was when he said something to the effect of:

Global HR technology is based on U.S. best practices, but U.S. best practices are thin because HR processes in the U.S. are thin. It’s time to change that in Europe.

That’s not an exact quote, but close enough for “learning and development” in companies today. In fact, according to Peter Cappelli, Professor of Management and Director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources, who Mr. Otter referenced in his keynote:

Employers don’t want to provide any training for new hires — or even any time for candidates to get up to speed. A 2011 Accenture survey found that only 21 percent of U.S. employees had received any employer-provided formal training in the past five years. Does it make sense to keep vacancies unfilled for months to avoid having to give new hires with less-than-perfect skills time to get up to speed?”

Even if that number has increased since last year, I’ll bet it’s still incredibly low considering the growing disparity between those employed, unemployed and those who have given up all together in finding work with decent wages.

Falling behind in education and training

The fluidity of the self-trained workplace today — with the rise of the contingent work interspersed with full-time, part-time and temporary — is outpacing the archaic recruiting, hiring, on boarding and training processes worldwide. Progressive HR and recruiting-driven companies understand this and are creating open communities of informal learning, from applicant to alumni. They’re moving beyond the transactional to the long-tail of attraction, engagement and development.

But the problem is even greater when you look at education in the United States.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s 2012 Education at a Glance report, the U.S. is falling farther behind other countries in the rate of higher education completion, and the chasm between those with greater education and those without has widened further. Now we have a fewer skills being acquired and fewer companies providing the training needed for those with the skills but without enough experience. We’re not minding the gaps.

And that’s a little bit of what Mr. Otter was talking about when he said that HR processes in the U.S. are thin, perpetuating the lack of workforce development and leaving jobs unfilled and transactional technology underdeveloped.

Yes, there’s a lot more to the picture today, but there’s also a razor thin margin in American HR today. That’s not the way to stay competitive in the 21st century.

This was originally published on Kevin Grossman’s Reach West blog

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