Let's say you're looking to hire someone in a skilled trade position who will need to operate machinery, and tools that require a significant amount of training to become familiar with. What do you do? Well, the logical solution is to do a resume screen to check for certifications in this particular trade and check for basic qualifications. The next logical solution is to have the candidate complete either a mechanical or technical aptitude test to ensure he/she has the requisite knowledge to perform the job successfully. That’s enough, right? Not always…
When we have initial discussions with clients about what challenges they are currently experiencing in this area and what they hope to achieve by changing the hiring process, we would be amiss if we only suggested using an application and technical test. During the information gathering stage, we often ask clients what employees in these roles are typically struggling with and what skills gaps they have. A common response is, “They are not comfortable using the tools/machinery and will often misuse or, potentially, break the tools.” Logically, it makes sense that some of these employees do not have the necessary technical skills to operate the machinery and tools. While this might be part of the problem, there may also be some other underlying problems. For example, an employee may not be paying close enough attention when operating the equipment and therefore uses wrong settings and makes mistakes. An employee may be making very impulsive decisions when operating the equipment thereby misusing the machinery. Or, an employee may be solely doing the work to meet quota at whatever cost it takes, regardless of using the machinery in a safe manner.
All of these underlying concerns highlight the notion that an initial screening and technical test may not be the be-all and end-all solution. Rather, there may be some skills outside of the technical skills and mechanical aptitude that are limiting their ability to perform on the job. As in the cases above, employees may lack conscientiousness and safety orientation and may be impulsive. Even if employees have the knowledge to operate the machinery and tools, they will not perform well if they don’t have these other skills which are important for employees in a manufacturing environment.
We differentiate these facets using the terms “hard skills” and “soft skills.” Hard skills are the technical skills and knowledge needed to perform on the job. For example, this would be knowledge related to welding. Hard skills are either assessed through a technical knowledge test or a hands-on simulation. Hard skills seem quite objective and easy to measure. As such, a lot of companies want to include these in the process.
Alternatively, soft skills are attributes of individuals. They provide an indication of how individuals will tend to behave and interact with others. For example, soft skills would be one’s attention to detail, safety orientation, and impulsivity. Given that soft skills seem fairly ambiguous, some companies overlook assessing candidates on these skills. However, soft skills provide valuable information and there are tools that can accurately and reliably measure the skills. For example, personality assessments, interviews, and work samples are very effective tools for measuring soft skills. While hard skills can provide a baseline for whether individuals have the aptitude to operate certain machinery and tools, soft skills can provide you an indication of whether they will operate the equipment in an effective and safe way.
There is no doubt that technical tests can provide you with information about a candidate’s competence, but be sure not to overlook the need to assess a candidate on other “softer” skills.