Testing and skills assessment can be used not only to recruit good employees, but to help retain talented workers who might otherwise become bored on the job, according to Jakes Srinivasan, chief operating officer of ZREP Inc., which provides skills scoring systems.

When looking at why people accept or leave jobs, much has to do not just with pay and location, but with job satisfaction, Srinivasan tells HRMN. "They need to have skills that match their jobs. You have to look at how closely their skills fit."

You also need to look at what positions they are prepared to move into, he says, because as employee settle into their jobs they may quickly become overqualified, or the job may change to include new skills beyond their reach. Either situation can lead to frustration and eventually a search for a better fit elsewhere.

Challenging the Worker

The question, Srinivasan says, is "How much do you challenge the worker? What is the gap between the skills they have and the ideal for the next level position? A lot of people leave because there is not enough of a gap. They may be advancing too fast for a particular position or a position they aspire to is not far enough ahead."

It' s a delicate balance. "You want it not too far away, but not too close or there' s not enough challenge," he says. "Just like a financial manager, HR managers have to manage company assets. You have to plan ahead and treat it like asset planning."

But companies that do skills assessments often emphasize standardized tests that are "content heavy," he says. "It needs to be broader. You need to take into account all elements. You need a holistic approach."

HR professionals should look at a number of things, including test results, background education and complementary skills and "build a scoring mechanism that pulls these things together."

Once HR understands the nature of the skills gap in each individual' s case, steps can be taken to fill large gaps or to create greater professional challenges, Srinivasan tells HRMN. "You' re likely to find some top performers. There will be some at the bottom who are afraid but won' t leave. The middle tier fluctuates up and down."

Biggest Strategic Asset

With a top performer, "the skills gap is not great. That' s a wonderful situation for the time being, but the person is going to get restless. You think you don' t have to worry about this person, but that' s the one you have to worry about most. This is your biggest strategic asset and if you don' t monitor and protect it, it' s going to go away."

He urges HR professionals to ask themselves what other jobs would keep this top performer challenged within the organization or to find ways to make the current job more challenging.

The principles are the same with middle-tier employees, according to Srinivasan. "You have to be able to measure and monitor them. The urgency to address this issue is a little bit lower. Look at other jobs that they could be doing and continue to monitor them. Make sure a balance is maintained."

With bottom-level performers, the question often is whether the large skills gap is worth bridging. If, for example, "the person has experience equivalent to two years of skill but the job requires four years, the question is how much is training going to [ change] that? The metric allows you to do trade off analysis."

Even with bottom-level performers, it' s often worth getting a handle on the skills gap and addressing it, according to Srinivasan. "Often people will leave the company, but they could have gotten get another position with the company if they could have found the right job, found a better fit.

"They have a knowledge of the industry and culture and it takes time to grow into a position. You' re going to throw that away if you don' t find another position," that suits them better.

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