Tech Training … the Experts’ Way


November 20, 2015

I’m typically responsible for coming up with and asking our panel of contributors the “Questions of the Month,” which appears near the front of every issue in our ‘news & views’ section. It’s not always easy coming up with the types of questions that generate answers our readers might find helpful. (Mind you, that has more to do with me asking the correct questions, than it does the answers provided by our experts.) Occasionally we’ll veer towards lighter topics, but for the most part — we’re keepin’ it real. The question I asked for our January issue (Read all about it! … In January!) has generated some especially interesting answers that will dovetail nicely with a January feature we’re currently developing about workplace training. So without going into full ‘spoiler’ mode, I did want to share a particularly thoughtful multi-part answer from Dr. Stephen Vantassel. (An abridged version of his answer will appear alongside a few others in the print edition.)

The question posed: What do you consider to be the most essential but overlooked factor when hiring a new technician?

Now, typically I’ll cast the net wide and ask several of our contributors and publish my favorite answers in the magazine, but sometimes an answer doesn’t make the cut for space reasons, or because it’s too similar to another expert answer. The interesting thing about this question is that it didn’t generate any duplicate answers. Each one was unique and because Dr. Vantassel offered four solid answers in one I thought this might be the best place to share it in full. I’d love to hear our readers’ answer to the same question or any reaction you might have to what’s presented here. Dr. Vantassel’s answer(s):

1. Character. Are [the prospective technicians] trustworthy when no one is looking?
2. Teachable. Do they want to continue learning? 
3. Perseverance. Do they keep going when things are tough and perhaps, more importantly, boring?
4. Engaged. Do they continue to look to improve efficiency, customer service and cost reduction while maintaining quality of work?

Let’s unpack that a bit, starting with number one. How does an employer test for character? Or more appropriately, how can they train in a way that brings that technician’s character to the forefront? These are rhetorical questions, as I don’t have the answer, but I’d be very interested to know if you do. Is character something you “sense” in your “gut?” Or is it something that has to manifest in a literal way — something you can observe, that’s quantifiable? How much, for example, can you tell about a person by the way they look, how they’re dressed, etc.? What behavioral traits should you look for? Which behavioral traits throw red flags? Obviously there’s no right or wrong answer to any of these questions, but to me they seem worth thinking about.

Vantassel’s third and fourth answers are equally difficult to quantify, while at the same time, completely relevant and important characteristics an employer would want in their techs. But again, how far down the road must you go with a new employee before you’re able to grasp clues to their ability to persevere or remain engaged? Likewise, if you sense a new hire is deficient in one or more of these qualities — can they be taught? (Vantassel’s #2 quality)

One answer I would expect from some of my past employers would come in the form of a personality test, which is part of hiring protocol for many companies. If you’ve never taken one of these tests, they’re generally a series of multiple-choice questions that pose scenarios the testee is supposed to consider before choosing the response most in line with their thinking from the various choices offered. Sometimes they go a little deeper and ask the testee questions about themselves — essentially encouraging their describing the way they see themselves through a series of true/false and multiple choice answers.

If there’s another way to judge qualities such as “character” before hiring, I’m not sure what it is. But at the same time, I’ve always been skeptical of personality tests in the workplace. Without knowing what goes into them, it seems it would be pretty easy to identify the answers to a question that make you look best. In other words, I KNOW they’re not infallible, but its also likely these tests are developed by people a lot smarter than me, who know how to ask questions that dodge such pitfalls.

Do you lean on a personality test as part of your hiring process? If so, do you feel like the test has made good on its promise to weed out those not suited to be a tech for your company?

PMP contributors, Dr. Doug Mampe’s and Pete Schopen’s answers can be found in our forthcoming January issue, but in the meantime, give the above some thought and let me know what you think.


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