larly true for entrepreneurial companies, which
rely on workforces’ thinking and acting di;erently from incumbents.
Chad Laurans would agree with that. When
he founded the Boston-based home-security
company SimpliSafe in 2006, Laurans wanted
to upend the industry with install-it-yourself
hardware and no long-term service contracts. So
he refused to hire anyone with industry experience. “We didn’t want that baggage,” he says. The
venture-backed company—which employs about
600 people—hires from all levels of education.
Training ranges from a month for call-center
workers to potentially years for an engineer.
“Hiring people to do something they haven’t
done before is powerful,” says Laurans. It’s
possible, he continues, that a day-one-ready
hire “is going to be bored, or they are just not
going to be driven.”
As an entrepreneurial leader, “I really don’t
want fully skilled people, because I want it
to be done my way,” says Tom Peters, whose
new book, The Excellence Dividend: Meeting the
Tech Tide With Work That Wows and Jobs That
Last, argues that training should be “invest-
ment No. 1.” Companies willing to train new
hires, Peters says, can simultaneously address
needed skills and the business’s distinct culture
to produce employees who “do things in ways
that fit our character.” In his formulation, “the
company with the best training wins.”
The expectation that hires will hit the
ground running emerged during looser labor
markets when companies enjoyed a surfeit of
choice. They also ran leaner, and so the appe-
tite for anything less than prime talent abated.
“Over the past 20 years, companies got very picky looking
for people who were the exact right fit,” says Todd
Thibodeaux, CEO of Comp TIA, a nonprofit trade associa-
tion that trains and certifies people in a variety of IT skills.
“They weren’t interested in taking people who were entry
level or were maybe 75 percent of the way there.” Compa-
nies also hate the idea of spending to make workers day-
one ready for someone else. “Employers are convinced if
they train people they are just going to lose them,” says
Peter Cappelli, director of the Center for Human Resourc-
es at the Wharton School.
Of course, it is in the interest of a dynamic economy
that businesses give workers their first shots, increase their
value through education and experience, and then wave
goodbye as they depart for better opportunities. But it is not
in the interest of individual employers. Such concerns not
only produce under-investment in training but
also cause the proliferation of noncompetes, which
these days extend all the way to beauticians.
But training makes workers both more likely to
join and less likely to leave. Asked what attracts
them to employers, Millennials ranked training
third—above benefits, flexible schedules, and
employer values—in a study by PwC. Research
shows increased retention among employees who
are encouraged by their prospects for advance-
ment and feel obligated to employers who invest
in them. And a well-developed training muscle
allows companies to react quickly to shifts in
demand—from SharePoint to Slack, for example—
and update their own workforces in response.
Such advantages should persuade business
leaders to stop viewing themselves narrowly
as consumers of talent and focus on becoming
producers. There’s no reason entrepreneurial
companies can’t be as innovative about developing talent as they are about developing products
and services. Some already are.
Techtonic Group, for example, is both software development firm and apprentice farm. The
business, based in Boulder, Colorado, employs a
cadre of apprentices whom it trains in multiple
skills while simultaneously deploying them (with
a more senior team) on client projects. After
1,000 hours of working with apprentices, clients
can hire them onto their teams—they now possess ample evidence of their ability. Techtonic,
which raised a $2 million round in April, is the
first Department of Labor–registered apprenticeship provider for software development.
Tech jobs aren’t the only ones inspiring
creativity. In 2015, Saxbys Co;ee, a chain head-
quartered in Philadelphia, launched an unusual partnership
with Drexel University to open student-run cafés on campus.
Undergraduates manage everything—frothing the cappucci-
nos, sure, but also hiring, firing, marketing, and calculating
the P&L. Company managers swing by regularly to check in
and answer questions, but none are onsite. Students learn on
the job and in the classroom, where Saxbys helps shape the
curriculum. Founder Nick Bayer created the program to
promote entrepreneurship, but it also primes the talent
pipeline—from store managers to corporate—with young
people who know Saxbys chapter and verse.
Such programs represent a creative, ambitious approach
to eliminating skills gaps inside companies. Great businesses are born when entrepreneurs can’t find something
they need and so build their own. Great workforces are
born the same way.
STATES (Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Rhode Island, and Virginia) offer tax credits worth from 5 to 50 percent of training-related expenses, according to the Aspen Institute. SIX
One side of the
aisle is offering
help. In October,
on training lower-
In April, Con-
a House version
a 20 percent tax
credit for new