Addressing New Workers’ Concerns: Job Skills and Safety Gaps

May 16, 2023

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By Veriforce

Finding skilled workers who are a good fit for an organization can be a challenge in today's job market. To attract and retain the right workers, companies need to provide a level of comfort regarding the type and scope of work required — and how they champion workplace safety. Additionally, they must ensure they take new workers' orientation, onboarding, mentoring, ideas and concerns seriously.

These best practices for recruiting and retaining skilled workers can make a difference.

Recruitment. In a tight job market, workers have many opportunities, so it is essential to provide a compelling value proposition to attract the best talent. Being upfront and honest in job descriptions is critical.

Organizations should highlight unique opportunities, training and workplace benefits and rewards, particularly those that set them apart from the competition. In addition, they must pay attention to workplace safety onboarding, organizational safety climate, historical safety records and hands-on training and mentoring programs to attract and retain skilled workers.

Orientation and onboarding. Employee orientation and onboarding policies and procedures are critical in preparing and training new workers. Orientation, a general introduction to the workplace and organization, typically lasts less than a day. Employers should take the orientation time to help new workers complete necessary paperwork, provide access to all required company resources and technology, and learn about essential company programs, policies and procedures.

In contrast, onboarding is a much more comprehensive process that can last up to 12 months and includes mentoring programs. The purpose of onboarding is to help build worker confidence in their job tasks and roles.

Mentoring Programs. On-the-job training or mentoring is a critical asset in every new worker's learning process. Peer-to-peer mentoring is one of the greatest strengths in training new workers, as it utilizes trusted employees to monitor, develop and critique job-critical skills and instill positive safety attitudes. Mentors can focus their efforts on skills that align with successful company safety, productivity and quality expectations while simultaneously helping the company monitor worker behaviors and conditions for immediate discussion and correction.

Internships, trade schools and vocational training. These programs teach new workers and high school students the job skills needed for specific occupations as they complete their academic coursework. Such programs can prepare valuable new workers for careers in such fields as high-hazard industries and can increase high school completion, employment and earnings.

These learning opportunities are also effective at including safety awareness and best practices in the curriculum, resulting in well-prepared and well-trained new workers ready to fit seamlessly into organizations that champion safety, hazard identification and reduction of worker risk as core values.

Workforce retraining. One of the ways workers can re-enter the workforce into new roles in safe and effective ways is workforce retraining. Retraining means training in a new subject for a new job, often at a new company or organization, where learning and development are critical. Rigorous workforce retraining is one of the best ways to mitigate the risk of costly injuries or fatalities when workers transition from less-risky jobs to those requiring highly technical skills.

Empower workers to strengthen safety culture. Creating empowerment comes from implementing policies and procedures and fostering trust that all workers are capable of enacting practices that improve workplace safety for employees. Championing "stop work" when unsafe practices or conditions are observed, implementing risk assessments, performing safety audits, and implementing regular workspace inspections should be a collaborative approach from the top down. When incidents or near misses occur, the focus of the resulting investigation(s) should aim solidly at identifying and correcting underlying root causes rather than blaming the worker.

Always have their back. It is one thing to empower workers, but workers also need to feel that the safety professionals and collective safety department “have their backs” at all times. Safety professionals need to transition from “drive-by” and “flyovers” at work sites and facilities and spend time where the work happens, asking questions and understanding the issues and hazards the workers face daily.

These best practices, combined with technology that helps strategically source workers, will help organizations navigate the current skilled labor shortage.

Credit: James Junkin, CSP, MSP, SMS, ASP, CSHO, is CEO at Mariner-Gulf Consulting & Services, LLC, and chair of the strategic advisory board at Veriforce.

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