For workforce development, firms find answers within

By Christine Facciolo

In 1982, the Brookings Institution found that 62 percent of the average company’s values were tied to physical assets and only 38 percent to intangible assets, such as people. By 2003, the ratio had nearly flipped, with 80 percent of value attributed to intangible assets and 20 percent to tangible assets.

Employees also expect more from their companies. A recent Gallup survey found that 59 percent of millennials, who now make up the majority of the workforce, view jobs as opportunities to learn and grow.

A 2014 Glassdoor survey found that employees view acquiring new skills or special training as key to advancing their careers. While conferences, seminars and tuition assistance stand as traditional methods of workforce training, some Delaware firms are experimenting with new in-house programs designed to retain talent and sweeten the deal for prospective employees.

BrightFields Inc., a Wilmington-based environmental consulting firm, holds “holiday school” every year on the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving. These learning sessions ask employees to submit topics of interest that inform the curriculum.

The company also holds special “boot camps” when a significant number of new hires need training or when management detects skills gaps in the team. The exercise tests employees’ proficiency in a variety of field capabilities, from how to upgrade a water quality meter to how to manage a pump, according to President Marian R. Young.

“We want to make sure everybody’s doing things the same way,” Young said.

New hires at Wilmington accounting firm Belfint Lyons & Shuman (BLS) start their learning career path in the Rotational Development Program, which introduces them to all aspects of accounting before they choose a speciality. The program is very attractive to college students unsure of where they fit, according to the firm.

“They tell me they only have book knowledge but no idea what they want to do,” said Jenni Fleck Jones, marketing and college recruiting manager at BLS, which started its customized professional development program in 2011.

Employers also place importance on soft skills and personal attributes that enable employees to interact
well with each other and clients.

BrightFields administers the Myers-Biggs Type Indicator test to staffers. Based on psychiatrist Carl Jung’s work on personality types, the test indicates how a person perceives information, makes decisions and generally approaches life. The goal is to achieve a more harmonious workplace as people appreciate and respect each other.

“We’re not trying to make you into somebody else,” Young said. “We’re just trying to work from each person’s perspective.”

BrightFields also trains in how to present themselves to potential clients, how to hand out business cards and how to deliver a 30-second elevator pitch with confidence.

“If you’re not good at writing and speaking, you’re not going to get very far,” Young said. “All of the things
we collect are mysterious pieces of data that nobody understands and can’t see because it’s underneath
the ground.”

Young is a big fan of the Dale Carnegie courses and often sends staffers to their programs to polish their presentation skills.

One-on-one coaching plays a key role in the leadership track at BLS. Managers and other executive positions are invited to participate in the program.

“What I think is innovative about our program is that it is tailored to the individual,” she said.

The process, which is managed by an outside consulting firm, starts with three simple steps: Where are you now? How did you get here? Where do you want to go? The program helps firm leaders grow their careers, increase client satisfaction, learn leadership techniques and refine their communication styles.

Participants report that the program helps them focus and prioritize and deal with distractions. It also helps increase awareness of others’ perspectives, how to handle situations and how what they do or don’t do is perceived by others.

Jones notes the program dovetails nicely with the firm’s culture. “BLS strives to overcome the challenges and demands traditionally seen in public accounting firms by providing a meaningful work/family fit that centers around flexibility and collaboration.”

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