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Pre-Employment Testing: The Key to Employee Turnover and Accident Reduction?

Pre-employment testing can provide a significant boost in employee longevity and safety.

by Ranger Kidwell-Ross

Most businesses in the United States, the ones that employ about half the workers in the nation, are small, family-owned businesses. In sweeping, the percentage is much higher than that. With today's competitive market for both workers and accounts, contractors need the best possible employees if they are going to compete successfully and remain competitive.

Turnover is expensive. Some contractors cite the cost of hiring and training a new employee to be well over $1,000. Even then, hiring good employees is often a considerable challenge, since interviews and reference checks often do not accurately detect all the good and bad qualities of an applicant. And, although a variety of generalized employment tests are available, these can be challenging to understand, administer, score and interpret.

Mid-State Logo Jim and Debbie Dodson, owners of Mid-State Industrial Service, a NAPSA-Certified sweeping company in Eugene, OR, think they have found an answer. They use a battery of tests offered by a psychologist they initially met through a business club they have belonged to for many years. Dr. Bill McConochie, head of Test Master, Inc., has built batteries of tests that have been used by companies in many different industries, including heavy trucking, engineering, law and semiconductor manufacturing.

The Dodsons report that McConochie's tests have helped them hire employees who are smart enough to learn and remember essential job performance information, have the personality characteristics that make them pleasant and cooperative, and are people who can tolerate the stresses specific to the sweeping job, such as dealing with the type of work, hours and physical stresses. Those with 'correct' test scores tend to both do a good job and stay with the company.

The test battery McConochie has designed for Mid-State provides 13 scores on various traits. The test takes about an hour for most applicants to complete. The applicant's answer sheet is faxed to Dr. McConochie, who scores it by computer and faxes back the report. The $20 reusable test booklet is kept on hand by the Dodsons. Scoring by McConochie runs about $50 per applicant.

Says Dodson, "Use of these tests has reduced our interview time by a significant amount. Our hiring process is to place 'blind' ads that aren't specific about the job and where the replies go to a post office box. We ask for a hand-written cover letter along with a resume, which allows us to see if someone can write, which we think is important. Once we pick out the applicants who look interesting, we give them a call to give them a description about the job.

Mid-State Coollage If, at the end of the call, both parties are interested, the next step is to run their license through DMV. This is free through our insurance company. If that checks out okay, we then ask them to come in and take Dr. McConochie's test.

"We've been using this system for over 5 years and haven't had anyone who's stayed with us for less than a year since we started with it. We've found it really helps us to weed out the people who are looking for a 'stop-gap' job and not something they want to stick with. The test truly seems to bring out some of the qualities that are really needed to be a sweeper operator.

"Before we started using it at our sweeping company, I had two of my best current employees take the test. How they scored on the tests is a baseline we then had McConochie add in. We have chosen to use a couple different test modules out of the many his company offers. The tests available include ones that test spatial/memory, willingness to work out in the rain, organizational skills, etc.

"If you have two or three prospects who all sound good, our experience is that the test gives a good non-biased, third-party method to make the final hiring decision. We feel the tests pay for themselves just in the reduction in interview times, not even counting the large increase in employee retention we've received -- which is the real area we have saved. Quite honestly, we were skeptical about the whole process before we got started, but McConochie's testing system has really been a boon for us."

Dr. McConochie, shown at left, explains that well-designed tests of this sort are more reliable predictors of job behavior than interviews, background information and other traditional employee assessment tools. The trick is having a job that is attractive enough that you can screen several applicants and choose only the best one or two.

For example, in today's heavy trucking industry many companies are so desperate for drivers that they can't afford to be selective regarding who they hire. Companies that have been selective, however, using what they learn through the testing process, have shown they can save a significant amount of money. This comes in the expected forms of reduced turnover and higher productivity, but even more importantly in the form of reduced accident rates.

"A trucking company we provided testing for was almost going under from the cost of its insurance premiums," said McConochie. "After starting to hire based on their test results with us, their accident rate plummeted. Over the course of the following two years, their workers' comp premiums went from over $800,000 to only $25,000. It basically saved the company from going under."

"I recommend that a client company test a couple of their current employees to develop a confidence in the tests. Ideally, in this case, we would work with a number of companies in the sweeping industry to generate test scores on a variety of their current employees who are subjectively considered more or less competent. Then, we can run statistics to document which tests in the battery are the best predictors and define the ideal test profile."

Dr. McConochie provides a variety of testing services over the Internet, with the help of a partner in San Diego. One of their customers, a Fortune 100 company, uses his Driver Battery to screen 500 heavy truck driver applicants a year.

"By having the test available on the Internet, it becomes accessible -- as well as more affordable -- to companies that want to use it," explained McConochie. Unfortunately, a similar high volume would be necessary to justify the initial set-up expenses to provide an Internet-based service to the sweeping industry. Because of the initial setup costs, a contract guaranteeing at least 500 reports per year for three years would be necessary.

Clean Streets Insurance Program "Working through a national association is the way to go", explains Dr. McConochie. "If we can deliver the service through a national association, we can get the volume up to the level necessary to make the Internet delivery system economically viable. This is like the purchasing power small businesses can get by banding together to buy directly from suppliers as a group."

Dr. McConochie also tossed out the idea that the association might also make some money off the process, perhaps by offering the service to members. In return for promoting the service via the association, the association could receive a portion of the service delivery fee.

"The ideal system is a win for everyone," McConochie claims. "The sweeper company gets good employees, the employee gets a job he or she is well suited for and successful in, and customers get good, reliable service. When one considers the cost of training and then re-interviewing and re-hiring on a frequent basis because people don't work out, it's easy to see why our tests are considered such a strong value."

For more information on this concept, you may reach Dr. William McConochie, of Test Master, Inc., via email sent to, or call him at 541-686-9934. He is located in Oregon.

Editor/Author's Note: From my own research into this concept, plus the Dodson's experience, hiring via this type of testing process seems like something the sweeper industry could use. The problem: We'd need to commit via contract to purchasing 500 reports per year for three years, at a price of $50 per report. Thus, $25,000 per year for three years.

With this contract commitment, Dr. McConochie would fund the initial set-up process to create the on-line version of the testing service. Customer companies would set up an account, have applicants take the battery of tests online, and have reports sent to the e-mail address of the company. Scores would be saved to file.

Companies could also separately contract with them to do validity studies to demonstrate the power of the tests in the battery to predict their desired work performance outcomes, as by running statistics between test scores and in-house performance data.

As mentioned in the article, this can also be done on current employees initially, to validate the tests before they are used to screen new applicants. This process helps protect companies from EEOC complaints by the government. Doing this also reassures customers that the testing will make good financial sense, as it typically demonstrates that the tests do correlate significantly with job performance (absenteeism, accidents, jobs completed, customer relations, etc.).

If you have interest in becoming part of a process such as this, please let me know. If we can develop enough interest, it's perhaps something that NAPSA could take the lead in.

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