Why You Should Hire for the Ability to Learn

Covid has magnified some of the biggest recruitment challenges and created truly historic talent acquisition and management conditions. The Great Resignation/Shuffle, the Gig economy, remote work, mental health at work, and the renewed war for talent have all sent chills down the spines of HR professionals everywhere.  Even pre-Covid, some of these issues were bubbling up and resulted in the continued trend to outsource recruitment, the use of AI to screen more candidates faster, and more passive candidate recruitment.  

A May 2019 Harvard Business article highlighted just how far off the mark modern recruitment processes have gotten, especially in terms of truly and scientifically assessing the job and if the skills and abilities of candidates are a match. Guessing if there is a match is costly. In my February article “Are You Catching Who You Need From The Talent Pool?”, I highlighted these costs and the top 7 skills or abilities that result in a bad hire.  The ability to adapt to change is one of them.

Learning to Change

So, what does it take to adapt to change?  Covid gave many people whiplash and taught us that learning is a huge part of the ability to adapt and change. Even under normal circumstances, everyone will need to learn something on the job because no job stays the same forever.  Whether it is upskilling in a current, long-term role to stay competitive, or re-skilling and transitioning into a new role, change is part of the process, and learning must be too.  And let’s face it, we all have known a co-worker or team member who simply refuses or avoids upgrading or updating his or her skill set. This can be quite frustrating for others. He or she might send emails instead of using the company’s chosen business messaging app or slows down team progress because he or she doesn’t know how to use the team’s shared documents platform. 

The Ability and Desire to Learn

All the need can’t make up for a lack of ability or desire.  Hiring people who want to learn and are capable of doing so helps ensure that they will be ready and able to adapt to future changes.  Every role has some degree of learning ability needed to be successful.  The reality though, is that not everyone wants to learn. If this were the case, the percentage of employees who would leave their current employer if the opportunity to learn new skills wasn’t offered would be much higher than the 37% reported in the 2019 Sitel Group’s Future of Work and Employee Learning report. 

This desire, or willingness, to learn is the openness to and interest in acquiring new knowledge or skills that will improve job performance. Without the desire, all of the need and ability won’t necessarily mean the people will actively engage in the process of learning and changing. Behaviorally, the willingness to learn will display as a natural curiosity about things, as well as the thoughtful application of new skills or ideas at work. 

How to Measure Ability and Desire

The desire (or resistance) to learning may take time to emerge, so how a candidate presents in the interview or how he or she answers questions about their desire to learn are not the most reliable assessment.  The only truly reliable way to measure if a candidate has the ability and desire to learn is to use validated tests that measure the abilities and attributes related to learning.  


Inspired by the 2016 PSP Metrics article Hire People Who Can Learn

PSP Metrics has been at the forefront of science-backed employee assessments and measurement systems for over 75 years. Our mission has always been to help give you a competitive business advantage through your company’s most valuable resource — your people.

Dr. Nicole Scott Headshot

Dr. Nicole Scott

Dr. Nicole C. Scott is a Principal Psychologist at PSP Metrics.  Her expertise is in talent gap analysis and development, individual performance development, team development, employee engagement, DEI, and coaching (individual, team, and group), with a deep expertise in job evaluation, competency modeling, succession planning, and both high potential mid-level leader development and frontline worker career development programs. Dr. Scott can be contacted at: nscott@pspmetrics.com or via LinkedIn

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