Turning the X-RAY on the Hiring Line

by R Randall Irwin,
Manager, Industrial Relations,
Lockheed Aircraft Corporation

Recent industrial unrest has forced management to recognize employee relations as one of industry's greatest problems. Lockheed found careful scrutiny of applicants beneficial to employer and employee alike.

Recent industrial unrest has forced management to recognize that employee relations constitute one of industry's greatest problems. Lockheed has devised a system to detect hidden defects in prospective employees before they get on the payroll.

There are two broad subdivisions of this problem of "personnel handling". One deals with the selection of the individual for employment, and the other with the relations of the employee to management. For convenience in discussing detailed methods, we are going to treat only selection of employees at this time and shall consider employee-employer relations in a subsequent article.

In the past, many industrial employers have surrounded themselves with employees selected by a hit-or-miss method, and subsequently have been unpleasantly surprised at the poor success of their efforts to deal with the employees harmoniously. The keystone of the structure of a successful personnel program must be an adequate system of employment selection. A body of healthy-minded employees, well suited by training and aptitude for their occupations, and well adjusted temperamentally to working together in group activities, will do much to make their own environment harmonious.

We at Lockheed believe that the best standards and methods of the past are not sufficient to meet the exacting personnel needs of present aircraft manufacturing. To solve this problem improved methods of personnel selection must be developed. Because our payroll has trebled during a recent nine-month period, we have had an excellent opportunity to develop a new technique and give it a fair trial.

During this expansion period our force grew from 2,500 to 7,500 employees, and as we pioneered further into the field of human relations we made some mistakes, learned some valuable lessons, and eventually came to the conclusion that a more scientific approach was needed to achieve a higher standard in the technique of personnel selection.

Because of the outstanding work of scientists and engineers technical developments in the processing, manufacturing and use of materials have far outstripped the development of techniques for handling human relations in industry. Realizing that an airplane is no better than the people who design and manufacture it, we are making an effort to develop an employment and inspection system that is comparable to the advanced material inspection methods employed throughout the aircraft manufacturing process.

From the viewpoint of management the cost of these efforts is more than justified on a dollars and cents basis. In our field of manufacturing, approximately 40% of the cost of an airplane is devoted to wages and salaries, which exceeds the amount spent on materials and parts. It is, therefore, only reasonable to expect management to give its full support to an advanced personnel program.

Just as modern inspection methods at our factory include the extensive use of X-ray to detect possible hidden flaws in material, so do our methods of employment, which include a testing procedure, reveal to a degree hidden qualities in an individual. Visual inspection is adequate for non-stressed parts of an aircraft, but for stressed members we bring into use the X-ray and load tests. Likewise, in personnel selection we find that the conventional interview serves a useful purpose, but in order to determine how well an individual will stand up under stress we have instituted a testing program that includes the use of psychological and trade tests.

We have borrowed from the research psychologists their latest applied testing methods to determine the qualifications of applicants for employment. Results of these tests would have been valueless to us without the development of methods of interpretation to fit the findings to our special problems. If any employees feel that we are being cold-blooded and selfish in our search for only the best-suited individuals as workers in our organization, their opinion is not well formed, because the aim of our employment procedure is to benefit both management and our employee body. It protects the interests of the thousands of employees who are already on our payroll. We feel that if we make wise selections of personnel the result will be reflected in the production of the finest aircraft at the lowest possible price together with a fair profit on capital invested plus better wages for the employees themselves.

We do not try to assemble a group of supermen, geniuses or world-beaters, but we do attempt to eliminate the mentally unbalanced and the habitual malcontents. For this reason we emphasize the use of a temperament or "personality" test. It is part of an overall system we have used to bring about a happy and contented family of employees with the lowest possible percentage of misfits. It is generally recognized that there are those unfortunate individuals of such temperament and character that they cannot fit well into the industrial world.

In order of their importance, the four major points for which we look in an applicant are: First, a well-balanced temperament; second, aptitude for a particular job; third, special knowledge or skill; and fourth, intelligence.

Temperament is given as a primary requisite because we have found as have many other industrial concerns that more than 75% of the individual failures in industry are due to temperament faults — often termed "personality traits". To us, the quality of temperament includes traits of character. An applicant is considered to be a poor employment risk unless he has a well-balanced temperament, a good character and a reasonably healthy outlook on life. An important factor which is included in this quality of temperament is the ability to get along with others.

For a beginner who lacks trade knowledge and skill, it is important that he have the necessary aptitude to learn quickly and easily the required mechanical applications. A young man with poor mechanical aptitude will require several times the amount of training as will one with good mechanical aptitude.

In selecting the skilled worker, however, the applicant's aptitude is of no particular concern. It makes little difference to the employer whether the new employee had previously spent three months or ten years learning his trade. The question is, can he demonstrate the required knowledge and skill, or is he a "trade bluffer ?" Here we will admit that there are many "trade bluffers" who can get by the most skilled interviewers; hence the importance of trade tests.

The last major point is intelligence. This quality is considered not for the purpose of selecting geniuses but to avoid such obvious mistakes placing an exceptionally intelligent individual in a routine, monotonous job on which he will soon become stale and dissatisfied. It is likewise important not to place an individual of low intelligence in a position requiring a high degree of mental alacrity. Intelligence counts in positions which constantly present new problems requiring quick and accurate decisions.

We admit that one phase of our selection program is negative. In addition to trying to find out everything good about an applicant we likewise try to uncover everything that is unfavorable. We often find in applicants qualities which they themselves did not know they possessed. A quality which may be an asset in one position may be a liability in another.

Our procedure is to search out the most promising applicants we can obtain from industry and training schools. Once a promising applicant comes within our range we invite him to take our tests; and if he shows a good performance on some of them, though he may not pass all the tests, we may make him an offer. Although our procedure may disqualify a few good applicants who stumble at the trials, the percentage of real "winners" among our employees is steadily increasing.

The average applicant cooperates with us fully, and is glad of the opportunity to take the required examinations. His cooperation is assured when he learns that we want to determine not only whether he should be employed, but in what position he is likely to be most successful. Long after an applicant is employed the test results are used in counseling him how to overcome his deficiencies.

During the past thirty months more than 30,000 applicants have been tested and more than 6,000 of this number have been added to the payroll. Testing costs money, but the results justify the expenditure. Although much of our testing and hiring has been quite recent we have had a sufficient history built up to show that the percentage of unsuccessful employee placements has been reduced by more than half. The reactions of our foremen and department heads speak eloquently and at times statistically of the success of our pre-employment tests. Before the introduction of our testing procedure less than eight out of ten placements turned out to be successful.

Here again we can turn to the X-ray for comparison. One of the costliest and most discouraging features of metal-working plant operation is the hidden flaw that does not show up until a great deal of expensive machine work has been done on the material. New employees are frequently like a piece of material with a hidden flaw. If we do not discover the flaw until after some weeks or months we have made a heavy investment in training which is lost.

Our employment division, headed by Mr H A Beall, insists that each applicant be given every possible consideration. Each interviewer in the department sincerely attempts a prompt, thorough and courteous reception of the applicant. The interviewer has the serious responsibility of making a friend for the company of every applicant, whether or not he can be employed.

Interviewing hours are posted as 8:00 to 11:00 AM, but during the periods of high employment activity all applicants are given interviews regardless of the time of their call. The preliminary interviewer quickly appraises an applicant's qualifications and determines whether or not he is a likely prospect to fill any of the existing or anticipated vacancies. Applications are taken and those having the necessary qualifications are classified by occupation for future reference and call. Those who appear qualified for immediate employment are referred to the testing section for examination. Their applications then receive consideration along with those previously placed and the applicants who appear to be best qualified for the existing vacancies are called in for final interview, at which time the employment selections are made.

In certain highly specialized fields, the selected applicant is referred to a department head or other company executive for approval. After the applicant is selected for employment he is given a rigid physical examination and is photographed and fingerprinted.

Seldom do we lose an applicant through elimination by the physical examination. There appears to be a high correlation between the results of the temperament test and physical condition. At least the result is that the poor physical risks usually are eliminated first by the interviews, temperament test or check of the applicant's industrial or school record. In the same manner, cases of venereal disease have practically been eliminated as a factor in our physical testing. If minor ailments show up in the physical examination the applicant is helped to the fullest extent in an attempt to correct the condition thus ascertained.

Although the various tests are proving amazingly successful, we do not consider their results as conclusive. They are simply ready tools in the hands of experienced interviewers who make final selections. Our interviewers seldom decided entirely against test findings. When, due to the pressing need of personnel, applicants have been employed in spite of poor test showings, the results usually have not been satisfactory. The tests have forecast suicides, criminal actions, and other startling things.

In our testing program, supervised by Robert C Storment, we try to follow the best standardized and most widely accepted forms. For the intelligence test we use forms A, B, C and D of the Otis Test of Mental Ability as well as the revised Army Alpha test. Our aim is to determine that an applicant has neither too little nor too much intelligence for the job he is seeking.

Probably the test that has occasioned the most interest and the most comment is the Humm-Wadsworth Temperament scale which we have administered to 30,000 applicants during the last thirty months. This test merits a discussion of its own but we must leave that for a later article and comment here only that the material it provides is generally of much greater interest than that of either the knowledge or intelligence tests.

The Humm-Wadsworth test consists of a set of 318 questions. The answers are confined to a "yes" or "no". A sufficiently large number of questions is involved to develop an excellent pattern of the individual for comparison with the thousands of case studies that have been made in developing this system.

For certain types of applicants we use mechanical aptitude tests to determine the degree of manual dexterity on the part of the individual. This is particularly important in our learner classification, as nearly all of the studies of mechanical aptness point to two predominant pre-requisites:

  1. That the individual have a high degree of coordination between hand and eye;
  2. That there be also a superior sense of spatial relationships.

We have found that the individual so endowed can be trained quickly and easily for successful production, especially in the repetitive operations. These tests consist of the Minnesota Dexterity Tests (a measure of hand, arm, and eye coordination) and the Johnson-O'Connor Wiggly Block Test, testing the sense of spatial relationships.

All of the tests are quite simple — a matter of fitting ordinary shaped blocks together, putting pegs into holes, etc. All operations are simple — what is being measured is the ability of the individual to meet competition under a stop watch. Of importance also is the learning trend indicated in the several times he must demonstrate his ability on a given operation.

Of very great value in an industry so technical, yet so diversified as the aircraft industry, is the special set of trade knowledge tests which we have developed under the direction of Svend Petersen, Director of our Education Division. These tests have been developed to show the relative degree of skills on the part of the applicant for specialized work such as riveting, hand-forming, welding, knowledge of blueprints, etc. They are particularly valuable in showing up the "trade bluffer" who may have a smattering of knowledge which would enable him to get by a preliminary interview. These tests are of two general types, one being a written knowledge test; the other being a set of manual operations such as actually riveting plates together, laying out sheet metal problems, etc.

Another important point in our selection program is that we have no upper age limit. The "man over forty" is welcome at our gates and is frequently employed if he is in good physical condition and is skilled in a trade.

Throughout our search for talent we hold to just one rule, "Fitness for the job".

This article is the first of a pair. It was originally published in the January, 1940, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 39, no 1, pp 32-33, 96, 100.
The original article includes a thumbnail portrait of the author, three photos of applicants, and a display of test forms.
Photos are not credited, but are certainly from Lockheed. Test forms are reproduced by special permission of the copyright owners.
The second article in the pair is "Management's Part in Personnel Relations" [ HTML ], published in March, 1940.