Climbing High for EI: MHS Creates Customized Emotional Skill Job Profiles to Help the U.S. Air Force and American Express Lower Training Costs and Increase Retention

By Gordon, Wendy | T&D, August 2010 | Go to article overview

Climbing High for EI: MHS Creates Customized Emotional Skill Job Profiles to Help the U.S. Air Force and American Express Lower Training Costs and Increase Retention


Gordon, Wendy, T&D


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It takes some pretty specialized training to become a pararescue jumper. For the United States Air Force (USAF), training potential grads is a lengthy and expensive process.

In 2009, each PJ trainee spent 21 months in training, focused on airborne skills, combat diving, underwater egress, and paramedic and apprenticeship programs.

When you factor in all the flight time and specialized equipment, the price tag checked in at $250K per grad. So the USAF began looking into ways to increase training efficiency. Aware of a successful emotional intelligence (EI) -based employment screening and training program used with their recruiters, the USAF decided to partner once again with MHS to determine if they could achieve similar levels of cost savings.

Why it was worth a look

Many organizations today are realizing that there are more than just soft benefits to EI in the workplace. Soft benefits such as higher employee engagement and teamwork are significant; but moreover, companies such as MHS are proving that accurate EI testing can also have measurable benefits and real bottom-line results.

In 1995, USAF recruiters were suffering from high rates of first-year turnover. In their efforts to increase recruiter retention, the USAF used MHS's EQ-i assessment of EI to study the differences between successful and unsuccessful recruiters.

Using their findings from the study, the USAF developed a pre-employment screening system that led to a 92 percent reduction in first-year turnover and resulted in $2.7 million in training cost savings in the first year alone.

Encouraged by the EQ-i's ability to predict successful recruiters, the USAF and MHS teamed up to examine whether EI testing could improve selection and development for two other high-cost-training jobs: PJ and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD).

Accurate EI testing = better selection + cost reductions

In 2009, the USAF assessed their pararescue division using the EQ-i assessment. The EQ-i is a standardized test that measures how an individual rates herself across 15 emotional and social factors. Five factors were linked to successful completion of the PJ program: flexibility, optimism, self-regard, happiness, and reality testing.

In fact, preliminary research shows that trainees who scored higher in these areas were two to three times more likely to successfully complete the PJ program. If further research and analysis confirms these results, then powerful information could be used by the USAF to offer guidance to trainees regarding their potential for successful completion of the program.

By using MHS's EI-based model, the USAF predicts a 72 to 74 percent potential increase in training efficiency. A preliminary study of EOD trainees is showing a different skill profile that could yield cost savings in the millions.

The EI edge

Historically, organizations have hired and trained based on test scores that measure cognitive intelligence. Traditionally measured with an IQ test, cognitive intelligence attempts to indicate one's capacity to learn, understand, recall, and solve problems. Our understanding of intelligence has evolved during the latter part of the 20th century to take into consideration certain aspects of intelligence that go beyond the cognitive components.

EI is best defined as the ability to identify and manage emotional information in oneself and others and focus energy on required behaviors. These skills and competencies complement a person's cognitive and technical skills.

"IQ by itself is not a strong predictor of workplace performance," says Diana Durek, a consultant with MHS. "While many professions require a certain degree of cognitive ability, once one is in a given role, EI becomes the better predictor of success."

It's not difficult to see how abilities such as stress tolerance, impulse control, and emotional self-awareness could affect a high-demand job that involves deep-water rescue or bomb disposal.

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