Trainability: Why Hiring Managers and Recruiters Find It in the Best Talent?

by Sarah Reyes

Korn Ferry has just painted a bleak picture for employers everywhere. The report says that 2030 will see companies facing an 85 million talent deficit, costing them $8.452 trillion in unrealized revenues. The culprit? The widening skills gap between a job’s competency requirements and the knowledge and skills candidates bring to the job. The solution? Organizations have to ramp up their training programs to narrow the skills gap.

Unfortunately, one can have the grandest of training programs, but will that be enough to see the organization’s strategic objectives through? Companies need trainable employees, putting the burden squarely on the shoulders of HR professionals to recruit and hire trainable candidates. But, what is trainability, and why should hiring managers and recruiters look for this trait in job candidates? 

What is Trainability?

Psychologists describe trainability as a person’s capacity to benefit from learning programs or training, improving proficiency in a given skill, and growing overall competence. 

For example, someone trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation should be ready to administer the life-saving technique to anyone who needs it. Learning how to execute the latest three-dimensional image rendering technique should empower that person to create more stunning 3D objects without supervision. That person can add this skill to his resume, improving his chances of landing a more lucrative job.

One’s ability to learn training content has a critical time component. Organizations work with pre-established time parameters, producing maximum output for every second on the clock. People must understand that training programs also have a time element, requiring trainees to achieve the objectives within the given time frame.

For example, a three-day training program for using advanced customer relationship management software expects trainees to track all customer communications and build and nurture healthier client relationships after the training. Unfortunately, not everyone learns at a similar pace. Some people learn faster, while others are slower. Hence, some trainees might display the expected competencies after the training, but others might need an additional day or two to learn everything.

A highly trainable person does not only reflect his capacity to learn and apply new knowledge and skill to his work roles and responsibilities. It also implies efficiency, requiring the person to achieve the training objectives in the shortest time possible. After all, companies want future employees to be on the ground running from the first day of work.


Trainability Characteristics of a Trainable Person

People must understand that trainability is not a distinctive trait. Instead, it describes one’s capacity for efficient and effective learning of a new skill for integration into a role or responsibility. Hence, the term underscores several innate qualities or attributes that hiring managers might also want to consider when recruiting the best talent. A trainable person is someone who exhibits the following qualities.

Cognitive Aptitude

Scientists define cognitive aptitude as a person’s innate ability to analyze novel circumstances and solve problems in unique situations, independent of instruction or acquired knowledge. It assumes that a person with a high cognitive ability can solve complex concerns even though he does not have a degree or experience relevant to the issue on hand. 

One can look at cognitive aptitude as a person’s natural intellectual giftedness. The person can analyze situations and derive accurate conclusions without formal instructions. He can identify patterns or relationships, allowing the person to find more meaningful and effective solutions to novel problems. 

Human resource professionals and employers must recognize that cognitive aptitude has eight core capacities. These include sustained attention, cognitive flexibility, information processing speed, response inhibition, working memory, pattern recognition, multiple simultaneous attention, and category formation. Mental capacities are essential in training, making a person with high cognitive aptitude highly trainable.

A person with high cognitive abilities can process new information with blitzkrieg speed, finishing the training program with flying colors and surgical precision. The trainee can ace any simulations or problem-solving activities inherent in many training programs, relying on his innate intellectual abilities to make sense of the situations presented.

His mental flexibility also allows the trainee to absorb varying materials either simultaneously or in succession. He can willfully think about the training now and other things later. HR professionals can train him today and subject him to a different training program the following week, and the trainee will never complain. 


Sustained attention is crucial in assessing trainability. It is not uncommon for many participants to consider training programs boring, especially if the trainer lacks the experience or know-how of handling a training session. They can barely keep their eyes on the presentation. A person with high cognitive aptitude extends his attentiveness until the training’s completion.

Pattern recognition and category formation allows the trainee to organize new information, skills, and concepts into categories. They form the basis for analysis, application, and evaluation of learned concepts and skills in the actual work environment, empowering the trainee to see the training’s relevance and importance to the job.

Multiple simultaneous attention is also crucial for a trainable person with high cognitive ability. It empowers the trainee to multitask successfully. Human resource professionals design and create training programs to equip employees with multiple competencies necessary to perform their jobs effectively and efficiently. They require trainees to use their innate cognitive abilities to process varying pieces of information simultaneously.

Cognitive abilities not only have a positive correlation to trainability or learning ability. Research also indicates a strong link between mental aptitude and job performance. Path analysis studies show that cognitive ability is an excellent predictor of job knowledge and work performance.

Unsurprisingly, many employers and hiring managers today focus on assessing a candidate’s cognitive aptitude more than education, work history, and performance in interviews. Studies show that general mental ability has five times the predictive power of educational attainment, three times that of job experience, and twice that of interview performance.

Positive Attitude

A highly trainable person does not only have a high cognitive aptitude. His attitude is also strongly positive. A person’s impeccable mental abilities are nothing if he does not show eagerness or enthusiasm to learn new things and apply those competencies in everyday life. 

It would be best for recruiters and HR professionals to look at the candidate’s demeanor. Is he eager or enthusiastic about working right away? Does he have what many people consider a go-getter attitude? 

Trainability requires an eagerness to learn and have the capacity to apply the new competencies in the work setting. The person savors every aspect of the training program, recognizing the importance of such an activity in advancing his career growth and making him more productive in the workplace. 

It is worth remembering that a positive attitude fuels lifelong learning. There is always something new to learn, explore, and integrate into everyday life and in one’s career.



Although a crucial component of cognitive aptitude because of its relationship with problem-solving skills, resourcefulness deserves a separate discussion. Resourcefulness requires a person to use whatever is available to solve a problem. It underscores the trainee’s ability to gather, interpret, analyze, and process problem-related data to devise a solution.

Resourcefulness also underscores six innate qualities that people can use to be successful. It shows open-mindedness, empowering the person to redefine the boundaries of possibilities. He is trainable because his open-mindedness allows him to assimilate as much new information as possible, broadening his horizons and enabling him to fulfill his job responsibilities more effectively.

Handling problems and being resourceful require a strong belief in oneself. Self-assured people can do anything, even learning a new skill that other people think is impossible to master. They are also imaginative, turning an otherwise mundane object into an effective solution. One can think of them as the McGyvers in the organization, capable of looking for a way out of sticky situations. Training these people is a cinch because they can find answers to almost every conceivable situation.

Resourcefulness also indicates a person’s proactivity, persistence, and hopefulness. Resourceful people never procrastinate, an essential trait in completing training programs. They grab every opportunity that presents itself, knowing it can be handy in their work. Resourceful people also never give up, another critical attribute during training. Learning a new skill takes effort and time, requiring several attempts to learn the competency before gaining sufficient proficiency. A person who gives up easily will never achieve the training objectives.

Passion for Learning

One cannot teach another to be passionate about something. It can only come from within. Hence, a candidate with a strong desire for continuous learning and improvement can make for a highly trainable employee.

The good news is that this innate quality extends beyond the training room. Employers can rely on a passionate worker to persevere amidst strict deadlines, rough work conditions, and other challenging work situations. They are prompt, ensure to follow their commitments through, and complete tasks and assignments on time. Their dependability is something that employers will want in the organization.

Psychologists say being passionate about one’s job helps ensure success, including training programs and other continuing learning activities.


Adaptability is a crucial aspect of trainability. It describes a person’s ability to weather the storm vis-à-vis change. Unfortunately, change is a constant feature in everyday life, including work. One might have an easy job today, but it could turn cruelly challenging tomorrow or the next day. No one can predict what kind of change will occur in the future, giving the adaptable person the advantage when such a change materializes.

A trainable person is adept at adapting. They never get stressed or complain when the business changes its course abruptly or introduces novel procedures or technologies. Adaptable employees are highly trainable because they display a similarly positive reaction to any mandate to learn and master new job skills.

Unfortunately, adaptability is the most overlooked skill, despite being the most in-demand. A Barclay’s study revealed that six out of ten company executives consider adaptability one of the most crucial skill in the 2020s. Moreover, a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers showed that 63% of CEOs cannot find, recruit, and hire talent with sufficient adaptability for the job.

Assessing a candidate’s trainability can be an indirect measure of his adaptability. It empowers companies to recruit talent that can be flexible on the job.

Why Employers Should Look for Highly Trainable Candidates

Although the preceding section provided a glimpse of what a highly trainable candidate can bring to an organization, it would be best to examine these benefits more closely.

Trainability Addresses the Widening Skills Gap

Companies are complaining that schools are ineffective in preparing students for real work. 

A 2019 Confederation of British Industry survey revealed that two out of five company executives believe college graduates lack the necessary competencies for real-world employment. About a third of business owners also expressed dissatisfaction with young people’s number of relevant work experience. Only 13% of employers believe college graduates have the right competencies to be successful at work in the real world.

Educators dispute this claim, with about two-thirds of them saying modern education adequately prepares students for real-world work functions. Sadly, companies bear the brunt of this discrepancy between theoretical knowledge and real-life competencies.

Whether or not the education system is at fault, employers also blame youngsters for widening the skill gap by pursuing college degrees immaterial in today’s workplaces. Training Magazine published a report saying that one of four high school graduates pursue a college degree in history, psychology, and performing arts. Only one in 20 Americans seek a degree in technology and engineering.

Supporting this observation is CareerBuilder’s survey report of 2018. The study revealed that 21st-century companies find it challenging to fill the following job vacancies: internists, web developers, sales managers, financial managers, information security analysts, HR managers, marketing managers, heavy equipment operators and drivers, and product demonstrators and promoters.

Moreover, CareerBuilder’s report highlighted the impact of a widening skills gap in contemporary organizations. The skills gap accounted for 45% of productivity losses, 40% of employee turnover, 39% of lower employee morale, 37% of lower-quality work, 29% of business stagnation, and 26% of revenue losses among companies surveyed.

Los Angeles-based management consulting firm Korn Ferry revealed that the skills gap, if left unmitigated, can balloon to 85 million by 2030. The report said companies can lose $8.452 trillion because of unrealized revenue. US businesses can lose $1.748 trillion because of talent deficits.

Knowledge City says companies are partly to blame. Many businesses prefer hiring new talent instead of training and upskilling their existing workforce. They attempt to recruit new employees with exceptional talent and enviable skill sets. Moreover, some firms might reassign workers to fill the gaps without the necessary competencies. Unfortunately, these workers must learn on the fly, often with disastrous consequences. 

The challenge is for HR professionals to assess each candidate’s trainability. One must understand that a highly trainable person also has a high cognitive aptitude, is resourceful, passionate, has a positive attitude, and is highly adaptable. These attributes can help improve a firm’s standing against the widening skills gap.


Maximize Training Programs 

Designing and implementing a training program is a costly activity for businesses. According to the Training Industry Report, the average US business spends $1,071 to train an employee. It might not seem that much, but it can be substantial if the company has a large workforce.

For example, the report said that small firms with less than 1,000 employees spend $1,433 per employee on training ($1.43 million total). On the other hand, a 1,000 to 10,000-strong workforce requires $902 to train a single employee ($9.02 million total). Large organizations spend $722 per head or up to $15 million as a group. 

Unfortunately, training expenses can be all for naught if candidates and employees are not highly trainable. It might take more than one training session to learn and master the required competencies. What is worse is these people might find it challenging to apply the newly acquired skills and knowledge in the workplace.  

You might also like: Why the Myers-Briggs Test is Not Ideal to Use when Hiring Talents

Trainable employees empower HR professionals to maximize their training programs. It also gives top-level executives more reason to continue pumping more investments into employee training and other continuing professional advancement activities.

Boost Organizational Productivity

Well-designed, relevant, and high-quality training programs boost work productivity. Studies show that increasing employees’ educational levels can boost productivity by 8.6%. The figure is significant when one compares it to the 3.4% productivity increase when companies focus on improving technology.

Training enhances employee productivity by inspiring new hires, empowering them to perform their jobs with precision, dedication, commitment, and accuracy. It also reinvigorates old skills, enabling employees to feel more confident at work. Workers also feel valued when they receive regular relevant training, allowing them to make more intelligent career growth choices.

Highly trainable employees support and strengthen a performance-based culture, allowing the business to thrive amidst stiff global competition. It also boosts workforce morale and satisfaction, motivating employees to perform their best every time.

Conclusion on Trainability

Trainability is a crucial innate quality that recruiters and hiring managers must assess from each job applicant if they want the best talent to fill the skills gap in the organization. It is worth remembering that a highly trainable person also showcases his innate cognitive abilities, positive mental attitude, passion, resourcefulness, and adaptability. These traits can help companies narrow the skills gap, maximize training programs, and boost organizational productivity.

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