Formal talent pipeline programs can be a transformative recruitment tool. But determining whether your roles would benefit from this approach requires a little groundwork.
Today’s competitive labor market has been years in the making. Even before the Great Resignation, the rejection rate for job offers had been trending up. In recent months, labor shortages, driven in part by a lower workforce participation rate, have shifted additional power to candidates.
Research indicates that a diverse workforce is a competitive advantage in attracting young, in-demand talent. Talent pipeline programs are an intentional approach to building such workforces. They enable companies to connect with underrepresented groups and expand qualified talent pools, often through referrals and community partnerships.
Assessing the Business Case for Talent Pipelines
Many leading employers have found success using talent pipeline programs to diversify their ranks. NASA launched the Achieving Competence in Computing, Engineering and Space Science (ACCESS) project to recruit undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities for internships and other opportunities. For their part, technology companies SAP and Intel have partnered with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to bolster educational opportunities and on-ramps for future Black talent.
When thoughtfully deployed, talent pipelines can be a powerful recruitment tool. However, not every role is suited for a talent pipeline. At Grads of Life, we have worked with clients across a spectrum of industries, from commercial real estate to technology and health care, to understand workforce demands and identify jobs that would benefit from the talent pipeline approach. The criteria below are based on those engagements and can help guide your assessment.
Vetting Roles for Talent Pipeline Programs: Key Criteria
- Buy-In From Internal Stakeholders: Are hiring managers and supervisors willing and equipped to engage with a pipeline of diverse talent? If not, consider how your company will communicate the need to implement a talent pipeline. Identify executives who can act as change agents and sponsor prospective talent. Provide support for the employees who will implement and manage your talent pipeline program, and offer voluntary diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training to build a culture of inclusion and get other leaders on board. These steps are critical, as supportive leaders — ones who can inspire engagement and a sense of belonging — are often the difference between strong recruitment, retention, and advancement outcomes and a revolving door of talent.
- Consistent, High Volume of Demand: A talent pipeline is intended to be a sustainable solution to a persistent, meaningful need. Does the hiring volume for the given positions warrant the investment in building a talent pipeline? Keep in mind that short-term or low-volume hiring needs may be better addressed by other programs. The right threshold will vary by company, but a steady demand for talent can strengthen relationships with community workforce training providers as they can plan to place a certain number of trainees with your company on an annual basis.
- Family-Sustaining Wages: Do the positions meet living wage standards? This is distinct from minimum wage, which has failed to keep pace with inflation for basic expenditures and has led to increased economic inequity, especially along racial lines. By contrast, living wage is the minimum wage rate that allows residents of a particular geographic area to access essentials and meet minimum standards of living. By paying at or above the living wage, you are ensuring the positions you are hoping to fill can sustain new talent and steer them toward advancement, not an exit plan.
- Paths for Professional Development and Upward Mobility: Do your target roles have opportunities for on-the-job learning and clearly articulated trajectories for advancement? Learning opportunities can bolster employee engagement, particularly among Millennials and Gen Z. Career pathways have also emerged as a key demand among young candidates, enhancing the desirability of jobs and incentivizing retention. This is especially salient for Black employees, who are more likely to feel isolated and uncertain about mobility at work.
- Basic or Better Job Quality: What infrastructure or norms have you created to ensure stronger job quality? Predictable schedules, guaranteed minimum hours and supportive working conditions are among the hallmarks of quality jobs. These elements allow employees — all employees, not only those coming from a talent pipeline — to bring their best selves to work and drive positive business outcomes. This is a powerful example of the curb-cut effect, in which policies you create to improve access for a particular group can end up benefiting the broader organization.
- Transport Accessibility: Are your work locations easily accessible by public transit? Lack of access to transportation limits career options for many Americans, and is a major driver of tardiness and absenteeism among low- to moderate-income employees due to the high cost of commuting. If accessibility is an issue, employer-sponsored transportation assistance can make a big difference. Remote work options should also be considered as a tool to improve flexibility.
- Dress Code Affordability: Are your dress codes exclusionary or inclusive? In what ways might they reflect class bias? An inclusive approach to dress codes ensures candidates from low- and moderate-income backgrounds can participate without encountering access barriers.
While this is not an exhaustive list of criteria, it provides a strong foundation for evaluating the viability of a talent pipeline program for select positions. If the roles you are considering as part of your talent pipeline initiative meet the conditions outlined here, we encourage you to begin designing the program. You can explore our recommended actions for employers with the Talent Pipeline Management Resource Guide, created in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
Alternatively, if the roles under consideration do not generally meet the criteria listed here, we invite you to connect with Grads of Life to engage in a holistic review of your employment practices and determine what opportunities you can take to create a more inclusive, market-leading culture.