Three unavoidable truths about what it really takes to ensure skills-based hiring strategies don’t fall flat in the workplace.
In the past few years, a wave of employers began shifting toward skills-based hiring in order to drive a more equitable economy. For us at Grads of Life, after years of educating employers on the negative impacts of degree inflation, this has been very exciting to see. Four-year degree requirements have long acted as a barrier to upwardly mobile middle-skills roles – hurting workers and companies alike as they lead to companies overpaying for talent by up to 30%, and limit opportunities for a large pool of otherwise qualified talent. They also exacerbate inequality: requiring a four-year degree for a role rules out 70% of Latinx people, 73% of Indigenous people and 77% of Black people from consideration.
As noteworthy as this emerging shift is, it is not enough. As they continue to eliminate degree requirements wherever possible, employers must also make a conscious decision to change other practices that fuel inequity. By implementing skills-based hiring without other complementary practices, employers will very quickly realize that they have a marginally diverse workforce but are not creating any real opportunity for long-term career growth or equitable representation throughout their companies.
Here are 3 vital strategies to ensure skills-first models succeed at your company, and work to drive meaningful change in our economy.
1. Unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions: Companies must take a comprehensive approach to equitable hiring, including updates to the entire application, interview, and hiring process. First, simplify and streamline the application to the pertinent details, and eliminate unnecessary interviews. These practices are often not necessary to determine a viable candidate but will increase efficiency by reducing interview to hire ratio and give candidates who may have barriers – like lack of access to reliable transportation or childcare – a more equitable chance to be hired.
Next, look beyond the traditional resume to evaluate candidates: recruiters and talent management software algorithms often scan resumes for indicators like college degrees and overlook talented, otherwise qualified individuals. Include additional ways for candidates to showcase themselves and speak to their strengths, especially those that do not lend themselves to inclusion on a resume like problem solving and collaboration, including video resumes or voice notes responses.
Finally, reach out to local community organizations that train participants for employment and create a partnership to hire program graduates into your company. A workforce development organization can be an incredibly valuable pipeline of talent, and to get the most out of it, utilizing these practices to remove barriers for participants is key.
2. People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers: An often overlooked but critical component to successfully shift hiring practices is supervising managers. As the culture carriers, their buy-in is paramount. Without their support this shift will undoubtedly fail. Managers can become insurmountable obstacles or powerful champions since they can determine the opportunities that individuals do or do not get.
It is important to help managers understand the reasoning behind the shift, especially because they might perceive these candidates as “lower quality.” Employers must provide the necessary resources to help managers understand the business value of expanding their talent pool and how to properly lead these talented individuals. Failure to do so will lead to lower retention and stagnate advancement for the skill-focused hires, which means higher turnover and more money spent on training and onboarding new employees. At Grads of Life, we often see that as positive results come and new hires prove themselves, hearts and minds eventually change and these candidates are warmly embraced alongside traditional applicants.
3. To build an inclusive culture, take a hard look in the mirror: Companies must be introspective about the culture they’ve created and work to uproot racism. Skills-based hiring unlocks access to a pool of untapped talent previously overlooked by major companies, the bulk of which are people of color. With this comes a fresh deluge of thoughts and ideas shown to make positive business impact. However, without dedicating the appropriate resources to change a company’s culture, the new arrivals will wither. It is highly irresponsible for a company to embark on recruiting this talent pool without making the commitment, investing the time, and taking action to undo what is most likely a white supremacist culture in their organization – as is true for most U.S. organizations.
Take the tech industry for example, one of the first industries to shift to skills-based hiring. On the surface, this was a positive move. It provided many new people an opportunity to join the industry and change their economic potential. The reality is much more disheartening, particularly for Black people. Last year, some took to social media to utilize the hashtag #SiliconValleySoWhite to share their experiences. Multiple twitter accounts shared stories of workplace cultures that looked at them as “diversity hires,” did not respect their ideas or contributions, and/or paid and promoted them less than their white counterparts – sentiments echoed by Black professionals in myriad industries around the country. This is the ultimate example of skills-first approaches not being enough: they may enable a more diverse workforce, but they will not ensure a truly equitable or inclusive one.
As companies make bold commitments to hiring more diverse talent by focusing on skills, they must be equally bold in changing their cultures. Investment into diverse recruitment sources will fail unless companies shift the traditional systems that exclude people and repair the harmful and alienating cultures currently considered the “status quo.” If a company commits to these steps, in 3-5 years, the company workforce and structure will be fundamentally different because they have done the hard work. Meaningful progress requires valiant change. Are you ready to do what it takes?
This blog post originally appeared on Grads of Life BrandVoice on Forbes here.