Skills-Based Hiring Lessons, Lessons learned with skills-based hiring

Skills-Based Hiring: Lessons Learned

To some, it might seem like skills-first hiring is everywhere and every company is doing it. But the reality is, this approach is still in its infancy. Sparked by a study authored in 2017 by Grads of Life, Harvard Business School, and Accenture entitled “Dismissed by Degrees,” the skills-first movement was born. It rapidly gained momentum with many states eliminating unnecessary degree prerequisites and leading employers starting to recognize the vast potential of workers Skilled Through Alternative Routes (STARs). So in this article we take a step back and explore the transformative journey from traditional degree-focused recruitment to skills-based hiring today and the three key lessons learned.

A Quick Recap of The History of Skills-Based Hiring 

Before ”Dismissed by Degrees,” skills-based hiring was a foreign concept to many. The study analyzed the rising demand for a four-year college degree for jobs that previously did not require one and how this hinders both companies from finding the talent they need and talent from finding jobs that fit their skillset. Skills-based hiring was the solution, placing value on skills and competencies instead of degrees to build a more equitable workforce.

In 2021, Byron Auguste, the CEO of Opportunity@Work, advanced the skills-first movement and wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post challenging widespread “degree discrimination” in hiring. It sparked a debate, led to action, and helped start the movement to hire people skilled through alternative routes, rather than a bachelor’s degree. 

“Since then, 18 states have removed unnecessary degree requirements and Opportunity@Work assembled over 60 partners—including YUPRO Placement—in a growing coalition to Tear the Paper Ceiling,” Auguste said. 

As awareness for the Tear the Paper Ceiling grew, there was suddenly an avenue to start talking about the 66% of talent in the U.S. who have skills but not degrees. Employers struggling to fill talent gaps were forced to realize the talent they needed was there all along; companies just had too many barriers in place to hire them. 

“In the past two decades, employers screening out by degrees has blocked workers Skilled Through Alternative Routes (STARs) from over 7 million good jobs,” Auguste said. “Today, smart companies are adopting skills-based hiring and tapping into the STARs talent category to create more sustainable, equitable, and innovative talent pipelines. Organizations like YUPRO Placement play a critical role in connecting Fortune 500 employers with talented STARs.”

The movement has been heating up ever since, and the conversation is now mainstream.

Three Key Lessons Learned from Skills-Based Hiring

The early adopters of skills-based hiring have now had a couple of years to refine their processes and measure the impact. While many are reaping the benefits of decreased talent acquisition costs and increased talent retention, they’ve also learned some valuable lessons. 

Michelle Sims, CEO at YUPRO Placement shares, “Two years into our skills-first placement strategy, I can confidently say it’s not just a recruitment and placement fad, it’s a talent revolution. We are working with Fortune 500 companies to remove resume bias so they discover the value of untapped talent with their new skills-first hiring practices. We take the time to support clients with skills-based job descriptions, and then we create skills-first job postings.  All candidates complete skills assessments during the application phase so we present talent with skills aligned to a specific job. The payoff is clear: a broader pool of talent with job-ready skills, resulting in higher retention and engagement with improved client NPS scores. So, we know it’s not just about filling roles, it’s about unleashing potential that will drive businesses forward, and we believe skills-based hiring is the key.”

1. It requires a company-wide mindset shift

Overcoming the traditional degree-centric hiring mindset is a significant challenge. This is most successful when there is a top-down approach. Leaders need to challenge and empower employees and managers to support skills-first hiring and remove degree requirements for entry-level roles.

This can’t be a one-time conversation. Company leaders must consistently reinforce this mindset shift and highlight the benefits the company experiences because of skills-based hiring practices. Some companies have opted to incentivize managers for hiring, supporting, and retaining skills-first hires over the long-term.

2. There must be ongoing training and development

Companies that are the most successful in skills-first hiring initiatives create career paths from entry-level to upper-level positions. If skills-first hires and managers see a clear pathway, new hires are more invested in building their skills, and the managers are more invested in supporting that growth. 

To do this, continuous training and development is crucial. Upskilling and/or reskilling will help bridge skills gaps and align employee skills with evolving company needs.

Traditionally, hiring was disconnected from training and deployment. Now, we’re seeing a seamless integration of these phases. By directly linking hiring with training and subsequent deployment, organizations can create a more efficient and effective workforce development pipeline.

Companies are also being more intentional about creating professional development growth plans specifically tied to the completion of training tasks.

Top four learner benefits, AscentUp

How we set skills-first talent up for success 

At YUPRO Placement, we leverage AscentUP customized onboarding training modules for our early career professionals to enter the workforce empowered, confident, and prepared to thrive in the face of constant change. This is the vision behind our collaboration, pioneering a new era of asynchronous training that equips early career talent with the essential skills and unwavering confidence needed to succeed in today’s workplace.

Through AscentUP and our upskilling partnerships, our talent masters the competencies employers crave, from technical expertise to communication and collaboration, through immersive, interactive learning modules. Employers say our talent displays the self-assurance needed to face new challenges and navigate complex situations with our on-the-job coaching, personalized feedback, and the supportive community.

3. Hiring practices and culture must be inclusive

Removing degree requirements is a great start, but inclusivity requires more than that. Companies must ensure job posting language is inclusive and assessment and interview methods are unbiased.

Additionally, when skills-first hires come into the office, join calls, or participate in other company activities, they want to feel seen and like they belong. Skills-first hires shouldn’t feel like they are less than. Provide them with onboarding buddies, expose them to Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), and make sure they feel connected. 

We are just scratching the surface when it comes to skills-based hiring. There’s so much more to learn and we anticipate the approach will continue to evolve and improve over time.  What we do know is companies that have top-to-bottom buy-in, a commitment to learning and development, and a relentless pursuit of inclusivity are the companies who experience success.

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