Magazine article HRMagazine

Hiring for Skills, Not Pedigree

Magazine article HRMagazine

Hiring for Skills, Not Pedigree

Article excerpt

When it opened a new IT center in Providence, R.I., in 2017, GE Digital needed highly skilled workers- and fast. But candidates with the qualifications the company was seeking were hard to find.

Fortunately, Rhode Island's governor and state business leaders connected the company to TechHire Rhode Island, a program that promotes skills-based hiring through Opportunity@Work, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit seeking to create pathways to help individuals gain skills and access to technical jobs. Since 2015, TechHire has grown to include 237 training partners and 1,300 employers across 72 cities, states and rural areas. The network has helped place more than 4,000 people in jobs.

"Our mission is to increase access to well-paying jobs for the more than 60 percent of adults who don't have a college degree," says Papia Debroy, director of employer solutions at Opportunity@Work.

In Rhode Island, TechHire leaders linked GE Digital's HR team with graduates of software coding boot camps put on by its training partners and shared hiring best practices that focus on candidates' capabilities rather than their education, academic ranking or years of experience.

With the program's assistance, GE Digital was able to fill onethird of its open positions. "They helped us reach candidates that we had not found through traditional recruiting methods," says Joseph Carey, the company's former senior talent acquisition leader.


Despite the fact that nearly 8 million Americans are unemployed and looking for work, an estimated 6 million U.S. jobs remain unfilled. Labor analysts predict that the U.S. is on track to have 1 million technology positions available by the end of the decade. "Companies can't fill those openings because the traditional way they've sourced candidates hasn't gotten them there," says Andrew Hanson, senior analyst at Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce in Washington, D.C.

That's one reason competency-based hiring is most common in the tech sector, where finding candidates with the necessary skills can be difficult and competencies are more easily quantified.

A 2017 study by consulting firm Accenture, Dismissed by Degrees, found that business leaders tend to view a college degree as a "proxy" for hard and soft skills, effectively shrinking the pool of viable candidates. Shifting from degree- and pedigree-based hiring to a competency-based approach can open up new pipelines for organizations struggling to find talent. Introducing objective means to gauge an applicant's aptitude is intended to give employers a more robust profile of a job seeker's qualifications.

But hasn't that always been the goal? Not necessarily, experts say. Often, a candidate's proficiencies are not assessed until the final round of interviews-too late for nondegreed job seekers who decided not to apply based on a position's educational requirements, or for candidates who are screened out by recruiters or applicant tracking system algorithms.

"There's been a proliferation in the ways people learn since the Internet, but hiring practices haven't shifted," says Joanna Daly, vice president of talent at IBM in the New York City area. "Skill cycles are faster now, and showing aptitude to acquire skills on your own is going to be important in the future. Businesses need workers who are adaptable."

Nearly one-third of the new hires employed at IBM's Rocket Center, W.Va., facility who work on cloud computing, cybersecurity, application development and help desk support do not have four-year degrees. "In the past, a manager might have said, 'I need someone with a four-year degree and X years of experience,' " Daly says. "Now it's 'I need someone who knows how to code in Java.' "

To be sure, not all hiring managers have adopted this more progressive approach to identifying talent. "For the past several decades, the nation has operated under a simple principle-the surest path to labor-market success is through a bachelor's degree at a four-year college or university," says Mark Schneider, vice president at the American Institutes for Research and a visiting scholar in education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. …

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