Skills-Based Hiring

People over pedigrees: The move toward skills-based hiring

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During his State of the Union Address earlier this year, President Biden vowed his support for the growing movement to hire workers based on their skills, regardless of their postsecondary education. He said it would be good for workers and the economy.

“We’ll cut costs and keep the economy going strong by giving workers a fair shot, provide more training and apprenticeships, hire them based on their skills, not degrees,” said the President.

Last week, the Biden Administration issued new guidance around such hiring within the federal government.

“Given today’s booming labor market, the federal government must position itself to compete with other sectors for top talent,” said Kiran Ahuja, director of the Office of Personnel Management, in a news release.

“By focusing on what an applicant can do – and not where they learned to do it – skills-based hiring will expand talent pools by making it easier for applicants without a bachelor’s degree to demonstrate their skills and will help remove barriers to employment for historically under-represented groups. By drawing from the diversity of this country, agencies can be better equipped to tackle the challenges before us.”

Workers can gain their skills through many pathways: on-the-job experience, military service, or training courses, to name a few.

Opportunity@Work has long been a champion of skills-based hiring. We asked Bridgette Gray, the nonprofit’s chief customer officer, to share her opinion on the new guidance.

We put the same question to Misty Frost, the new CEO of Penn Foster/Carrus, a for-profit company that describes itself as “bridging the gap between education and economic opportunity to build the workforce of tomorrow.”

Here’s what they told us: 

Bridgette Gray, chief customer officer, Opportunity@Work

Bridgette Gray, chief customer officer, Opportunity@Work

“The federal government is sending a critically important signal by reinforcing its commitment to skills-based hiring – a practice that major employers like Accenture and IBM, not to mention state governments like Maryland, have also taken to heart.

“When businesses use the college degree as a proxy for job readiness, they screen out millions of workers who are Skilled Through Alternative Routes (STARs).

“Those practices have led an entire generation to be needlessly excluded from opportunity, and while federal initiatives like this won’t solve the problem on their own, they indicate that a growing number of employers – public and private – are waking up to the need to reimagine their hiring practices and build a labor market that works for STARs.”

Misty Frost, CEO of Penn Foster/Carrus

Misty Frost, CEO, Penn Foster/Carrus

“The jobs that keep the U.S. economy running are often those that don’t require college degrees – from skilled tradespeople to allied health professionals. In our work with both business leaders and thousands of middle-skill learners across the country, we’ve seen the way that relying on degrees in the hiring process continues to lock people out of jobs that they have the skills to succeed in.

“That sort of ‘degree discrimination’ doesn’t just widen persistent equity gaps – it also widens the talent shortage that is facing so many employers.

“The federal government is setting an important example, one that businesses across the country should take to heart.”

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