After decades of dependence on college degrees, the tide has begun to turn toward a skills-based approach to hiring and training.
Recognizing that skills-based hiring can unlock massive new talent pipelines, companies from Apple to IBM to Accenture are recruiting and hiring based on skills over pedigree. The approach is taking hold across the business world: according to a recent survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), nearly eight in 10 HR professionals say that candidates’ scores on skills assessments are equally important – if not more so – than more “traditional” hiring criteria.
Not only that, but state leaders on both sides of the aisle, not to mention the Biden Administration, are following suit, stripping degree requirements from job postings amid growing recognition that they exacerbate wage and opportunity gaps.
At a time of so much political polarization, it’s heartening to see business leaders and policymakers commit to rethinking their hiring practices. But all this focus on skills-based hiring may have unintended consequences. Because hiring itself is just the beginning.
If businesses stop there, they may get a short-term image boost from leaving the degree behind, but they’ll lose out on a much more important long-term goal: retaining the people they hire, and creating opportunities for economic mobility and long-term career advancement, particularly for those from historically underserved communities.
The evidence is becoming increasingly clear. Through our work helping companies source, train, and employ diverse populations of tech talent, as well as the successes of other employers doing the same, we’ve come to understand that while skills-based hiring can play a powerful role in helping businesses access untapped talent pools, helping those workers succeed means providing support that goes beyond the hiring process.
Here’s what that support should look like in practice.
Learn what people need — and give it to them. Before candidates even sign their offer letters, companies should spend time getting to know them: understanding why they wanted to apply, as well as any challenges (personal or professional) that might stand in the way of their success. That helps talent leaders tailor support directly to the needs of early-career workers.
We do this type of work at Interapt: if new hires need help with childcare or transportation, we give it to them. If they’re concerned about financial literacy, we provide them with training. At every stage of the process, we’re listening to exactly what our new hires need, and giving them exactly the kind of support that can address their biggest challenges before day one.
Clearly articulate the path to success. So often, a key cause of turnover is that new hires can’t see the potential trajectory their career might take. That’s why it’s so important to map out the journey and set clear expectations for new hires from the very beginning. For instance, with each new hire, we and our tech training partners at General Assembly establish and review key milestones so they understand what skills they’ll be learning, how they’ll be applied on the job, and how mastery of those skills will move them forward through their career at Interapt.
We are also clear about how and when we measure success towards those milestones, providing regular feedback and creating opportunities for ongoing coaching and mentorship to help workers internalize feedback and improve on the job.
Connect their work to something bigger. It’s easy for early-career workers to feel like a cog in a machine, without a clear sense of how their day-to-day job connects to the mission of the business. No matter how new they are to the team, all workers should understand the role that their work plays in helping their company succeed.
Many of Interapt’s mentors are individuals that have grown within the organization; they have a unique perspective to help explain context, share their own experiences, and help workers connect their work to a greater social purpose.
The results, so far, have spoken for themselves. Interapt experiences less than 4% attrition each year. Nearly all graduates from our training program (96% percent) end up becoming full-time employees with Interapt’s employer partners, and within the first two years following that shift, more than one-quarter of them have already been promoted. Three years post-conversion, nearly 85% of workers are still employed by Interapt’s employer partner. Perhaps most importantly, 75% of these workers identify as people of color, 60% are women, and 30% are veterans — and their wage gains are often more than double their previous earnings.
The same approach has paid off for other companies as well. Consider Adobe’s Digital Academy, which provides fully subsidized training and stipends through General Assembly, as well as pathways into apprenticeships at Adobe. The goal of the program is to help nontraditional entry-level candidates access the skills to succeed in technical careers like digital marketing, user experience (UX) design, software engineering, or data science.
Since the program began nearly a decade ago, 130 trainees – around half of all program participants – have continued on as apprentices, and one-third of those apprentices transitioned to full-time opportunities at Adobe. It’s another testament to the potential impact of initiatives that support new hires throughout their first few months on the job.
In an industry famous for its struggles to hire and retain talent, these are accomplishments to be proud of. And those sorts of retention and advancement rates stem not from hiring practices, but to the dedicated effort and equitable approach that company leaders put into supporting new hires in their first year on the job.
At Interapt, for instance, we’ve found that the entry-level team we bring on through this method are not just competent and capable. They also have a sense of loyalty, gratitude, and enthusiasm for the long haul — thanks to the support they’ve received in their first few months.
There’s no doubt that in both policy and business, the move toward skills-based hiring is a good thing for employers and workers. And the good news is that for companies interested in hiring based on skills, there’s no shortage of talent with both the aptitude and the experience to succeed on the job.
But if our experience has taught us anything, it’s that sourcing and hiring skilled workers isn’t the whole story. What matters most, and what many businesses haven’t yet invested in, is what happens next: the training, coaching, and continuous investment in development that new hires get starting on day one.
Companies that commit to providing support to new hires when they’re in the door will see that work pay off — and will come that much closer to fulfilling the promise of skills-based hiring as a driver of both business growth and economic opportunity.