Why Employers Should Evolve Hiring Practices to Focus on Skills

Today’s workers aren’t just looking for a job; they desire the feeling of belonging and support in the workplace. Unfortunately, many employees aren’t getting what they need from their employers. Just 36% of employees feel empowered and supported at work, and the proportion of employees who do not feel included in their organizations is 10 times higher than leaders believe. It’s clear employers need to do better, but where should they start?

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To build a workplace where employees feel included and invested in, employers need to completely rethink their approach to workplace roles and what defines current employees or potential candidates as “valuable.” This all starts with reassessing hiring practices and broadening job listing requirements that exclude qualified candidates from even getting their foot in the door for an interview. For decades, employers have been conditioned to set up strict degree requirements for job positions, which severely limits their hiring pools and makes those with a nontraditional education feel less valuable. Luckily, the tide is beginning to turn on this hiring practice.

The Problem with Degree Requirements

Degree requirements were created under the assumption that candidates can only acquire needed job skills for a role through a traditional 4-year or 2-year degree program. While colleges and universities continue to be valuable resources for subject-based learning, they’re no longer the only way to obtain job skills. Training and credentialing are providing more affordable and flexible paths to skilling. In fact, during the pandemic, 42% of employees pursued training on their own.

However, it’s natural to question whether skilling courses can properly prepare learners for the workforce. The answer is: absolutely. Credentialing and certification programs are targeted at growing the specific skill sets needed for the position or industry. In fact, our Graduate Employability Report found many (21%) recent graduates didn’t feel as though higher education provided them with the job skills needed to be successful in the workforce. What’s worse is that half of graduates have admitted to not applying to entry-level jobs because they felt underqualified, even with a college degree under their belt.

For employers and HR professionals, these stats should be a wake-up call that a degree doesn’t guarantee a successful worker. When employers reject applicants because they lack a college degree, they put themselves at a disadvantage, as they’re neglecting a large pool of qualified, diverse candidates.

The Outcome of Shifting Hiring Practices

As more employers broaden their hiring practices, they will begin to see shifts within their company’s culture and success, as recruiting is the gateway into an organization. Here are the potential outcomes of evaluating candidates based on their skill sets:

  • Creates internal growth opportunities: An inclusive workplace helps employees feel supported to take whatever career path they choose, including new roles within a company. By offering current employees the opportunity to reskill or upskill, employers can more effectively fill open roles and support continuous worker growth. This gives employees the flexibility to take on a new role, move up the ladder, or make diagonal shifts into a completely different department. This is a win-win situation, as it can help the business keep up with new market or departmental demands and keeps employees feeling fulfilled. Ultimately, this type of mobility improves employee retention.
  • Combats stigmas in the workplace: By broadening job requirements and focusing on candidate skills vs. traditional education level, employers are dispelling the idea that those without traditional degrees are less of an asset to the company than their peers. This helps employees feel more empowered in the workplace, and when employees feel a strong sense of belonging, they show a 56% increase in job performance.
  • Drives business innovation: Data shows low-income students cannot afford 95% of colleges, preventing these individuals from even getting their foot in the door at many organizations with stringent degree requirements. Skills-based hiringopens the door up to these individuals with diverse backgrounds, specialties, and experience who haven’t followed a traditional education or career path. Employees with diverse backgrounds and experiences drive innovation in the workplace; create opportunities to build radical, new approaches to business problems; and expand business profitability

While some positions will always require the expertise only gained from 2-year or 4-year education, it’s on hiring managers and organizations to take a step back and truly evaluate the needed requirements to succeed in a particular role or department. Oftentimes, they’ll find that it’s not about the type of education but rather the types of skills candidates are bringing to their business. By removing workplace stigmas around education programs, organizations can take one step closer to building an equitable workforce.

Jeri Herman is the SVP of Human Resources at Cengage Group.

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