How Recruiting Nontraditional Candidates Pays Off
#evolve Magazine
July 05, 2023

It hasn’t been business as usual for at least 15 years since the financial crisis of 2008, so it shouldn’t be business as usual when it comes to the pursuit of talent. 

Historically, having the right experience was key to getting hired. But these days, organizations are beginning to understand that the ability to perform a job is more important than the boxes checked on a resume. Hiring managers who embrace candidates with nontraditional backgrounds often find talented, capable people who are highly motived and ready to work.

Unfortunately, not enough HR departments are looking beyond traditional sources for finding qualified job candidates. On top of that, too many managers come to HR with outdated job descriptions that have unrealistic requirements for the positions they need to fill, not to mention laundry lists of “must-haves” that will keep some candidates from applying.

Pursuing nontraditional candidates is crucial for meeting hiring goals, according to “9 Future of Work Trends for 2023,” an article published by Gartner Research.

“For years, organizations have talked about the strategic value of expanding and diversifying their talent pipelines,” Emily Rose McCrae and Peter Aykens wrote. “Now it’s time to back up those words with actions.”

The authors cite two key trends that might prove to be a tipping point:

  • Employees are charting nonlinear career paths, with more than half of candidates (56%) reporting that they apply for jobs outside their current area of expertise.
  • Organizations are having trouble finding talent in traditional places such as job fairs, online postings and recruiting events.

By recognizing the benefits of nontraditional hires and modifying recruitment practices, employers can unlock new sources of talent and position themselves for success in the evolving world of work.

The Hunt for the Hirable

The global talent shortage hit a 17-year high earlier this year, according to ManpowerGroup’s annual Employment Outlook survey, with 77% of employers around the world saying they were having difficulty finding the people they need. Employers in communication services (79%), energy and utilities (79%), healthcare and life sciences (78%), and IT (78%) reported having the hardest time.

“Despite economic pressures, hiring outlooks remain resilient and employers across every industry continue to look for in-demand roles,” ManpowerGroup chairman and CEO Jonas Prising said in a statement. “At the same time, tight labor markets mean many face challenges finding people who have the soft and technical skills they need. Investment in upskilling, reskilling, and a focus on preparing people for tomorrow’s jobs has never been more important and should be at the top of every business leader’s agenda.”

Like so many organizations in the healthcare sector, CHRISTUS Health has struggled to fill roles at times. As a result, the Catholic healthcare system with hospitals and clinics stretching from New Mexico across Texas and into Louisiana, turned to a Department of Defense (DoD) program called SkillBridge. The partnership has connected CHRISTUS Health with nontraditional candidates that it otherwise may not have considered. 

Through the program, active-duty service members in the last six months of their military obligations can get on-the-job training at CHRISTUS facilities. The DoD continues to pay their salaries while CHRISTUS and the service members evaluate whether they’re the right fit for each other. Since January 2022, CHRISTUS has been able to hire 50 new associates.

“We have had to shift from trying to find that unicorn, to opening up to different qualifications,” said Luis Sepulveda, talent acquisition manager for CHRISTUS Health. “It’s more about finding a person with the right attitude that can mesh with the culture we have. Training them to do the job is the easy part.”

Sepulveda also serves as the SkillBridge program manager for CHRISTUS. One thing he has noticed is that going through training programs to prepare for new roles is familiar for service members because it’s something they’ve done throughout their military careers.

“Every time they pick up rank, they have to go through a different course, so they’re used to taking courses, training up and having different classes to learn what they need to do their jobs,” he said.

Most of the positions CHRISTUS has filled through the SkillBridge program have been nonclinical in nature: human resources, logistics, communications. At least one registered nurse and several certified medical assistants and respiratory therapists also have been hired as a result of the process.

“It can go either way,” Sepulveda said. “We can bring clinical or nonclinical people into the program, and it gets their foot in the door.”

Unlike similar programs that bring in “cohorts” of transitioning veterans as many as four times a year, the SkillBridge program with CHRISTUS is set up to take applicants year-round. As many as 200,000 members of the military transition to civilian life each year, and separation dates vary.

“If we just limited it to four times a year, we’d miss out on a lot of people — and those military members are going to miss out, too,” Sepulveda said.

“We have had to shift from trying to find that unicorn, to opening up to different qualifications.”

The Shift to Lifelong Learning

Regardless of employees’ backgrounds, they need to constantly be updating their knowledge and skills to keep up with the complexity of the workplace and successfully transition to new technical or leadership roles. Organizations that prioritize learning are often better able to retain talent from nontraditional candidates.

“Employers are building their own pipelines of talent, investing in new talent and thinking about upskilling and keeping that talent for a much longer horizon than they may have at other times,” said Rya Conrad-Bradshaw, vice president of corporate markets and workforce skills at Cengage Group. “Employers are getting much more involved in the entry-level workforce and developing that talent to meaningfully fit their needs.”

Through a program called Ready to Hire, Cengage works with organizations primarily in the healthcare, IT and cybersecurity, skilled trades, and advanced manufacturing sectors to find and prepare needed talent. As a workforce partner, Cengage works directly with those employers, so they know how many trained professionals are needed throughout the organization and in what time frames. Clients outline their requirements, and Cengage trains candidates so they can become qualified for positions.

“Employers have typically relied on hiring already-trained talent, which is more expensive and limits the candidate pool,” Conrad-Bradshaw said. “With Ready to Hire, we vet candidates based on client requirements, provide high-quality training and upskilling, and connect qualified candidates with employers who have talent needs.”

Cengage can also build bench strength for the organizations it works with. It will work with an employer to retain and upskill talent, helping employees prepare for certification. It also provides role-aligned, on-the-job training and coaching.

“This is all supplemental to the organizations we work with,” Conrad-Bradshaw said. “We’re not replacing their talent acquisition or learning and development teams. We’re partnering with them so that we can provide verified, qualified candidates that provide them a higher rate of return.”

Transferrable Skills

Sometimes nontraditional candidates come from outside the industry but possess skills that make them well-suited for roles and valuable to the company.

Jonathan Thompson is the owner of Sunsational Solutions, a window tinting and graphics company based in Austin, Texas. Given how specialized his industry is, hiring typically happens by word-of-mouth. However, sometimes Thompson recruits people from adjacent industries, such as those who work as window glazers, electricians, plumbers, hobbyists and even restaurant servers.

Each of these professionals bring certain transferrable skills, he explains. Servers have customer service skills, hobbyists are precise in their work, and electricians and plumbers are problem-solvers.

“These professionals see a difficult situation and they’re trying to figure out how to make it work,” Thompson said. “They’re immediately looking for a solution. Someone like that will definitely get a second interview.”

These team members work together to understand the business and can talk about it intelligently with customers. It’s an advantage that prompted one customer to move all of his business to Sunsational Solutions.

“He asked a technical question to one of our most introductory-level employees, a window prepper. This is someone who cleans the windows,” Thompson said. “They knew how to answer that question, and that comes from that analytical mindset. Hiring them was a definite advantage.”

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