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Despite millions of people across the country continuing to file for unemployment, the pandemic has widened labor shortages. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of job openings edged up to 7.4 million in the U.S., with some estimates as high as 15 million; yet, 9.7 million people are still unemployed. How is this possible?
One of the major factors driving this disconnect is that businesses continue to rely on a traditional two-year and four-year degree requirement as the primary means of determining candidate employability. Today, two-thirds (65%) of all open jobs require a bachelor’s or associate’s degree. This archaic way of hiring is preventing millions of people, especially those who are opting for non-traditional degree paths, from pursuing careers that can provide them with financial stability. It’s time to open up hiring requirements to evaluate candidates based on their skillset rather than their education path.
A New Approach to Learning
Traditional colleges are not affordable nor accessible for the majority of individuals in this country. In response, many are turning to more affordable, skills-based training or certification programs. For those who can’t dedicate two or more years to pursuing a degree full-time, these programs provide students with the flexibility to learn on their own terms and obtain needed skills to not just land a job, but to advance in their career.
By removing degree requirements, employers have access to a more diverse candidate pool, bringing forward candidates who have different backgrounds and experiences beyond a traditional education path. Building a more diverse workforce adds new perspectives, opinions and ways of thinking, which can ultimately lead to greater innovation, more collaboration and higher productivity. Research shows organizations that are racially and ethnically diverse are 35% more likely to have financial returns above average.
How to Rethink Hiring Practices
To start, hiring teams should take a full inventory of their current role description and recruiting practices to understand where they are creating barriers for non-traditional candidates. Initial steps should include:
1. Simplify Job Postings:
Review job postings and identify what is required to excel in the position. In many cases, the laundry list of requirements including degree requirements are inessential. For example, jobs in medical billing and coding require specific knowledge of certain programs and billing language — skills that can be easily acquired through a certification program, rather than a degree.
HR leaders should regularly connect with department managers to understand what skills are actually needed to succeed in open roles. By only including the expertise, experience and education that is actually needed for success, organizations will open up their pool of candidates and increase the likelihood of finding the best person for the position.
2. Determine What Skills Are Critical Versus What’s Teachable:
After simplifying job postings, identify what skills are absolutely critical on day one. Otherwise, qualified candidates could be missed that either didn’t have or didn’t feel proficient in every skill listed. A Cengage survey of 1,600 working adults found that 39% of graduates don't apply for an entry-level job in their field because they are concerned they don’t have all of the needed skills.
Other “preferred skills” should be noted as learning opportunities for applicants once they’re employed. This shifts the focus from finding the “perfect” candidate to identifying someone who has the aptitude and core abilities to be a good fit for the business. It also shows potential candidates that you are interested in investing in their professional development and career growth.
3. Skill-Up Existing Employees:
Existing employees can be the best resource to fill new or open positions, even if they don’t have all of the skills required. When looking to fill an open role, consider high-performing employees who are curious about taking on a new role or learning a new skill. By offering to upskill or train employees for new roles, you give them control of their career path and the flexibility to grow within your company.
Investments in employees’ career growth builds trust, loyalty and, ultimately, retention within a company. Fostering a culture of continued and unconstrained learning and development can also boost the business’ bottom line. In fact, companies that offer skilling opportunities to their employees see their profits increase by up to 40%.
To help close the current misalignment between unemployment and the labor gap, employers must make sure hiring practices prioritize critical job skills. By critically evaluating traditional degree requirements, and making room for different types of learners, we can create opportunities that invite candidates with diverse backgrounds to apply, giving everyone the opportunity to find a meaningful career and broadening the make-up of businesses tomorrow.
About the Author
Balraj Kalsi is a senior vice president and general manager of online skills at Cengage.