The pandemic broke some old conventions and accelerated other trends. One convention that fell by the wayside for many tech employers was to require degrees for every position. One trend that accelerated during the pandemic was skill-based recruitment.
For decades, more and more professions have been made compulsory. The study guide increasingly excluded qualified applicants, widened the gap in opportunities and made advancement difficult to grasp.
For six years, former McKinsey partner Byron Auguste has argued that degrees are a poor indicator of critical skills. He founded Opportunity @ Work to connect employers with “a vast, largely invisible talent pool of capable people” they call STARs – workers who are qualified through alternative means rather than four-year degrees. STARs have skills acquired through community college, workforce training, bootcamps, certificate programs, military service, or on-the-job learning, but are often overlooked by employers and blocked by arbitrary graduation requirements.
“Companies lack qualified, diverse talent when they arbitrarily ‘demand’ a four-year degree. It’s bad for workers and it’s bad for business. It doesn’t have to be, ”says Auguste. “Instead of ‘filtering out’ according to family tree, smart employers are increasingly ‘screening’ talents according to performance and potential.”
While the pandemic has accelerated inequality, it may have broken the ratchet of degree inflation and led large employers to identify serious job-critical skills and “filter in” talent through skill review.
Job boards accelerate skills-based hiring
In March, LinkedIn launched Skills Path, a skills-based hiring initiative that aims to connect employers and job seekers by identifying core skills for open positions and then matching qualified candidates to those positions. Skills Path combines learning courses and skills assessments to match non-traditional candidates with job interviews. More than a dozen companies are already participating in the pilot program
“We believe that by taking a competency-based approach to opportunity, we can remove barriers for candidates who may not have the degree or the network, while increasing the size of the employer talent pool so that they are often high-quality candidates for hard-to-fill candidates identify roles, ”said Hari Srinivasan, vice president of product at LinkedIn.
Other leading job boards, including Indeed and Ziprecruiter, have also honed their skills in matching skills.
Development and certification of skills
Putting America Back to Work, a new fund announced today, aims to get 100,000 Americans into good jobs in technology and healthcare. “Our goal is to catalyze more pathways to good jobs that provide learners with hands-on experience and relevant professional skills that are aligned with the evolving job market,” said fund investor Ben Walton. “The training model encourages companies to prioritize hiring based on skills and competencies, which in turn increases the chance of economic mobility.”
Two years ago, IBM, a leading provider of digital certificates, launched the SkillsBuild initiative to connect learners with careers. In June, IBM announced a new collaboration with 30 global organizations focused on helping underserved populations improve their skills and employability. They hope to train half a million people by the end of the year.
In September, Western Governors University, Walmart and 40 partners launched the Open Skills Network to accelerate the transition to skills-based education and recruitment by establishing a network of open skills libraries and skills data.
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has launched its own competence-oriented initiative called Skillrise, which offers courses, discussions and useful framework conditions for further qualification of the workforce.
Marketing giant Hubspot runs an academy that has certified over 200,000 professionals who use credentials to advance their careers.
Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, Verizon, JPMorgan and Accenture have developed new programs to qualify their employees and to extend onramps to others. All of these initiatives offer modular learning experiences derived from professional competencies with references that capture and communicate the learning. These corporate giants have created a parallel post-secondary universe that for many learners could complement or even replace traditional higher education.
The competency-based setting focuses not only on priority technical skills, but also on basic and transferable skills. Together with partners from Kansas City, the DeBruce Foundation sponsored the Essential Skills Report, which highlights six competencies that are most important for entry and success in the world of work:
- Communication: interaction with customers, employees and employees;
- Collaboration: teamwork that uses the skills of colleagues;
- Critical thinking: problem solving that synthesizes information;
- Interpersonal skills: dealing with others with empathy, building trusting relationships;
- Proactivity: taking initiative, seizing opportunities to add value; and
- Executive function: managing work independently, dealing with ambiguities.
The report concluded: “Because these skills are valuable across sectors and lasting over time, it is important that educational institutions, out-of-school experience providers and employers invest in basic skills development.”
A number of Kansas City high school staff studied the report and looked for ways to more specifically develop basic skills coupled with real-world learning experiences, including internships and client projects.
What competency-based mindset means for education
Discipline-based courses have been the standardized measure of secondary and post-secondary learning units for 130 years. However, it is widely recognized that academic achievement and degrees are weak proxies for developed human skills. For the last 20 years, there has been steady progress on the fringes away from sitting times towards competency-based learning – a combination of individual path and pace, the time and support to master competencies, and certificates that signal new skills.
The rise in skill-based attitudes means that high schools and post-secondary education institutions should shape experiences around priority skills, assess those skills, and help learners share those skills. If courses remain the organizing construct, they should be a set of experiences that target a set of competencies.
Skills should be authentically proven and can be recorded and communicated in digital certificates that will, over time, replace course lists and grades as the primary reporting process.
Upper and secondary students should have the opportunity to create profiles (a wallet of digital credentials) and portfolios (artifacts representing personal bests) that teach skills.
Schools have a growing opportunity to incorporate some of the business skills building programs and certifications into their degree programs.
Work begins with community discussions about new learning priorities – especially key skills for entry and success in the new economy. It continues with the learners who have multiple opportunities to develop and demonstrate new skills. And it ends up with learners being hired based on their knowledge and skills.