Are skills-based hiring and reskilling the future of work?
Hiring 5 minute read

Are skills-based hiring and reskilling the future of work?

Megan Orr | April 22, 2021

If the last year has taught us anything—and it has taught us a lot—it’s that nothing is a given and flexibility is crucial. That’s why there’s a growing trend of skills-based hiring, where employers want candidates who have specific skills that meet the demands of the job, but with a particular emphasis on teachability.

Emerging talent strategies are focusing on adaptability and growth, with skills-based hiring increasing in popularity. 

Skills-based hiring means focusing on the specific skill sets that people have, rather than number of years experience or formal education. These may include hard skills such as math or Excel, or soft skills such as creativity and time management. The thinking behind skills-based hiring is that “employees screened to match a defined skillset are easier to train, tend to have a better understanding of their job and role within the company, and are less expensive to onboard overall than their traditionally sourced peers”.

A skills-based workforce is one that is adept at reskilling or retraining. Employees understand that a single role, department, company, and entire marketplace can change suddenly and that they need to be able to adapt to changes. 

The key to skills-based hiring is that rather than “seeing your workforce as a static group of people assigned to specific roles, it’s important to view it as a collective mix of skills, perspective, experiences, and technologies that work together to drive your business”.

Analyzing your organization as a whole can help you identify skill gaps, and that’s where you should focus your hiring efforts. 

Many organizations have biases and blind spots, especially when it comes to hiring. That’s why it’s so important to assess candidates for both culture fit (do they align with your values, work ethic, creative style, etc.) as well as culture add (how do they add value to your organization with their unique skills and perspectives). 

Performing a skill-gap analysis is a great method to identify skill gaps and start working towards skills-based hiring, as well as reskilling current employees. Skill-gap analyses can either be performed internally through HR or externally through an independent consultant. The analysis can include surveys, performance review feedback, interviews with employees.

Skills-based hiring also means re-thinking job descriptions, putting a greater emphasis on skills rather than on education and experience. 

A focus on skills doesn’t mean that education and experience become irrelevant, but simply that they aren’t factors that weed out potentially great candidates. SHRM notes that “often, a candidate’s proficiencies are not assessed until the final round of interviews—too late for nondegreed job seekers who decided not to apply based on a position’s educational requirements, or for candidates who are screened out by recruiters or applicant tracking system algorithms”.

In the age of the internet, many people who previously didn’t thrive in traditional learning environments are now able to teach themselves online at their own pace. However, hiring hasn’t changed to reflect these new learning models, with formal education (such as a bachelor's or master’s degree) still being a gatekeeper for many roles. 

Having a degree is not a guarantee of competency. For example, in a competition for a bookkeeping role, a candidate with a business degree may not have the same level of understanding of Quickbooks as someone who taught themselves how to use the bookkeeping application through online tutorials. Candidates who are skilled and self-taught will likely show a high level of adaptability and have a growth mindset—both desirable traits to have and to hire.

You can also focus efforts on reskilling current employees to fill skill gaps, thereby working from your own talent pool to create a stronger team. 

Research shows that organizations that focus on learning and development and promote internally rather than hiring externally “are 32% more likely to be satisfied” with the candidate who fills the role. Investing in employee development is crucial to employee happiness, with 42% of millennial employees saying that being able to grow at a company is their number one priority. 

However, many employers still feel that investing in training is a waste of time and resources, even though research shows that “87 percent of executives said they were experiencing skill gaps in the workforce or expected them within a few years”. Understandably, with COVID-19 being the predominant concern for businesses this past year, companies felt that they needed to focus on ‘staying the course’ rather than working to improve the employee experience or invest in their employees’ futures (since the future of the company itself was and still could be in question). 

Forbes notes how, in the long run, “upskilling and reskilling programs can improve employee engagement and retention, attract new talent, increase collaboration between departments and speed up the adoption of new trends within the company”. Creating well-rounded employees through reskilling initiatives improves the employee experience overall and creates other significant advantages for the company itself:

  • Employees who feel that their wellbeing and development have been invested in are more likely to stay longer with a company, with 70% of employees surveyed indicating that “job-related training and development opportunities influenced their decision to stay at their job”.
  • Employees will become brand advocates for your company if you treat them well and care about their professional growth. They are more likely to speak highly of your organization, whether or not they stay long-term. 
  • Proficient employees that are highly-skilled in their role and adaptable also just make you look good, whether it’s at a networking event, a conference, or when they move onto a new role. Conversely, having employees (or former employees) that are not well-trained or reskillable can reflect poorly on your organization.

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