Achieving Equity by Focusing On Skills

The application of skill-based hiring increases talent pools significantly, battling the current labor shortage with more inclusive employment.

by Preethi Mangadu

Published July 10, 2023 via CLO Media


Traditionally, people say that the best path to find a successful career is to have a degree and to have work experience for “X” amount of years. While this has been the path for decades, the current talent pool is not suited for this traditional approach.

This is especially true as we come out of the pandemic where the number of people who obtained college degrees declined, and as Generation Z enters the workforce with a more freelance mindset than previous generations. Certain groups within each talent pool cycle have also been historically limited against opportunities and benefits like women and people without bachelor’s degrees.

In fact, 70 percent of United States jobs require a bachelor’s degree while only 30 percent of the workforce has a degree — and out of those without degrees, there are 72 percent of black workers, 79 percent of Hispanic workers and 79 percent of rural workers, says Sue Duke, ​​vice president and head of global public policy & economic graph. Employers and leaders will have to start meeting the talent pool where it is. This is when skills-based hiring comes into play.

Skills-based hiring

Skills-based hiring emphasizes hiring workers based on their related practical skills, potential and competencies. This will not only provide more opportunities for underrepresented and overlooked groups but also help battle the current labor shortage that leaders face while committing to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. In fact, according to LinkedIn’s Report, “Skills-First: Reimagining the Labor Market and Breaking Down Barriers,” when adopting a skills-first approach, the talent pool increases on average 10x per industry.

This approach can also increase the talent pool significantly for overlooked groups. For example, “in jobs that currently have low female representation, the number of women in the talent pool typically increases by 8x, which is 24 percent higher than the increase for men in the same jobs,” according to the report. This is also true for the candidate pools of people without bachelor’s degrees, which increases 9x, and younger generations, which grows over 10x for Gen Z. This can also help tap into other nontraditional pipelines such as veterans who don’t have a four-year degree, or individuals who go to technical schools. In the United States alone, the talent pool would increase 20x, Duke says.

There are many methods to skills-based hiring. One is looking at and assessing job descriptions, job postings and promotional opportunities to see if they provide enough reach and opportunity to the modern candidate pool.

“Those three areas are where you can remove four-year degrees where they’re not necessary for specialty type roles or special skills that are needed, such as lawyers or doctors,” says Michelle Sims, CEO of YUPRO Placement. “We’re not throwing away the four-year degree by any means. We’re saying, ‘Are there transferable skills of the 70 million Americans that have earned certifications, have been in internships, have been in apprenticeships or have industry-recognized certifications through nonprofit workforce programs?’”

Having transferable skills listed in job descriptions and postings helps recruitment efforts to find more qualified candidates that previously had different jobs that shared skills. According to the LinkedIn report, there are currently 17x more people working in jobs with similar skills from a past position than one specific experience or role.

Championing skills-based L&D

Skills-based hiring isn’t just a solution that you can implement one day and expect to fix your organization’s labor shortage automatically. “This approach is equitable only when the process is used the same way for all applicants for a given role,” says Rosina Racioppi, president and CEO at WOMEN Unlimited Inc. “The strategy does not create equity, the application of the process does.”

Applying this process has to come from organizational leadership through championing skills-based learning and development. Championing of skills-based hiring should start with leadership in organizations, Sims said. When leadership doesn’t support this approach or has a skills-first mindset, the rest of the company will not support its application of it. The LinkedIn report lists that leadership in the company needs to understand the skills your organization has and must embrace skills-first hiring practices, externally and internally and develop employees to grow with your company.

To assist with that, both the talent acquisition and L&D teams need to help create a mindset and approach to reducing bias in hiring before skill-based hiring can fully be applied. “L&D can build in culture and mindset through training and awareness of what it means to be inclusive, and part of that is accepting folks for the skills that they have, and not necessarily where they got them,” Sims says.

L&D can specifically help drive this mindset through unconscious bias training and mentorship programs, which can also bring awareness, community and inclusion to the company. Sims also says L&D should partner with workforce development in their cities to tap into talent in their communities, bringing in internships, contracts, apprenticeship programs and more to reinforce that skills-based hiring strategy and culture.

The future of a skills-based mindset 

A holistic skills-based approach only works if the company has an internal mindset of growth and provides opportunities for employees to keep learning. By providing internal career guidance and ways to upskill employees, employee retention and internal mobility excels. “What we see is that on average, companies who do upskill and retrain their employees, employees at those companies stay almost twice as long as companies that don’t,” Duke says. “So it’s going to be an extremely beneficial approach not only for hiring for existing roles [and] hiring for future roles, but also retaining your top talent.”

While it will take some time to get used to, skills-based hiring and learning provides many benefits for employees and companies, including talent pool increases, employee retention and upskilled employees. Leadership and management should assess their companies and positions before implementing, but a skills-first approach could ultimately benefit the job market globally.

“It’s a world of opportunity that includes all workers who have the skills. We have a labor market right now that is inefficient, that’s not transparent and that’s not succeeding and matching the right talent to the right opportunity,” Duke says. “We move to a skills first hiring approach, and that changes suddenly. We have a world where we are able to match the right talent to the right opportunities because we’re doing it specifically on the basis of skills.”