Bill Gates Joins New Options in Advocating for Skills-Based Hiring

It’s not where you’ve been; it’s what you can do, and what you can learn to do.  That is what the New Options Project and its partner Innovate+Educate in New Mexico have been working to prove.  We understand that no matter what path a young person has journeyed, possessing career-focused skills equips that individual to succeed in the workplace. Many employers will agree with this, but even in 2013, not all of them understand how to implement this thinking into their hiring processes.

This disconnect is evident in our current employment landscape: Despite the unemployment rate, many employers still struggle to fill open positions—more than 3 million employers across the U.S. cannot find enough degreed or qualified candidates with the skills for the job—and many others find the employee they’ve hired turns out to be unable to do the work for the position. This significant economic and human resource issue is one of the motivations behind our work at New Options.  We, along with our partners, are creating a paradigm shift by thinking differently about talent and viewing young adults, overlooked by traditional hiring methods, as economic assets, not social liabilities. A focus on demonstrated skills versus credentials is key to this paradigm shift, and fortunately, the national emphasis on skills is growing.  Some of the leading voices in education and business—including Bill Gates, the Aspen Institute and the White House—have spoken out and implemented programs bolstering skill-building and skill-based hiring as a means to reshape a broken employment system. If state agencies, advocacy groups, think tanks and industries act on this new way of thinking, we could be on the cusp of real change in the opportunities available for skilled, out-of-school young adults to enter and advance in the workplace.

So what is skills-based hiring, and how are groups beginning to create change?

Skills-based hiring is the act of incorporating tangible and objective measures of skills and skill level into the hiring process. Whereas hiring has traditionally relied on degrees, resumes and experience to predict a candidate’s potential to succeed on the job, skills-based hiring relies on evidence of demonstrated abilities measured by specific skills assessments. With skills-based hiring, employers can open their talent pools and discover highly skilled candidates who may not have been identified through traditional hiring methods. 

The results speak for themselves: “Employers who have incorporated skills-based hiring into their practices have seen a 25-75% reduction in turnover, 50-70% reduction in time to hire, 70% reduction in cost-to-hire and a 50% reduction in time to train,” says Dr. Merrilea Mayo, Chief Information & Research Officer for Innovate+Educate. “Ultimately, skills-based hiring is five times more predictive of success on the job than hiring by degree alone.”

Perhaps most important, this method is a game-changer in equity, as skills development allows for any individual to measure and improve their skills, and then demonstrate skill level regardless of past education or work experience.

New Options’ partner Innovate+Educate is a leader in developing systems for skill-building and skills-based hiring. Innovate+Educate’s goal is to create career pathways for young adults by connecting them with employers that need talented employees.  Their strategy has been to work directly with communities and regions to develop a skills-based credentialing system for youth and employers, partly through the use of skill assessments that measure a candidate’s critical thinking skills, or the ability to take multiple pieces of new information and determine a solution. Students and non-students alike can apply for jobs by submitting their “skill scores” along with their resume. This means that when employers post jobs with required skills that can be objectively measured through assessments, there is greater transparency, allowing both the employer and the candidate to know the candidate is qualified. To ensure this skilled-based ecosystem is effective, Innovate+Educate also trains HR staff to advertise job openings by skill score and match applicants’ submitted scores to the jobs they have available.  In addition to working with employers, Innovate+Educate works with partners to provide “skill up” resources to help job-seekers improve their scores so that they are able to compete more effectively in the job market.

Through support from the New Options Project, Innovate+Educate’s model is experiencing great traction. The City of Albuquerque has recognized the value of skills-based hiring and has partnered with Innovate+Educate to implement the WorkKeys skills assessment into its Talent Albuquerque jobs program; many City jobs now require that eligible applicants earn a minimum WorkKeys assessment score. Following Innovate+Educate’s holistic model, for applicants who don’t score as high as they’d like, a free online training program is offered.  Central New Mexico Community College and other partners help applicants improve their job scores. Innovate+Educate CEO Jamai Blivin says that some of the most important success stories have come from at-risk youth who previously didn’t qualify for jobs for lack of a degree.

Some of the best minds in education reform and business agree with this vision. Most recently, Bill Gates touted the benefits of skills-based hiring in an interview published in Fast Company:

"Another dream would be to revolutionize [student] self-assessment, so that in any area--math, psychology, economics, whatever--you could assess your skills and know what you may need to learn. The ideal there is creating a skills-based credential that is well trusted and well understood enough that employers view it as a true alternative to a degree. You could unbundle the idea of "Where did you get this knowledge?" from "What knowledge do you have?"

                                                                                  -Bill Gates in Fast Company

What Mr. Gates refers to as a dream is already a reality in Innovate+Educate’s model. (Innovate+Educate responded to Mr. Gates in the cover story of the May issue of Innovation Intake. This issue also includes an important infographic depicting the relationship between high school graduation rates, job qualification requirements and employment statistics.)

Other groups in the movement are implementing important programs. For example, the Aspen Institute’s Skills for America’s Future, which fosters relationships between employers and community colleges to bolster job-focused skill-building, has grown tremendously since it was first introduced by President Obama in 2010. In the past few years, it has served as a powerful voice for job training and has helped create or expand partnerships between more than 40 employers and 200 community colleges across the country. The National Skills Coalition shares a related mission, bringing together stakeholders and supporting policies that advance opportunities for Americans to build skills through vocational training programs and career pathways. The Coalition recognizes that skills equip both workers and industries to compete and prosper. Industry members of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) have come together to endorse portable, nationally recognized credentials—what they call “stackable” credentials—verifying the core or basic workplace skills and cross-cutting manufacturing skills necessary for individuals to succeed in manufacturing jobs.

A growing momentum, indeed. But is it enough?

My colleagues and I are passionate about creating connections between employers and the untapped talent young people have to offer. In order for these connections to be successful, it’s crucial that both young adults and employers have a way to measure and communicate about skills. This growing momentum surrounding skills is significant and promising, but the key lies in acting boldly and broadly on our common vision.

Have you had experience with skills training programs or skills-based hiring?  Tell us about it over Twitter. 

*The views expressed in the posts and comments on this page are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the New Options Project® or the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.


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