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Skills To Pay the Bills: Why Skills Matter More Than Credentials When Hiring

Cornerstone Editors

The skills gap is a big problem — one that federal lawmakers and employers alike are eager to close. Despite a 6.7 percent unemployment rate, the Aspen Institute reports that more than three million U.S. jobs are unfilled.

Why? Pundits point to a dearth of skills in today's workforce. But there's another budding school of thought: recruiters are looking at the wrong qualifications when assessing job candidates.

The classic resume — replete with GPAs and Ivy League or city college credentials — is a thing of the past, some talent managers argue. Instead, recruiters must focus on the actual skills that candidates offer.

Skills-based Hiring in Action

Consider Google: company recruiters used to ask candidates for transcripts, GPAs and test scores — before concluding they were "worthless" for hiring purposes, Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations at Google, told the New York Times. Up to 14 percent of team members at Google never attended college, according to Bock.

Today, Google evaluates candidates using behavioral interviewing, where past behavior is seen as a leading indicator of future behavior. A candidate's experience leading projects or introducing a better work process are valued above brute intelligence.

Wade Foster agrees with Google's focus on behavior. "A list of credentials shows how well a person can maneuver through a bureaucratic system," says Foster, CEO of Zapier, a webapp-automation service, "but it’s a poor predictor of success."

How One Program Is Rethinking Skills-based Hiring

While Obama wants to close the skills gap by revamping job training programs, the private sector is taking a different approach. The Gates Foundation, for example, is partnering with Innovate+Educate to promote "skills-based hiring." Employers develop a skills-based credential system based on what they’re looking for, and candidates take tests to demonstrate a skill and can receive training if they don’t pass the test, according to Business Insider.

The endeavor, dubbed the "New Options Project," is billed as a win-win. Candidates find jobs that allow them to apply their skill set, and employers recruit new employees that require 50 percent less time to train and are up to 75 percent less likely to quit, according to Innovate+Educate. Bill Gates, who didn't graduate from college before co-founding Microsoft, tells Fast Company that the idea behind New Options Project is to create "a skills-based credential that is well trusted and well understood enough that employers view it as a true alternative to a degree."

Three Fields Where Skills and Degrees Are Battling it Out

  • Business: MBAs and their non-degreed peers have long argued about the value of a graduate degree in business. Proponents of the MBA say it's a requisite for any aspiring business leader, and virtually guarantees a great job with a high salary. Critics counter that business school is a waste of money and doesn't give aspiring business professionals the specialized knowledge they need to succeed. Mariana Zanetti, author of The MBA Bubble, suggests that wannabe MBAs need only to apply to the top schools, decline any acceptances and then put the acceptance on their resumes. The effect would be the same, she asserts.

  • Cybersecurity: A credential as a Certified Information Systems Security Professional may get pats on the back in the digital security field, but it's not a ticket to a job, says Philip Reitinger, chief information security officer for Sony Corp. A candidate's technical skills and reputation matter more, he says. "If they know their way around a kernel, and they can tell me about buffer overruns and different ways to attach and they’ve got the skills to get the job done, they’ve got a job," explains Reitinger.

  • STEM: Science, technology, engineering or mathematics degrees are often seen as the brass ring leading to a golden future of high employment and early retirement. But the statistics suggest otherwise: only 43 percent of employees in a so-called STEM field have STEM degrees, according to the Commerce Department report. "The large majority of STEM workers who lack a bachelor’s degree in STEM actually lack a bachelor’s degree in any subject," according to a Huffington Post story about the report. Cue Bill Gates.

Image via Can Stock Photo

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Driving business outcomes from an investment in learning content requires an engagement strategy that makes learning materials available and accessible to employees. Organisations need to launch and maintain learning programmes effectively to ensure they have maximum impact on both employees and the business as a whole. Both Ageas and Electrolux have successfully launched digital learning programmes, each taking steps to maintain and sustain engagement. How did Electrolux prepare to launch its learning campaign? Electrolux manages organizational learning and knowledge management with formal learning networks, Internet-based knowledge, as well as a company-own education facility. Learner engagement is one of the most important aspects for Electrolux to continuously develop talents. Therefore, Electrolux offers a plan for a learner engagement campaign that includes four main steps. 1. Knowing your audience Electrolux conducted interviews with employees to ensure the company’s learning and development strategy would meet their needs. In doing so, the company was able to connect learning content with the right audience. 2. Connecting it to your brand Electrolux believes using familiar, consistent branding helps make learning more memorable to create a long-term impact on its employees' behaviours. 3. Make it relevant and engaging Based on external and internal insights, Electrolux discovered that more frequent quarterly learner programmes cultivated higher levels of employee engagement than one large campaign launch. Employees were also awarded badges for each completed course, with leader boards to gamify the learning experience and motivate employees to participate. 4. Track performance for key insights Electrolux tracked and used metrics from the programme to gain deeper insights about its course completion rates. Using a previous campaign as a benchmark, Electrolux found that the success of their new learning strategy exceeded expectations. How did Ageas build an impactful learning content strategy? Ageas launched its digital learning platform two years ago but has always been conscious not to overwhelm employees with its vast library of learning material available. Ageas adopted a three-pillar strategy to reduce unnecessary noise and guide its people to the right learning content to spur their growth and development. 1. Generate one voice Key messages were planned each month from business, wellbeing and learning perspectives. These key messages were conveyed through links and content shared on Ageas’s digital platform to ensure messaging was aligned and consistent. 2. Make it relevant Ageas created its own competency framework to guide learners and help connect them with the most relevant learning materials. One such framework is “Technical Heroes”, which consists of nine core competencies that employees see right away on the landing page, each with links to relevant materials. By specifying the key areas of development and making learning material easy to access and navigate, learners are able to focus on what is most relevant to them. 3. Weave learning content into the digital onboarding journey Ageas has integrated its remote onboarding processes into the digital learning platform. Leveraging a combination of suggested learning materials (specific to the job or function of the employee) and live induction sessions has enabled a smoother, more consistent onboarding process. The impact of a successful learning strategy Investing in the best learning materials is only half of the equation. If learners are not interacting and engaging with the materials, the investment is not accomplishing its purpose. Learning must be at the core of every business decision, and leaders must inspire employees to take charge of their own development journeys. With a collective growth mindset throughout the business, the opportunities for innovation are vast.

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