Deep Dives

Skills-Based Hiring Is the Right First Step for Building Equity and Opportunity for Young Talent

October 21, 2022
Elyse Rosenblum
Founder and Managing Director
Grads of Life
Skills-Based Hiring Is the Right First Step for Building Equity and Opportunity for Young Talent

Skills-based hiring is the first step for creating what America really needs—which is a truly inclusive and equitable workforce where all types of talent and learners can thrive. In the past few years, it has been inspiring to see so many employers start to embrace skills-based hiring. A skills-based approach to hiring prioritizes a candidate’s practical skills rather than college pedigree. 

This is an exciting shift that aims to reshape the labor market and increase economic opportunity for historically excluded talent. However, it will require not only employers to shift their talent practices but will also require young talent to be able to leverage their skills and lived experience in the job market. 

This provides a unique opportunity for SEL professionals to step in. Incorporating SEL fundamentals, such as social and self-awareness can help young talent develop strong communication and interpersonal relationship skills that are so critical in a skills-based economy. CASEL’s framework, which emphasizes self-awareness and self-management, will also help learners view and position their life experiences and traits as marketable skills that traditional educational degrees might miss. 

The transformative element that the skills-based movement requires is a cultural shift, one where the most marginalized among us are not perpetually swept aside and left out of economic mobility. 

More than two years have passed since many companies proclaimed “Black Lives Matter” and made statements declaring they would significantly increase their diversity and inclusion. We have seen tremendous momentum and leadership from companies toward these goals through the formation of employer-led coalitions and collectives. But amid progress, there is still poor representation in positions that earn family-sustaining wages. The American dream remains out of reach for all but a small segment of the population: Only about 44 percent of U.S. families earn an income high enough to cover their family’s living expenses, according to the Brookings Institute.

This is not simply meritocracy at work. This is a reflection of how the talents of people of color and people without four-year degrees have been overlooked—and how that approach has hurt our communities and companies’ ability to meet workforce needs. The support for skills-based hiring should not be viewed as a short-term solution for labor shortages, but a comprehensive approach that acknowledges historical barriers and is led by a robust diversity, equity and inclusion strategy. 

Grads of Life is one of the architects of the movement to build inclusive and equitable business practices. Our mission is to help close the gap between people historically excluded from the workforce and employers in demand of talent. 

Our research has found that skills-based hiring has the power to realize greater economic possibility and prosperity for communities and companies, by expanding the talent pool. To date, four-year degree requirements have restricted access to family-sustaining jobs for millions of Americans, including 76 percent of Black talent and 83 percent of Latinx talent. Restoring their candidacy is a moral imperative. It is also a pragmatic one, given that hiring based on skills is five times more predictive of future performance than hiring for education. 

Increasingly, companies are embracing this shift, by engaging in partnerships such as OneTen, a coalition of CEOs and companies committed to placing 1 million Black Americans into family-sustaining, American jobs over the next 10 years. Other employers are participating in the Business Roundtable’s Multiple Pathways Initiative, which focuses on skills-based practice broadly as well as the advancement of racial equity in the workplace. 

Now is the time to accelerate and mainstream the implementation of skills-based hiring, while also creating a workplace culture that supports the retention and advancement of people of color. Grads of Life is committed to this mission and believes companies have the power to drive change across the country through intentional business practices. Here are steps business leaders should consider to drive racial and economic equity through employment: 

  • Building effective talent partnerships to source, train, and connect diverse talent
  • Mitigating bias in hiring and promotion by standardizing interview questions and evaluation rubrics to assess required and preferred skills
  • Emphasizing career pathways, executive sponsorship programs (credible leaders to advocate for promotions), and cultural competency training for managers
  • Creating spaces for constructive feedback and supporting a culture of inclusion

While these practices alone will not guarantee an equitable and inclusive workplace, they are essential steps in creating the foundation for a more representative, stronger business sector. Companies should build upon the momentum they have created and leverage their power to advance justice for people who have been left behind for far too long and create a more sustainable American economy that works for all learners.

Elyse Rosenblum co-founded Grads of Life, an initiative of Year Up focused on leveraging the power of the private sector to close the Opportunity Divide in America. With more than two decades in the field, she is a thought leader and a key architect of the strategy to advance the inclusive employment movement. 

The views in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of CASEL.

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