Hiring for Skills vs. Hiring for Education

by Chelsea Jensen, MBA, SHRM-SCP, PHR, Human Resource Services

Bulletin,  Hiring,  HR Expertise and Support

As technology changes the nature of our workforce, people are gaining skills through various experiences—on-the-job training, online learning, apprenticeships, tech boot camps, to name a few. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics data, about one-fourth of the labor force has a bachelor’s degree only, and 15 percent has attained an advanced degree. Of those, 11 percent have a master’s degree, two percent have a professional degree (law, medical, dental, etc.), and two percent have a doctoral degree (Ph.D., Ed.D, etc.). That’s a lot of potential candidates employers could be missing by requiring a degree. It may be beneficial for employers to start shifting their hiring practices to include hiring for skills vs. education, especially with the low unemployment rates making it difficult for businesses to find skilled talent.

Some of the benefits of hiring without a degree are clear: diversify your organization’s talent pool, reduce biases, increase diversity, and focus on attributes that positively correlate with strong job performance. All that said, there will always be certain positions that do require a degree. For example, in most states, individuals must have a four-year degree to take the certified public accountant (CPA) exam. A degree may be necessary if the job skills are learned in school. For most jobs, however, skills and previous relevant experience are much better predictors of success than having a particular degree. A maintenance engineer, for example, does not learn how to fix a boiler in school; they learn that on the job.

To adopt skills-based hiring practices, you need first to identify the competencies (knowledge, skills, and abilities) a candidate needs for the specific role for which you’re hiring. When you define competencies for your job, think about the essential tasks a new hire will need to do, or current employee does for the job. From here, define the skills that person will need to perform those tasks successfully. Make sure to be specific: if you’re looking for someone to manage a team of 20, that person needs to have skills in project management, communication, judgment, and decision making. Be very clear what the competency is as well as the context in which the competency will be used on the job.

Below are a few helpful steps:

  • Define the job duties of those in the same position and future responsibilities.
  • Connect the duties to the knowledge or skills someone must possess to achieve their tasks. Leverage O*net data as an excellent resource to gather information.
  • Define what each competency means to each specific position in terms of knowledge, skill, and ability.
  • Confirm these competencies and descriptions with those employees that are currently successful in the role and their managers/supervisors.

By leveraging skills vs. education-based hiring, you’ll be able to predict future needs and react to changes that come with new technology while upskilling your workforce to adapt to a rapidly changing economy. You need a workforce that fits your organization’s needs, so defining the skills your employees need to achieve your organization goals is more important than ever.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to Employers Council to discuss how skills-based hiring could potentially help your organization’s recruiting efforts.

About the author
Chelsea Jensen, MBA, SHRM-SCP, PHR, Human Resource Services

Chelsea is a consultant in Employers Council's Human Resource Services department. She works with employers on issues such as policy development, employee relations, and benefits. She also conducts training for HR and management professionals. Prior to her work at the Council, Chelsea was a Benefits Specialist at a large bank in Buffalo, NY. She received her MBA with a concentration in Human Resources from Niagara University located near Niagara Falls, NY. Chelsea has been certified by the Society for Human Resource Management as a Certified Professional (SHRM-CP).