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Considerations in Skills-Based Hiring

Heather Salko, Esq.
September 2022
Skills-based hiring at your institution can help reduce barriers to employment while increasing diversity and accessibility.

Many institutions are struggling to fill open jobs, which is further straining their already burdened workforce. As K-12 schools, colleges, and universities try to provide some relief, one promising approach is skills-based hiring. This involves expanding the available talent pool by eliminating rigid traditional degree requirements for certain jobs and focusing on an applicant’s actual skill set.

Recently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) encouraged employers to look to skills-based hiring as part of the commission’s HIRE initiative. The EEOC believes skills-based hiring can increase diversity and accessibility, and help reduce barriers to employment based on:

  • Race
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • Other protected characteristics

Given the potential for reducing employment discrimination liability while widening the pool of job candidates, use the following guidance to determine if  skills-based hiring could benefit your institution.

What Is Skills-Based Hiring?

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) defines skills-based hiring as “an approach that concentrates on a candidate’s practical skills and performance rather than formal qualifications.” Skills can include not only technical skills but also experience such as managing projects, problem solving, or implementing protocols. These workers are sometimes referred to as STARs (skilled through alternative routes), and they may possess military experience or alternative credentials to a four-year college degree.

As you expand your view of potential workers available to fill open positions, it is important to get “buy-in” from top administrators and department hiring managers. Help them understand the value of skills-based candidate evaluation rather than simply relying on formal education as a proxy for experience.

Many staff positions are appropriate for a skills-based hiring approach. If you shift hiring practices, consider these issues:

Use Accurate Job Descriptions

Many job descriptions use a degree requirement as a stand-in for desired skills such as time management, organization, and teamwork or collaboration. Revise your position description to accurately reflect the skills you’re seeking and how they will be used on the job.

Review Your Screening Process

Many positions may be screened initially by either an automated program scanning for keywords or by a central Human Resources reviewer who is not the hiring manager. Eliminate requirements that screen out candidates solely on credential requirements and prematurely remove candidates before you discover the skills they possess. Incorporate steps that review job applications and resumes for skills and experience matched against the broad job requirements. If you engage an outside employment placement firm, ask how they determine screening criteria.

Watch Out for Unconscious Bias

When moving to a new hiring approach, help hiring managers understand how to review applicants for skills rather than credentials. Train managers to identify (and overcome) their  unconscious biases relating to education, past job experience, and non-traditional credentials or certifications.

This training can help ensure that candidates are screened and interviewed fairly, especially when the pool also includes those with more traditional college credentials.

Include Internal Candidates

When posting job opportunities, invite internal candidates not typically considered for the position. Cast a wide net and provide them with opportunities to showcase the skills they have learned while working for you.

Some candidates may have a degree in a different field but possess skills and institutional knowledge that are transferrable to the open position.

Provide Skill-Building Opportunities

For new hires and ongoing employees, identify places where employees can expand their skills. This can include on-the-job training opportunities, projects, mentorship by a co-worker or manager, or additional certifications and continuing education.

Building a more skills-based workforce can:

  • Enhance employee retention
  • Allow for cross-departmental or job collaborations
  • Improve efficiencies

Ensure Pay Equity

Be mindful of pay disparity issues that might arise when placing successful skills-based hires into similar positions as those of people who traditionally might command higher salaries because of their four-year college degrees.

A salary differential for a single position may be justifiable based on experience, but consistently paying non-degreed hires less than those employees with a degree could raise legal issues. Consult with legal counsel to navigate potential pay equity issues.

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Additional Resources

EEOC: Skills-Based Hiring — Removing Barriers and Paving Pathways to an Inclusive Workforce

The Burning Glass Institute: The Emerging Degree Reset