Skills-based Hiring: a New Model for Recruitment

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You may have seen it before, either while on the hunt for a new job or while writing up a job description: a bachelor’s degree and five-plus years’ experience in a specific role required for a junior to mid-level position. This can be an incredible barrier to career opportunities. Not only are the costs of a tertiary qualification beyond the means of many, but there’s also the catch-22 situation of needing experience to land a job while needing a job to gain the experience.

More and more recruiters are seeing the potential flaws in this hiring model and are making the switch to a new method: skills-based hiring.


What is skills-based hiring?

Skills-based hiring is an approach that focuses on a job applicant’s practical skills and performance instead of their formal qualifications. It encourages employers to focus on the skill requirements for a job. Employers assess candidates’ skill sets rather than their qualifications or previous job experience. As long as a person has the skills necessary to perform a job, how they acquired those skills ultimately doesn’t matter.

By screening potential employees based on qualifications or specific job experience alone, hiring managers are missing out on a vast talent pool of people who are perfectly capable of doing the required job. There are millions of STARs (people who are Skilled Through Alternative Routes) out there able to fill vacancies. STARs have picked up a plethora of skills through apprenticeships, internships, or certificate programmes, but are arbitrarily blocked from employment because they lack a three- or four-year degree or specific workplace experience.

Advantages of skills-based hiring

Perhaps the biggest advantage of adopting a skills-based hiring strategy is that HR managers are allowing themselves access to a much larger pool of candidates. Once you eliminate required tertiary education qualifications from job postings and begin screening candidates based on competencies, you’ll not only guarantee that you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to hiring, but you’ll also be certain to find the best possible applicant for the position.

This approach can also help an organisation build diversity as minorities and the economically disadvantaged are less likely to hold tertiary degrees than majorities  and the privileged. In a country such as South Africa, hiring for skills rather than qualifications can help youths without a university education who have acquired their skills through free online courses get a foot in the door. Focusing on skills, not degrees, throws the gates wide open for new economic players to join the workforce.

Skills-based hiring may improve employee retention in the workplace, too. Research by LinkedIn shows that employees without traditional three- or four-year tertiary degrees stay in their positions 34% longer than those with said qualifications. If a job is positively aligned to an employee’s key skill strengths, the employee is likely to be more satisfied, engaged and loyal as they find a greater sense of purpose in their work.


Job descriptions and interviews reimagined

Skills-based hiring begins with the job description. Instead of placing the emphasis on job requirements, spend more time fleshing out job responsibilities. Ease up on that laundry list of experience and qualifications and expand on what kind of performance you expect from the new employee and what skills they’ll use on a daily basis.

Emphasising the skills you desire and the applicant’s ability to perform certain tasks attracts talent without unnecessary barriers to entry, such as that pricey three-year bachelor’s degree. LinkedIn data revealed that in the US job descriptions that focused on responsibilities over requirements received 14% more applications per view than the reverse.

When it comes to assessing candidates, remain focused on skills and the assessments that can measure them. From hard skill evaluations such as coding tests to innovative soft skill assessments to job auditions, there are a number of of ways to determine a candidate’s ability to perform without resorting to their education or experience as the most important stand-ins.

By revisiting and tweaking the screening process for potential new hires, organisations can ensure candidates have the right skills for the job, regardless of their qualifications.


Author: Rob Ewart

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