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Still struggling with finding talent? Try casting a wider net

Now is the time to change your expectations for what new employees should bring to an open role.

[Source photo: Guilherme Rossi/Pexels]

In February, U.S. President Biden announced in a State of the Union address his ambitious new proposal that would throw the weight of the federal government behind efforts to expand hiring and recruiting efforts beyond people with college degrees. The idea of hiring workers “based on skills and not just … their degrees” received similar attention during the Trump Administration and has long enjoyed bipartisan support.

Many employers will cheer this latest proposal. As the economy continues to recover and companies are expanding now that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be behind us, talent is in extremely short supply because workers are quitting their jobs for new opportunities at a historic rate. In 2021 alone, about 47 million Americans were part of this mass job exodus.

Against this backdrop, a caricature of desperate employers has emerged. Indeed, the constant talent turnstile is enough to make any recruiter dizzy. At a time when the average cost-per-hire exceeds $4,400 according to Zippia, the cost of the Great Resignation is weighing on employers. But maybe there’s another way employers and the human resources management profession should look at this challenge. Perhaps, this time of great upheaval actually be a blessing in disguise.

A constant refrain of the past year is that it’s hard to find talent. That’s true for those companies using the same old recruiting tactics. Many businesses still rely on a traditional “post and pray” strategy, then pick people with the same majors, colleges or set of career experiences as all of their previous hires.

In today’s highly competitive job market, recruitment must be even more intentional. For savvy hiring managers, the Great Resignation is actually a once-in-an-era opportunity to do two things: change the expectations for what new employees bring to the job, and expand where to look for talent. For companies looking to recalibrate their hiring expectations, that doesn’t mean standards should be lowered. Instead, companies must look beyond the usual signifiers of major, school and prior experience. To me, the resume is an archaic and crude composite of a person’s accomplishments. It doesn’t show the knowledge or skills a job candidate might bring with them. Too often, a resume is a tool used to exclude in a world where inclusion is now prized.

Instead of relying primarily on resumes and college degrees, a growing number of companies have embraced skills-based hiring that considers what employees can actually do and gives job opportunities to previously overlooked people. At Accenture and IBM, for instance, fewer than 30% of their job listings for software quality-assurance engineers required applicants to have a college degree.

This tracks with a recent Indeed report, which found that even though 75% of employers currently require a college degree for their open positions—59% are open to removing it in the future.  

It’s also important for hiring managers to consider life experiences. New employees who haven’t followed the traditional high school-to-college-to-career path can bring valuable alternate perspectives to any business setting. Research from the civic organization, Opportunity@Work, suggests the consequences of not doing so can be profound: Tens of millions of workers who are skilled through alternative routes have been locked out of higher-earning roles simply because they lack a degree.

For candidates who show talent and promise but lack some experience or know-how, companies would be wise to consider last-mile training programs. There are millions of people who could become valuable employees despite gaps in their work histories due to health issues, relocations or child or family care responsibilities. Similarly, those with experiences in other industries can bring fresh perspective to their roles. Understanding the value of potential, employers are casting wider nets and are increasingly willing to commit to on the job training to bridge skills gaps. In the most highly-competitive job market for businesses in recent memory (with more than 11 million job openings across the country at the start of 2022), companies absolutely must search for untapped pools of talent.

One such source is community colleges, where roughly a quarter of the nation’s postsecondary students are enrolled. Numerous talent pipelines, such as the one built by Jobs for the Future’s latest talent initiative, can bring these traditionally overlooked but highly skilled workers directly to companies from career and technical education programs at two-year colleges. Community college students provide a wealth of diversity—in age, race and ethnicity, personal background and work experience—that can help companies thrive in a rapidly changing world.

To slow the spin of the talent turnstile, hiring managers also should support and develop their current employees. A few companies are doing just that: AmazonJPMorgan Chase and Prudential (through its digital Skills Accelerator and Talent Marketplace) have launched major upskilling and reskilling opportunities for their own employees. Training workers in new techniques and new technologies shows that companies are invested in employee success that in turn make people feel supported at work.

Upskilling and reskilling that can lead to advancement and better pay also can be crucial pieces of the recruitment and retention puzzle. A recent survey from telecommunications firm, Amdocs, found that 90% of jobseekers said it’s very important for companies to offer strong training and upskilling programs, while nearly two-thirds of workers would leave their jobs because of a lack of career development.

None of this is to say that the value of a degree itself is declining—quite the opposite. Instead, the way that we have historically interpreted the degree as a proxy for fit and job readiness is out of date. Employers who emerge stronger from the Great Resignation will be those that focus less on credentials and more on the potential of unproven and overlooked talent. As companies look for new sources of workers with an equitable process that puts people at the center of business strategy, they might erase some of the bias inadvertently perpetuated by traditional recruiting and hiring approaches.

In some ways, the Great Resignation is really a clever term for a time when more workers are reassessing their options, but it’s also a time when hiring managers should reassess how they recruit talent. By changing their expectations, expanding their recruiting efforts and tapping into new sources of talent, companies soon might be counting their blessings.


Adam Wray is the founder and CEO of AstrumU, a startup using machine learning to predict education’s value on the labor market. Before founding AstrumU, he was a founder and senior leader at various companies focused on data analytics, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence. More

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