Upskilling talent and 5 reasons to look past your top schools and majors

Posted September 01, 2017 by


If recruiters aren’t looking beyond their annual list of campuses, or looking beyond the traditional 4-year graduate, or expanding the short list of majors they actively seek, they could be sinking their own ship.

I am not the first one to point this out. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner says their emphasis moving forward is on “skills, not degrees.” Here are five reasons why talent acquisition professionals need to look beyond their list of top schools and major.

Workforce planning requires life-long learners

Your top colleges or list of required majors may provide you with hires who can put their good skills to work right away. Your workforce, however, will rely increasingly on people who can regularly upskill or even relearn everything in five years. The elite degree or computer science degree that you think you need isn’t a promise of an adaptable employee. If you want to hire for the long-term, look beyond the out-of-the-box talent you get from your top schools and majors. If you prioritize the ability to grow and develop, it’s the on-the-job experience that brings more value to your organization than the courses they took, or the names of the institutions where your employees earned their degrees.

The diversity

When you recruit from the same schools every year, you shouldn’t be surprised when the needle on your diversity meter doesn’t budge. Sourcing from the same places will give the same kinds of candidates. But remember this important point: adding more schools or majors to your list won’t automatically diversify your hires. If you want diversity (and if you care about driving business and profit, you want diversity), everyone from the CEO and talent acquisition leaders to recruiters and hiring managers need to accept a little bit of change in how they do things. It likely means people will need to step outside their comfort zones, and build their confidence in communicating with people from different walks of life. They will need to check in with themselves when they start to feel uncomfortable and ask, “What is making me pause? Is this person clearly not qualified, or is it me that needs to change how I see things?”

The cultural changes you wish to see

If there is anything about your organizational culture that you want to change, you have nothing but your people to help you do this. There are no reset buttons, just people. And going to the same places to hire more of the same kinds of candidates will perpetuate the culture, not change it. It is much easier, and much cheaper, to hire people who have the innate ability to shift your culture just by being who they are, than it is to force your employees through trainings and regularly sic HR on them to change. I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention that your cultural “changers” will only feel comfortable expressing their opinions and making small changes here and there if their opinions are heard and valued. (Enter, Inclusion.)

Recently, in an interaction with senior leadership of a large company, we discussed education level as a part of their identities. Their comments (jokes, that is) made clear that some schools were respectable and the rest were, well…

Is this how your recruiters view candidates? Look at the profiles of the candidates you bring in from your top schools. Have they been well educated? Let’s say yes. Are they well prepared for work? Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say yes.

But are these the right questions? I would argue that your question should be, “Do we have the best people for our jobs?” And if your candidate pool is a fraction of the talent out there, I don’t see how you could know whether you have the best.

PONDER THIS: College Recruiter has delivered thousands of email campaigns to millions of students and grads. We typically see an open rate and click-through rate that is twice that of our competitors. Learn how our expertise can drive more candidates to your career site

The skills gap

The gap lies between the skills required to perform and drive business forward, and the skills that are available in students and recent grads. Until colleges can churn out the quantity of graduates with all the skills needed, upskilling will continue to be a frustrating necessity for employers. Some companies have taken to making significant investments to collaborate with faculty and provide curriculum materials that will better prepare their workforce. These employers have recognized that essentially, colleges and universities will not be able to provide what they need unless employers push them in that direction.

Also read “Recruiting solutions: How EY is preparing students for future workforce”

If your organization, however, doesn’t make that investment (or if you do invest and unfortunately aren’t seeing any change in the students’ preparedness), it would be nonsense to keep mining only in the same pool of schools. Recruiters should expand their reach far beyond their top schools to find the skills they need—not necessarily the degrees, which are, of course, just a widely-accepted proxy.

With digital recruitment marketing diving into the world of pay for performance, talent acquisition leaders should know now that effectively recruiting quality candidates from hundreds of schools does not mean paying for an in-person visit to each one.

The cost of college, and hiring for soft skills

Investing in a 4-year degree is expensiveThe increasing cost of a traditional 4-year degree makes a 1- or 2-year degree look tempting to more and more high school graduates. Plenty of community college students have the soft skills that employers wish they had—an internal drive, integrity, communication skills and the ability to work with diverse teams. And after all, what takes more effort to train: hard skills or soft skills? Managers know the answer is soft skills, so if employers are forced to upskill entry level hires in the necessary hard skills anyway, it only makes sense to hire for those tricky soft skills, which you can find at one- and two-year institutions too.

Related: Apprenticeships are a new way corporate for employers to attract talent

The math is not emotional or convincing. If it were, talent acquisition leaders everywhere wouldn’t find this to be a difficult change. But remember the point I made earlier: effectively recruiting from hundreds of schools does not mean investing in a visit to each one. Strides in digital recruitment marketing bring down the cost of expanding your reach.

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