Talent Mismatches Plaguing Your Team? How Skills-Based Hiring and Upskilling Can Transform Your Organization

The Great Resignation and hiring gap have absolutely been exacerbated by the pandemic, but they are a sign of what’s to come. Skills-based hiring and upskilling will be imperative for companies to acquire the talent they need to keep up. By investing time and resources now, you’ll open the door to a larger contingent of diverse talent and set up your employees and your organization for future growth.

Anna Held
Writer & Editor focused on start-ups and workplace cultures

It’s hard to hire right now. As of fall 2021, there were over one million more job openings than there were job seekers in the US. Employers are working to incentivize prospective employees with perks like tuition reimbursement and flexible work policies, but still, the hiring gap remains. The root cause is complex, including health concerns, care responsibilities, and stagnating wages. The pool has changed, and so has the process. The rate at which unemployed candidates are being hired for jobs is lower than it was pre-pandemic, and it’s taking longer. 


For candidates, there are a lot of jobs, but not all of them are desirable due to factors like pay and flexibility. Employees want to be part of organizations making a social impact, where they too can contribute, and not all companies fit the bill. Tim Brackney, president and COO of management consulting firm RGP, referred to this in a Vox piece as “the great mismatch.” Candidates are mismatched with open roles with factors like skills and experience. He attributes some of this to the rate of innovation in our current workforce. Software and processes change quickly, and being out of the workforce for any significant length of time — like during a pandemic — can make their previous experience seem irrelevant or out of date. And, many of the jobs that have been lost during the pandemic aren’t likely to return. Both sides suffer as a result: Candidates can’t find the right jobs for them, and employers can’t hire the right candidates. 


Skills-based hiring may be a viable solution to the great mismatch. Skills-based hiring is predicated on the idea that many skills are transferable, and that domain-specific knowledge can be learned through training or on the job.

Evaluating candidates based on their skills rather than their education or experience — both of which are bad proxies in predicting success in a new role anyway — can widen and diversify the talent pool, as well as help companies better leverage existing talent. 


This is a departure from existing hiring models, mostly because it requires more up front investment and a deeper understanding of the role itself. It’s easier to scan for years of experience in a similar role than it is to break down tasks into discrete skills. It’s also non-intuitive to discount education and previous experience, even when the data is pretty clear on it.


One significant change in moving to skills-based hiring is the interrogation of what a degree actually means in the context of hiring and job performance. Some roles require formal education or certification, particularly in high-risk industries like healthcare, but often, a four-year degree is not actually teaching the technical or soft skills employees need to be competitive. Nearly three in four employers say they have a hard time finding graduates with adequate soft skills. These skills, like problem-solving, innovation, and collaboration, are the determining factor of success for most jobs, and relying on credentialing is not a great way to assess them. By reconsidering the automatic requirement of a four-year degree, skills-based hiring removes barriers for those who don’t have access to in-networks or degrees. 


What does a skills-based hiring process look like?

Here are some steps you can take to move toward a skills-based hiring process.

  • Evaluate need. Figure out where skills-based hiring would have the biggest impact at your organization. What roles have the highest turnover? The longest time to hire?
  • Analyze the role. Moving to a skills-based hiring paradigm means rethinking what “essentials” are for a job. For example, is it essential that a candidate knows how to use one specific software, or that they are comfortable picking up new technology and taking ownership of processes? 
  • Rewrite job descriptions. Reframe job descriptions in a way that emphasizes competencies and skills over credentials. Focus on the expected outcomes of the role or the skills they’ll use day-to-day over a specific candidate profile. According to LinkedIn, job posts that highlight responsibilities over requirements get 14% more applications per view.
  • Target your interview process toward these skills. Technical skills can be assessed through assessments. Soft-skills require a more thoughtful interview approach. Behavioral questions can get at these skills, but remember to consider what is necessary for the specific role rather than the “right” answer. For some roles, written communication will be less important than problem solving, and vice versa.


Filling the skills gap

One problem with skills-based hiring is that prospective employees often don’t know that their skills are transferable or how to turn their skills into a viable candidacy. Microsoft and Google are working to change that through upskilling at the community level. Upskilling is training your current workforce with the skills needed to be effective in today’s workforce. These skills are often related to technology and digital transformation. According to the World Economic Forum, 54% of employees will need significant upskilling to keep pace with technology by 2022 (upskilling is often referred to as “future proofing” careers for this reason). 


While upskilling can be an individual or community professional development initiative, it can also occur within companies to realize the potential of their existing talent. As needs change, organizations can invest in their existing workforce. This addresses the great mismatch in two ways. First, it meets an immediate need by filling a position quickly. Second, it increases employee retention and engagement.

Ninety-four percent of survey respondents said they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career. Beyond hiring needs, upskilling fosters a growth-oriented culture and a sense of psychological safety for employees, both of which are more important than ever after a volatile and uncertain eighteen months.


The Great Resignation and hiring gap have absolutely been exacerbated by the pandemic, but they are a sign of what’s to come. Skills-based hiring and upskilling will be imperative for companies to acquire the talent they need to keep up. By investing time and resources now, you’ll open the door to a larger contingent of diverse talent and set up your employees and your organization for future growth.

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