Ask Us Anything: Finding Talent with Skills-Based Practices – November 30, 2022

This Ask Us Anything webinar discusses how shifting to skills-based practices can improve recruitment and retention for employers while promoting an inclusive economy.

Event Video


This Q&A Digest has been derived from the Ask Us Anything session on "Finding Talent with Skills-Based Practices" held November 30, 2022, with Bridgette Gray, Chief Customer Officer for Opportunity@Work, Katie Kirkpatrick, President and CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber (MAC), and Ashley Black, Managing Director of Global Equity Strategies for Delta Air Lines.

Key Takeaways

  • The implementation of skills-based practices may increase hiring and retention across organizations by widening and diversifying the pool of available candidates and by overcoming long-standing educational attainment disparities. Far from only being about hiring and recruitment, a host of programs are available to employers that can help upskill and reskill workers. Employers should also focus on creating clear promotion pathways and growth opportunities for workers, and on identifying ways to provide skill training for incumbent workers.
  • Although the adoption of skills-based practices has fluctuated in response to certain economic conditions, the trend has increasingly become more widespread across the labor market, combatting years of hiring shortages, degree inflation, and labor market inequities.
  • Implementing skills-based practices is often a question of time and commitment. HR teams need help and support from other departments, especially at small and midsize firms with smaller staffs. Wider adoption is a change both in process and mindset and management support is critical to any program’s success.
  • Data and metrics are key in giving a company the ability to measure and track the possession and accumulation of skills across employees. More broadly, data are important in analyzing and measuring the wider trend of skills-based practices and how they may benefit specific industries and occupations.

The Atlanta Fed’s Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity offers several data tools and publications to help you track unemployment, re-employment, and other potential policy and practice suggestions while you manage recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
Skills-based Approaches to Finding Talent and Diversifying the Workforce: Six Lessons from Employers is an article by CWEO staff members Sergio Galeano and Katherine Townsend Kiernan.
Opportunity Occupations Monitor tracks trends in jobs that offer salaries of at least the U.S. annual median wage (adjusted for local cost of living differences) for which employers do not require a bachelor's degree—opportunity occupations—in states and metro areas.
Rework Community Insights Monitor offers information on jobs and training at the local level.
Workforce Currents includes articles on various workforce topics addressing research, policy, and practice.
Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity Events describes upcoming events and includes registration links for Ask Us Anything webinar sessions.

Resources from our panelists, partners, and the field:
Rework America Alliance
Rework America Alliance | Accelerator program for employers
Skill-Based Talent and Management Training | Markle Foundation
Taking a skills-based approach to building the future workforce | McKinsey & Company
Tear the Paper Ceiling | Opportunity at Work
Workforce Playbook for Equity | Metro Atlanta Chamber
Employers rethink need for college degrees in tight labor market | Wall Street Journal

Speaker Bios

Bridgette Gray, Chief Customer Officer, Opportunity@Work

Bridgette Gray currently leads the customer success and delivery team as Opportunity@Work scales the hiring of workers who are skilled through alternative routes (STARs) nationwide. She has spent the last 20+ years helping diverse talent access and benefit from training and employment opportunities, helping businesses acquire this talent, and influencing DE&I as central to their bottom line.

Gray joins Opportunity@Work after 7½ years at Per Scholas, where she was their first chief impact officer, responsible for managing all training operations and organizational impact for Per Scholas’ 17 campuses. Under her leadership, Per Scholas expanded its gold-standard, evidenced-based model from five to 17 campuses and from 800 to 3,000 learners trained, with a strategic plan to expand to 25 campuses and 10,000 learners trained by 2025, building a national team to support the growing campuses. Prior to Per Scholas, Gray held several senior and executive leadership roles at Year Up, the Points of Light Foundation, and the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Gray can often be found adding her thought partnership and leadership to collective impact work with the Markle Foundation’s Rework America Alliance, JFF’s Thrive @Work Innovation Council, Racial Equity Learning Community @PolicyLink, America Forward WFD & Economic Justice Task Force, as a LEAP Ambassador, and as a Founding Member of Chief DC. She served on the Workforce Board of Montgomery County, Maryland, from 2014 until 2019.

Katie Kirkpatrick, President and Chief Executive Officer, Metro Atlanta Chamber

Katie Kirkpatrick is the president and chief executive officer of the 162-year-old Metro Atlanta Chamber (MAC). Kirkpatrick is known for her public policy prowess, courageous leadership, and more than a decade of driven impact through her work at MAC.

Previously MAC’s chief policy officer, Kirkpatrick served as the link between the metro Atlanta business community and local and national government. Kirkpatrick joined the chamber in 2007 as vice president of environmental affairs, previously serving in numerous roles directly related to environmental policy and water-related issues. She later served as the chamber’s senior vice president for business higher education, leading the execution of key initiatives strengthening the region’s higher education ecosystem and workforce development.

Before joining MAC, she served as director of environmental engineering for Gold Kist Inc. with responsibilities in regulatory compliance, designing treatment systems, strategic planning, and more.

Ashley Black, Managing Director of Global Equity Strategies, Delta Air Lines

Ashley Black leads the airline’s equity strategies in the Global Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. She and her team build strategies that drive short- and long-term equitable outcomes for Delta people; establish equity as the foundation for all policies, processes, and programs that impact people; close societal equity gaps, largely focusing on access to opportunity, health, and wealth; and leverage the voices and power of the Delta brand to promote truth-based narratives rooted in data and analysis. She also manages the company’s 501(c)(3) charitable organization, the Delta Care and Scholarship Funds, created to help support Delta people who are experiencing financial hardship due to an unavoidable crisis.

Black previously led Delta’s Global Employee Communications team, providing communications counsel, and strategy in every area of the business. In 2019, Ashley joined the marketing team to develop and lead Delta’s internal creative agency, The Window Seat.

Event Q & A

The comments included are made by Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity staff member Sergio Galeano along with our panelists and do not necessarily represent the views of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta or the Federal Reserve System.

What challenges may employers face in adopting a skills-forward approach in their talent management, and how might they overcome those obstacles?

The adoption of skills-based practices represents a change in both process and mindset, posing several challenges for an employer’s implementation efforts. Key challenges are time and commitment. For any organization, revamping and improving interviews, rewriting job descriptions, and improving the many parts of their talent management pipelines requires time and energy. These represent an even larger challenge for small and midsize companies where human resource (HR) teams tend to be smaller.

Across firms of any size, support from leadership and management is essential, as is the broader support of individual departments and hiring managers. This broad support helps ensure that the commitment to a skills-forward approach cascades throughout an organization’s culture. Externally, strong relationships with educational institutions and workforce-serving organizations aligned with skills-forward practices help further their implementation in a community, source talent from more inclusive and wider talent pools, and make the tangible connection between an employer’s needs and skilled candidates.

What data and methods can employers use to find talent and measure and track skills attainment across their incumbent workers?

When eliminating degree requirements for roles that don’t require them, a company should build the capacity to measure skills attainment and needs across its organization. Employers interested in adopting skills-based practices will be more successful if they can measure and track skills attainment and needs across their companies. Measuring and articulating company needs allows HR staff to find skilled workers more effectively. Collecting employee data and metrics on skills and performance helps foster a merit-based culture in which employees can be upskilled and reskilled to support their advancement while also providing more equitable promotion decisions.

Many employers already have such metrics in place and need only adjust their processes to incorporate skills-forward practices within their firms. Many programs exist to help measure and validate skills when finding talent, such as algorithm-powered platforms that parse for required skills and résumé and job-description generators that help find and articulate specific in-demand skills.

Beyond the importance of compensation in recruiting and retaining talent, what role do you see benefits playing in the process?

In today’s tight labor market, we have witnessed many employers offering traditional and newer forms of benefits to attract and retain talent. Looking beyond today’s economic situation, workers tend to seek a core set of benefits and job-quality benefits that can improve their quality of life and ability to perform their jobs effectively. Such benefits can include consistent work hours, stable schedules, a respectful work environment oriented towards growth and skill development, and autonomy. The workforce system and the communities it serves can collectively help support other kinds of services which employers may or may not provide, but equally benefit workers, including access to child care, transportation, digital literacy, and broadband access.

Given the tight labor market and the needs of a changing economy and workforce, what do you believe are some catalysts for expanding the labor pool?

Securing the right talent is crucial for every employer and often a constant challenge for many companies and industries. This challenge is particularly acute for employers in today’s labor market. Conventional hiring practices that favor two- and four-year degrees, especially when they are not necessary to perform a given role, hurt an employer’s chances of finding talent and further entrench many existing educational, gender, racial, and ethnic disparities prevalent throughout the labor market.

Beyond cyclical and structural economic trends, expanding efforts such as skills-based practices provide systemic, at-large opportunities to expand the labor pool in communities throughout the country, break down barriers that many workers face in the workforce, and help meet employer’s hiring and skills needs to promote broad-based economic growth.

Can skills-based practices help improve diversity, equity, and inclusion across the labor market?

Skills-based practices may offer a practical solution to many of today’s workforce challenges while simultaneously helping lift barriers to the workforce. For example, only 28 percent of African Americans and 21 percent of Latinos hold at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 38 percent of White Americans. Using college degrees as a proxy for skills and talent has a disproportionate effect on people of color. Eliminating unnecessary college degrees from job requirements can break down workforce inequities and help employers broaden their labor pools.

Prioritizing demonstrated skills over traditional degrees and credentials can foster a more equitable and merit-based workplace environment that incentivizes learning and training opportunities. Other initiatives such as skills-based internal assessments can help ensure that employees are given equal pay for performing similar roles across an organization. In evaluating a worker’s opportunities for a promotion, focusing on demonstrated performance and skills can also ensure equitable growth opportunities and career advancement.

Beyond hiring and recruitment efforts, how can employers best implement skills-based practices for their existing workers?

Beyond prioritizing skills over degrees in recruitment efforts, employers can engage in a host of programs and initiatives to comprehensively embrace and promote a skills-forward culture. Where possible, employers should provide skills-training opportunities to keep an employee’s skills up to date and amplify existing growth opportunities within a firm. Earn-and-learn models such as apprenticeships are particularly useful. Whether apprentices are sourced from educational institutions and workforce intermediaries or from existing workers interested in learning new skills, apprenticeships provide strong opportunities to reskill workers and allow them to be paid during normal work hours. Promotions, technology training and access, and periodic employee evaluations that focus on skills attainment provide positive environments that can support worker’s growth while meeting important employers’ core needs.

What resources exist that can help with the implementation of skills-based practices?

There are many options available to employers to help them begin their journey toward adopting skills-based practices. These resources include job-posting generators, skills-focused algorithms, STARs-centric talent platforms, and more. (STARs is an acronym for Skilled through Alternative Routes.) The following resources are currently offered by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s partners:

  • The Rework America Alliance Accelerator Program provides guidance and lessons for employers, communities, and workforce intermediaries interested in adopting skills-based practices.
  • Stellarsight is a digital dashboard that aggregates national labor market data covering STARs, offering perspectives on how to best source talent from this key group.
  • Stellarworx is a talent-matching platform that focuses on STARs.
  • The Skillful Job Posting Generator helps HR staff and hiring managers write and revamp job descriptions that match employer needs with a wider and skilled talent pool.
  • This employer toolkit from the Markle Foundation provides guidance and programs to help employers maximize their implementation of skills-based practices, from support for small to mid-sized businesses to HR software guides and more.
  • This employer toolkit from the Women’s Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation offers more than 60 workplace policies that can help employers support and retain low-wage workers.