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Survey: Employers with Job Openings Should Look at Applicants’ Skills, Not College Degrees

  • Publication: 
    Indianapolis Star
    Date: 
    November 11, 2019

    You've seen the job description before: Growing company seeks dedicated professional for exciting midcareer position. Must have strong leadership skills, excellent written and oral communication and ability to work with others. Requirements: Five years of experience and bachelor's or post-graduate degree.

    Career and business experts say job descriptions that use degree requirements and years of experience as proxies for employability may be one reason some employers are having a difficult time finding people with skills that match their jobs.

    In Indiana, some employers are having such a hard time that they are leaving jobs unfilled, according to the latest employer workforce survey from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, its Institute for Workforce Excellence and the workforce nonprofit Skillful Indiana.

    Nearly half of the 12th annual survey's respondents said they didn't fill available jobs this year due to the pool of underqualified job seekers.

    The survey's result highlights the challenges Hoosier employers face when grappling with the state's labor shortage.

    "Employers are really recognizing that there’s sort of a new normal here and the old ways of finding talent maybe aren’t sufficient anymore," said Jason Bearce, the Indiana Chamber's vice president of education and workforce development. "Posting an open position and waiting for the right candidates to walk through the door doesn’t seem to work the way it once did."

    Unmet needs in the Indiana workforce

    In its 12th year, the employer workforce survey provides a snapshot into what Indiana employers are thinking and their concerns. It also helps the chamber identify business trends.

    "Looking back a year ago, we really kind of reached the pinnacle of employers struggling with this talent challenge," Bearce said. "For the first time in the decade plus history that we’ve given this survey, more than half of employers were forced to leave positions open."

    The chamber said 1,005 respondents from 89 of the state's 92 counties took part in the the survey administered Aug. 4-27. Sectors represented in the survey include manufacturing, construction, health care and social assistance as well as professional, scientific and technical fields.

    The respondents said half the applicant pool this year did not meet their needs.

    Bearce attributes this to several reasons, including a shortage of skilled and unskilled workers and job descriptions that don't clearly explain what employers want.

    "One of the reasons we’re partnering with Skillful is that we think there’s a lot of talent out there that employers aren’t necessarily tapping into," Bearce said.

    Minimum qualifications for many jobs note requirements such as a high school or college degree. But employers, he said, now recognize that they have to re-examine their hiring practices and be proactive about seeking the talent they need in the future.

    Hiring adjustments for employers

    Many employers seem to have accepted their reality and are making adjustments to fill labor gaps in their organization, the survey found.

    "A slowing national economy, tariffs and ongoing trade disputes are some of the potential concerns for employers today compared to recent years," said Kevin Brinegar, Indiana Chamber president and CEO. "But, given some of the survey responses, another strategy seems to be accepting that the talent shortage is not going to change anytime soon and simply finding alternative methods for dealing with it."

    Respondents overwhelming said they are willing to hire an individual with less education or skills than they desire and give them on-the-job training. But only 23% said they have actually hired underqualified job seekers.

    The number of employers using existing staff to train co-workers decreased from 67% last year to 55% this year. Still, many were not using educational partnerships, workforce training programs or strategies like jobs shadowing, internships and apprenticeships to help fill labor gaps.

    "It's essential that companies look to take advantage of some of the many workforce resources that are available," Brinegar said. "A 'going it alone' strategy typically will not lead to the desired outcome."

    The need for skills-based hiring

    This is the first year the chamber partnered with Skillful Indiana to produce the survey.

    Skillful Indiana is a nonprofit initiative that aims to help workers — particularly those without a degree — secure a good job in a changing economy.

    The nonprofit expanded to Indiana after working in Colorado for several years and encourages employers to craft job descriptions that state the skills and competencies they are seeking rather than years of experience and degree requirements.

    "Would you put a bachelor's degree if you really don't need it for the job?" said Bill Turner, the nonprofit's executive director. "You've reduced your talent pool drastically, and so we're saying let's increase that talent pool by taking that degree and certificate off."

    Traditionally, employers have relied on degrees and certifications as proxies to a worker's depth of skills and employability, Turner said. The practice has traditionally been used to toss resumes and can omit job seekers who may actually have the skills needed to do a job well.

    “They think that if you have that degree or you have that certificate or whatever that you also have those skills. That’s not always the case," he said.

    Skillful Indiana argues employers have a better chance of finding job seekers that match their needs by using skills-based hiring rather than relying on proxies to narrow candidate pools.

    Turner said the nonprofit is not anti-degree or certificate. He understands that doctors, nurses and other professions require degree credentials, but he argues that degrees and credentials should not be used to eliminate job seekers if the position advertised doesn't require them.

    This year's survey revealed that about 45% of employers have an awareness of skills-based hiring, saying they measure skills rather than educational attainment and credentials.

    About 45% of respondents also said they believe applicants are not attracted to the communities where their companies are located. Employers also indicated that they are not optimistic about expanding their workforce in the future.

    Contact IndyStar reporter Alexandria Burris at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @allyburris.

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