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Prioritizing Skills, Hitting DEIB Goals

Taking a skills-first approach to recruitment provides a more objective assessment of candidates, reducing hiring biases and helping to foster a more inclusive workforce.

By Maggie Mancini

Amid skills shortages and global workforce changes, HR and business leaders are increasingly taking a skills-first approach to recruitment. By focusing on a combination of core competencies rather than traditional qualifications like educational background and work history, organizations can access a bigger, more diverse talent pool and bridge skills gaps in the process.  

“A skills-first approach to recruiting offers multiple advantages,” says Alicia O’Brien, senior vice president of innovation and customer success at WilsonHCG. “It provides a more objective assessment of candidates, reducing biases linked to educational background and valuing soft skills such as collaboration and problem-solving.”  

O’Brien adds that considering both hard and soft skills holistically helps to foster a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce. This is due to the nuance that non-traditional backgrounds bring to the workplace, she says. Having access to this expanded talent pool can accelerate time-to-fill and quality-of-hire, helping to alleviate the burden of skills shortages on an organization. 

“It’s important to remember that it’s not just about the current skills candidates have,” O’Brien says, “but also their potential to further develop in the future based on business needs.”  

Taking a skills-first approach to hiring can help organizations reduce hiring bias, O’Brien says. She explains that traditional hiring methods can unintentionally reinforce biases by favoring candidates with specific educational or academic backgrounds.  

“A skills-first approach to recruitment focuses on candidates’ abilities and potential to grow and learn new skills rather than defaulting to educational background, job titles, or prior work history to make hiring decisions,” O’Brien says. “This ensures diverse candidates from non-traditional backgrounds are considered, which helps to further diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) in the workplace.”  

A recent survey finds that 31% of employees are experiencing unconscious bias this year—a 10% increase from 2023. Though 85% of employers see diversity as a key objective, only 30% of organizations have removed degree requirements, and most think these qualifications are more important than they were five years ago. Still, 84% of candidates believe skills-based recruitment can reduce hiring bias, as 90% of employers that use the skills-first model reporting improvements in diversity.  

In fact, 92% of companies using skills-first hiring have documented processes, training, or data collection tactics in place to prevent unconscious bias from impacting hiring decisions, compared to 70% of companies that utilize a more traditional hiring model, the survey finds.

Implementing a skills-first hiring model can be beneficial to organizations looking to advance their DEIB goals. When considering a shift to skills-based hiring in an organization, O’Brien stresses that HR leaders should make sure to gain buy-in from the C-suite and other executives as early as possible. This will help to make sure that people throughout the organization also understand its benefits, the value of prioritizing skills, and the importance of upskilling and reskilling to stay agile.  

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