In our last post, we talked about what a learner striving to enter a high-paying and hard-to-fill role in tech needs on their reskilling learning journey.
Today, I want to shift the focus to the other side of that equation. Let’s look at a few key trends happening in the employer landscape:
- Businesses have been struggling to hire the right talent in many industries and roles for over a decade due to shifts in digital transformation. As more roles require greater tech and data skills, traditional roles are evolving and requiring more from workers.
- The Great Resignation opens up more holes in teams and makes hiring even more tight in already difficult-to-fill jobs. This is making the issue of reskilling and upskilling more crucial than ever.
- Businesses need to be thinking about their talent and how learning plays into their hiring and retention strategies. In many cases, the best hiring strategy may be to take your workers, who come with deep experience in your industry, context, and business, and reskill them into new roles.
Employers’ Goals <> Learners’ Goals
While this series aims to spell out a learning philosophy — and we are primarily interested in learners’ goals and making sure we best support them on their learning and career journeys— we must remember that this is a two-sided process. The real magic happens when learners’ and employers’ goals are aligned.
That said, we know from our partnerships with over 400 companies that employers want a few specific things when looking for new talent. (Spoiler Alert: They may sound familiar because the goals are the same, but from the employers’ perspective, the framing is different.)
Let’s break down the details.
1. Gauge alignment to norms and values. Employers want employees that will be a good fit within their company’s culture, who will take on the values and norms of the field. Sometimes that means finding those who bring convergence; other times, this means bringing in the right mix of divergent ideas and thinking. In the struggle for quality talent long-term, employers are successful when pathways for growing junior talent are made accessible to diverse populations. Employers want to know when the varied beliefs, identities, and priorities of a future employee will bring value. Because this is hard to sort out, employers often turn to proxies for help. This includes degrees, membership in societies or industry standards bodies, connections to organizations, schools, or referrals from people they are familiar with and trust.
But using a degree from a certain university as a proxy for identifying alignment to employers’ values or relying on the halo effect of referrals from people like you has been one of the most surefire ways to close the door of opportunity to diverse perspectives, values, and lived experiences. If employers want to diversify the pipeline of talent, especially in the tech fields, relying on traditional proxies of belonging, identity, and values alignment will continue to fill candidate pools with the same types of people. Attrition will remain high, as new employees find it difficult to work in an environment that doesn’t support them. To attract, develop and retain diverse talent, employers should have more clear conversations about their values with prospective employees and look beyond the networks and recruiting sources they are comfortable with. Employers and learners need better ways to express what behaviors, beliefs, and goals they value to have better conversations upfront with employees about where there is alignment. Feedback from our employer partners shows that candidates onboard and grow quickly when robust training and mentorship are involved from Day 1.
2. Understand where on the path to expertise a candidate is. Employers don’t just need to know if an employee is a good fit for their organization; they need to know if they are a good fit for development along a career path in a job family. Unfortunately, employers may have unclear expectations of what workers in junior roles should be expected to do and may have assigned responsibilities that are much too advanced. They may not be clear on the independence they expect of junior workers or may not be explicit about the level of mentorship and development they expect of junior roles. In many cases, they have not clearly divided a task or job family into senior and junior roles, assigning a senior worker many tasks that could be done by someone new on their journey. Failing to truly open roles into varying career levels with clear pathways for development prolongs the hiring process, creates salary misalignment, and prevents nontraditional talent from entering the organization.
Knowing what the pathway to expertise looks like, employers can better understand the next steps on a new employee’s journey and what types of tasks will help prepare them for the next stage in their career progression. Hiring managers need ways to better understand the path to expertise to properly assess and provide performance feedback and identify continuous professional development opportunities for their direct reports.
3. Diagnose how well a candidate can do the job. Employers have certain tasks that need to be done right away. When they hire someone, they are taking a bet on whether that person will be able to do that task consistently, independently, and with quality. They may even expect their new hires to do it in a variety of settings, and with increasing levels of complexity.
When a learner is reskilling, they don’t have a lot of experience they can demonstrate. They may have little or no work experience doing expected job tasks. They may have few people who can vouch for their ability to do work. And they may not have years of schooling where they gained experience from class assignments, clubs, internships, or other experiences.
To simplify this diagnosis, far too many employers simply say “degree required” in a job description, even if most of the experiences someone had in their degree did not directly prepare them to do the task they are hiring for.
Employers are taking a risk when they bet on new talent. In many cases, that risk is less than continuing to rely on workers who are burnt out or set in old methods, mindsets, or competencies. They need trustworthy training organizations with evidence from multiple contexts to show that their graduates have the competencies to succeed. This includes instructors, mentors, or career counselors whom employers trust, vouching for graduates’ work. Or it includes assessments, certifications, portfolios, or other evidence of mastery of competencies, clearly tagged to the tasks employers need done. The more precisely specific competencies can be demonstrated, the more trust the employer has in new talent they are bringing on.
4. Predict a candidate’s ability to deepen their expertise. Employers hire junior talent because they have an immediate need and want to develop future expertise and leadership within their organization. They need to know that the people they are hiring will be motivated to continually learn, know how to define learning goals, and know where to go to deepen their knowledge. Talent also needs to be prepared for an unknown future of work and to innovate within their organization.
Employers are (usually) not schools and do not always have a clear understanding of the next steps in a learner’s journey. They don’t usually know how to best create learning experiences for learners or have limited resources to do this at scale for all organizational employees. They want to know that their employees can take advantage of learning experiences on the job or enroll in upskilling, certification, or degree programs that will take them deeper along the path of expertise. They need to know that reskilling programs have clear off-ramps to further lifelong learning programs aligned with their values and talent needs. Finally, they need to see how their employees are progressing, especially when those learning experiences come from multiple formal and informal learning experiences. As employers build structures to support learners in their professional development, they can attract and retain diverse talent that will help them meet the future of work.
The good news is employers and employees want the same things, even if it is not clear in job posts, resumes, hiring assessments, or portfolios. As a field, we believe that we can do a better job of more clearly doing the following:
- Reflect on the role of belonging, identity, and values within communities of practice and fields of discipline.
- Identify the pathways to expertise in a field by identifying entry-level pathways that support underrepresented junior talent in creating long-term expertise pathways.
- Describe the competencies needed to succeed in the workplace at different levels along that journey and measure mastery of those competencies (rather than simply relying on improper and biased proxies like degrees, affiliations, or associations).
- Develop self-directed learners with the networks, resources, and ecosystem of learning opportunities that will connect and guide them throughout their careers.
4 Learner & Employer Goals
Stay tuned for the next post in the series, where we will describe what we know about our learners, their contexts, intentions, and experiences.