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Early talent trends

Access 2023 recap: The changing talent landscape with Laura Fuentes and Dr. Michael Sorrell

Learn how the CHRO of Hilton and the President of Paul Quinn college are recruiting top talent and training students for success in a fast-changing economy.

Change is a constant in today’s economy. Technology is reshaping every industry, and the skills employees and companies need to succeed are evolving faster than ever. By some estimates, well over half of today’s first graders will end up working in fields that don’t exist yet.

How can companies plan for such an uncertain future? What does a winning recruiting strategy look like in the face of so much disruption? And how can higher education better prepare students to adapt and thrive in this new reality?

To tackle those questions, we invited Laura Fuentes, Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer of Hilton, and Dr. Michael Sorrell, President of Paul Quinn College, to take the stage at Handshake Access with our CEO, Garrett Lord.

Laura and Dr. Sorrell are both pioneers who’ve successfully navigated major changes in their respective fields. Laura began her career as an entry-level engineer at Hilton before moving into HR and rising to lead people and talent for one of the world’s largest hospitality brands. Under her leadership, Hilton has become a top career destination for Gen Z talent. Dr. Sorrell took the helm of Paul Quinn College, one of the country’s oldest HBCUs, when it was on the verge of bankruptcy. He raised graduation rates by more than 30%, slashed student loan debt, and built strong partnerships with companies across the country to prepare students for on-the-job success.

Here are just a few of our top takeaways from Garrett’s conversation with Laura and Dr. Sorrell:

1. To democratize opportunity, we need to help all students build their “relationship capital.”

This is a top priority for Dr. Sorrell at Paul Quinn, where a majority of students come from low-income backgrounds. “Their families don’t possess the relationships” to help them access opportunities, he explains. “You need an institution to stand in the gap, but you also don’t want to be made to feel as if you’re less than for not having those relationships.”

In particular, Dr. Sorrell says, underserved students need support to secure paid part-time jobs and internships so they can balance supporting themselves with launching their careers. Paul Quinn helps match students with local jobs, often in corporate offices where they gain the skills, experience, and connections they’ll need to succeed in a professional career.

Hear more from Dr. Sorrell about how Paul Quinn supports students from low-income backgrounds:

2. Employers can expand their talent pools by moving away from rigid job requirements.

“When I look to hire someone, what I really want to know is, do you have a history of success,” Dr. Sorrell explains. “My life has taught me that winners find ways to continue to win.” At Paul Quinn, he’s built a core curriculum that focuses on the aptitudes employers say are critical for success across industries and roles—such as communication, teamwork, and digital literacy.

Laura agrees that students who’ve invested in these strengths can learn specific skills on the job and be successful in almost any field. “We hire for attitude and values, mostly, and then we’ll teach the core skills,” she says. “Whatever you know at age 22 or 24 will become obsolete anyway, especially in tech. So we want people who are agile learners, who work hard, who are great teammates.” This approach has allowed Hilton to widen its talent pool to include populations that are often overlooked, such as veterans, refugees, formerly incarcerated individuals, people returning from extended career breaks, and more.

Hear more from Garrett, Laura, and Dr. Sorrell about the importance of on-the-job learning and how higher education can prepare students to succeed in a fast-changing economy:

3. Everyone wins when early talent can “come for a job and stay for a career.”

It’s no secret that seeing a path to advancement within a company is important to early-career hires. And many young employees are also looking for a place where they can shift into new areas or fields as they gain experience and their interests evolve. When companies support and celebrate employees who want to make upward or lateral moves, rather than boxing them in, they’re better able to attract and retain top talent and adapt to changing economic conditions.

Providing that support is a core part of Hilton’s successful early talent recruiting strategy. In all of her outreach to students and new graduates, Laura emphasizes that Hilton is “a culture focused on movement and growth,” with many different career paths available.

Hear more from Laura about how she positions Hilton as a top employer for Gen Z:

We’re beyond inspired by what Laura and Dr. Sorrell have accomplished, and we’re deeply grateful to both of them for sharing their insights with our community. To watch the full recording of their conversation, or to explore more content from Access 2023, head to the event page.

Visit more Access recaps:

‘Think again’ about early talent with New York Times bestselling author, organizational psychologist, and speaker, Adam Grant, and Handshake Chief Education Strategy Officer, Christine Y. Cruzvergara

Expanding opportunity by reimagining the labels that limit us with Procter & Gamble Chief Equality & Inclusion Officer, Shelley McNamara, and UNCF President & CEO, Dr. Michael Lomax

Creating a future where we can Thrive with Thrive CEO, Arianna Huffington, and Handshake Chief Legal Officer, Valerie Capers Workman

7 tips to maximize ROI on your early talent strategy with TD SYNNEX CFO of Americas, David Jordan and TD SYNNEX VP Global Talent Acquisition, Chris DeLisa

10 tips to attract and develop in-demand tech talent with NSA CHRO Teisha Anthony, Activision Blizzard Chief Talent Officer, Alexander DiLeonardo, and General Assembly VP, Priya Ramanathan

Closing skills and opportunity gaps for underrepresented talent groups with Macy CDO, Shawn Outler, Google Head of Economic Opportunity Americas, Hector Mujica, Chancellor of SUNY, Dr. John King, and New York Times CHRO, Jacqueline Welch

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