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Access recap: Closing skills and opportunity gaps for underrepresented talent groups

How leaders in hiring and education are working to expand access for diverse candidates

  • This event explored how collaboration between private industry and higher education can create more accessible, effective pathways to work for underrepresented groups.
  • Recruiting alone cannot solve the lack of diversity in corporate America; equally important are retention strategies and workplace culture reform.
  • Digital skills and education offer better opportunities for folks who face major barriers to access in the higher education system.

How can companies and educational institutions collaborate to provide diverse, skills-based career pathways for underrepresented groups? This question was the focus of a recent event we hosted with industry leaders during our Handshake Access Summit. During Closing skills and opportunity gaps by Expanding the talent pool to include underrepresented groups, we heard from the following guests:

Because of our guests’ backgrounds in diverse hiring, skills-based career pathways, and accessible education, this session’s discussion remained focused on methods for connecting diverse students and candidates to the education and experience they need in order to find a fulfilling career. Here are some of the vital insights from our conversation with these experts.

1) A multi-pronged approach is necessary to solve the diversity in hiring crisis.

Our contributors agreed that collaboration between industry leaders and higher education administrators is key to creating a sustainable and diverse talent pool. Focusing on digital skills and education can broaden access for students and candidates, and expand opportunities for folks in rural or underserved communities. Hector spoke about how “pathways [to digital economy jobs] are complex and multi-faceted. The world is divided into jobs that require digital skills and those that don’t.

Moving forward, the majority of jobs are going to require a medium to advanced level of digital skills.” Higher education institutions can do more to prepare students with the digital skills the marketplace demands, but employers can also do more to recognize the non-traditional ways students acquire those skills. Not everyone who can code has a computer science degree.

Google's Hector Mujica shares how they manage complex hiring pipelines that require digital skills, but might not require a college degree:

2) Skills-based hiring and education modalities will give students and candidates the most flexibility and access.

Much of the uncertainty in hiring, particularly for new graduates, can be resolved with a shift to a skills-based approach. Which skills are most important for students to develop before entering the workforce? “I would like to see higher education institutions help students develop resilience,” Jacqueline said. “These last five years have been an assault on the psyche. The folks who have ridden the metaphorical wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent racial reckoning are those who are high in resilience.”

John added that he thinks a liberal arts education gives students open-mindedness and critical thinking skills, which provide a strong foundation for them to learn other skills on the job. The categorization of these qualities as ‘soft skills’ undervalues their immense importance for success in the workplace.

New York Times' CHRO, Jacqueline Welch and Google's Hector Mujica talk about the distinction between career readiness and job readiness and reframing how organizations can diversify organically with "culture add" hiring:

3) Retention is a crucial piece of the puzzle for recruiting teams wanting to hire diverse candidates.

The best recruitment plan starts and ends with employee retention, for both new and existing employees. Jacqueline said that in her role at the New York Times, she and her team “tap into ERGs [n.B. Employee Resource Groups] to foster two-way communication, in order to create a culture where everyone can do their best work.” They also use regular lightning surveys to check in with employees and see how they’re doing.

Employers may also work on retaining diverse and underrepresented employees by establishing a culture of activism and transparency. Shawn shared how she has seen corporate DEI evolve over the course of her career, and where she thinks it’s headed. “DEI is evolving beyond compliance and representation,” she said. “Companies are becoming more vocal and intentional about DEI efforts. They’ve realized they need to be definitive about the outcomes they want to see.”

Macy’s CDO, Shawn Outler, talks about how Macy's is leveraging early talent to achieve their corporate goal, Mission Everyone, a commitment to increase ethnic representation in leaders to 30% by 2025:

4) Systemic change is necessary to solve systemic problems.

The problems perpetuating the exclusion of diverse candidates from corporate America continue to shape our world. Systemic racism and other forms of prejudice are entrenched in public life and affect education, income inequality, ableism, the economy, and more. With such deep and complex issues contributing to the lack of representation in the talent pool, we need complex solutions to move forward.

Shawn suggested that companies who have difficulty recruiting diverse candidates in their field establish a scholarship program for diverse students. John spoke about the importance of internships, particularly paid internships, for students to obtain work experience, professional contacts, and valuable career insight.

State University of New York's Chancellor, Dr. John King, discuss how employers and higher learning organizations can better partner together to set diverse candidates up for success:

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All of our panelists had valuable insights about how education and industry can collaborate to expand the talent pool. Their solutions shared a common theme: that to solve the dual problems of skills and opportunity gaps, we must improve education affordability, digitize higher education, expand access to experiential education programs, and embrace a skills-based hiring approach. These themes encompass a wide array of potential solutions to the systemic challenges that underrepresented candidates face.

We hope you found value in both the panel discussion and in our review of the highlights.

Have something to add to the conversation? Share this article to get the discussion going on social media.

And check out the full session and many others from our Access 2023 right here.

Visit more Access recaps:

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‘Think again’ about early talent with Adam Grant 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

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