The paper ceiling won’t tear itself: How skyHive technology makes skills-based hiring a reality for STARs

The paper ceiling won’t tear itself: How skyHive technology makes skills-based hiring a reality for STARs

Change is afoot in the world of skills-based hiring – a tectonic trend is gaining momentum.  

You may have recently seen a segment on the The Today Show covering the trend of employers relaxing degree requirements in hiring.  

Or, you might have heard about something called “the Paper Ceiling” on NPR’s Marketplace, where interviewees described the invisible lifelong barrier barring those without degrees from opportunity, despite possessing skills gained through alternative routes to college.  

The New York Times editorial board recently penned an op-ed urging readers to “see workers as workers,” citing Pennsylvania’s elimination of degree requirements for 92 percent of state jobs, aligning the Commonwealth with Maryland, Utah, Boulder County (Colorado), and other U.S. governments making public service jobs accessible to more qualified Americans.  

It’s great to see the Paper Ceiling being torn, scrap by scrap. And it’s great to see the media taking notice.

What’s less visible is why this is happening now; more importantly, what innovations have enabled this shift in our approach to hiring skilled talent.

Why This is Happening Now

Rather than a decisive tear, the dismantling of the Paper Ceiling has progressed gradually over the past few years.  

After decades of “upcredentialing” layered degree requirements onto middle-skill and frontline jobs, a 2013 internal study at Google found that GPAs, test scores, and other inputs used to evaluate candidates did not provide significant correlations to their skill or performance as an employee. Google’s analysis (which also found brainteasers to be an objective waste of interviewers’ time) began to shift the collective consciousness around hiring standards. Upon quipping to the New York Times that such proxies for skill were “worthless as a criteria for hiring,” and “don’t predict anything,” then-Google executive Laszlo Bock overtly challenged what had become orthodoxy in corporate America. These revelations led the industry giant to change its hiring criteria and seek objective approaches to measuring a candidate’s value.

And hiring criteria are now colliding with a moment of macroeconomic urgency. Amidst record-low unemployment, critical labor shortages, and wage inflation, a recent Wiley survey identified that 69 percent of HR professionals believe their organization has a skills gap, and three-fourths of those surveyed would consider interviewing candidates who are skilled through alternative routes other than a college degree (aka STARs) to address it. Of those alternatives, respondents weighted non-degree qualifications including five years of relevant work experience, certificates from colleges and universities, as well as digital badges and microcredentials equally.

Although relaxing degree requirements presents an opportunity to extend access to more jobseekers while helping employers address a pernicious skills shortage, the trend has raised questions about how to operationalize it within the enterprise: if companies are now going to hire people based on their skills, how can they confidently identify the skills people possess? How will they know what a candidate is truly capable of? And how will they match those skills to their organizational needs?

Advances in skills intelligence technology have made it possible to answer these questions with a level of personalization and specificity previously beyond enterprise capabilities.  

What Makes Change Possible

The Paper Ceiling simply can’t tear itself. Even alongside shifting perceptions of alternative routes to skills, companies still need evidence that they are recruiting the right candidates into open vacancies. SkyHive Technologies, through the power of its patented skills intelligence, makes rigorous skills-based hiring possible.  

SkyHive’s innovative machine learning technology has synthesized the world’s labor data to decode human capability to its most granular level: skills. The company processes enormous amounts of data – over a petabyte daily – yielding a powerful knowledge graph that can infer skills based on a person’s lived experience (including their formal and informal work, education, certificates they have earned, military service, volunteering, etc.) and align their unique skills to those demanded in the labor market.  

By connecting the dots between a candidate’s transferable skills and in-demand jobs, employers can gain confidence that STARs can meet their companies’ hiring needs and can also understand how to upskill them once they’ve begun working for greater shared value and return on investment. Not only does SkyHive innovation address skills gaps in real time, this technology makes skills-based hiring possible, relegating the “Paper Ceiling” to the dustbin of history.

Case in Point: Opportunity Meets Technology

Opportunity@Work is a national nonprofit that advocates on behalf the 70+ million U.S. adults who lack four-year college degrees. Skilled Through Alternative Routes, these “STARs” represent close to half the working population and gain their skills through on-the-job training, community colleges, bootcamps, certificate programs, or through military service.  

Opportunity@Work partners with SkyHive to support skills-based matching between STARs and employers through a custom-built platform called stellarworx*. Using stellarworx*, STARs can identify their skills and use them to search and evaluate their alignment to job opportunities offered through employers committed to skills-based hiring. Likewise, employers can use the stellarworx* platform to identify STARs whose skills align well to their open vacancies.  

According to Opportunity@Work CEO Byron Auguste, “These new capabilities enabled by SkyHive help to spotlight upwardly mobile career pathways for workers Skilled Through Alternative Routes that will allow them to access the higher-wage work they have long deserved.” And while stellarworx* and the partnership is still in its infancy, the results are undeniable: “This work gets us one step closer to rewiring the labor market so all workers can work, learn, and earn to their full potential.”

Getting to Scale

Since launching in September 2022, thousands of STARs have leveraged stellarworx* to connect their skills to the needs of the labor market. Among the companies committed to hiring based on skills and open to people from alternative backgrounds: Accenture, Amazon, Aon, Live Nation, Okta, and Workday, and dozens of others.

But getting to scale to address a problem impacting over half the working populous requires more than a successful ad campaign or a single notable partnership. Auguste is often quoted as saying, "If you don't have a STARs strategy, you don't really have a complete human capital strategy [or a] complete talent sourcing strategy."  

At SkyHive, we agree with and echo this sentiment. Rewiring the labor market requires holistic action across the workforce ecosystem, and that includes:

  • Employers creating a STARs strategy for their business, but also embedding skills-based practices enterprise-wide and across the talent lifecycle, for STARs and incumbent workers;  
  • Governments leveraging the immense gravity of their hiring and procurement activity to promote skills-based hiring, as well as innovating workforce development to make skills (and skills data) a robust “common denominator” across agencies and programs;
  • Educators using skills to align instructional design and delivery with labor market needs, supporting skills identification throughout the learning journey, and emphasizing transferable skills and skills-based hiring in campus recruiting and school-to-work transitions;
  • Intermediaries replicating models like stellarworx* to bring the power of skills-based approaches to the populations that they serve and scaling this powerful model for systems change.

Transferable skills (like those of STARs) deliver immense value to our labor economy, and SkyHive’s technology makes this value tangible. The many organizations that partner with SkyHive realize this value by hiring, training, promoting, and enabling career mobility for people based on their skills, regardless how they were attained.

We challenge your organization to likewise explore how skills-based practices could address talent shortages and create competitive advantage. Join this growing community of leaders committed to tearing the paper ceiling and helping more people unlock the transformative power of good work. Request a demo here.

Art installation of the Paper Ceiling by artist Samuelle Green.

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