“Shift Happens” was the theme of the Close It Summit held in Dallas, Texas just a few weeks before the election, without knowledge that a big shift in leadership for our country was on its way. Companies gathered to look at new ways to hire talent, find talent, develop talent. And a newly formed Innovative Business Hiring Council was unveiled to focus on a new business model for companies to employ youth based on skills and competencies.
We are long overdue for a shift in the old hiring model. The unanticipated change in leadership has created angst across the country, with concerns around almost every single issue that has been building momentum over the last decade (or more) in America. Economic opportunity and jobs are at the heart of this angst. The new administration can not ignore the growing unemployment rate among youth in the U.S. In a study by Brookings Institute almost 9 years ago, it was determined that people in other highly industrialized countries now have a better chance of moving up the economic ladder than children in America. The data suggests that the solid ground of America was shifting even then, and we know it still is—thus the angst we have all felt these past few weeks.
The report noted that over the last thirty years there has been a considerable drop-off in median household income growth compared to earlier generations. Today, the zip codes where people are born too often determine their destiny. The unemployment rate for young Black adults (20.6%) is twice that of all other races (9.9 – 11.3%), which is itself double the national unemployment rate (4.9%). Just 42% of black students complete a postsecondary degree, compared to 62% of white students. It’s been a lost decade for young Americans in terms of employment. In 2000, 45%of teens ages 16-19 were employed. By 2011, just 26 percent of teens were employed. Employment rates for young adults ages 20-24 also plummeted during this time frame, from 72% to 60% .
Shift is happening around the college degree as well. Conventional wisdom is that the pathway to economic prosperity runs primarily through a four-year bachelor degree program. With the increasing cost of higher education (and baggage of debt), the cost of a college degree has far outpaced inflation and financial aid isn’t keeping up, which means that students, if they manage to graduate, are beginning their adult lives with career-hobbling and life-inhibiting levels of debt— debt that is unable to be discharged through bankruptcy or even death.
So what is the way forward? We know through valid research that interest is as predictive to success on the job as education level. If one has an interest in their job, they are just as likely to be successful as if they had years of education in preparation for a job. And cognitive skills (as measured by assessment) are actually 5 times more predictive than years of education. Interest and skills can lead to training, and just-in-time training is available for many U.S. jobs.
Yet it remains true that the act of hiring in itself defines the “acceptable” learning pathways to get hired— we pursue what gets rewarded. Therefore, Innovate + Educate was inspired to conduct an experiment. Earlier this year, the Mayor of the City of Albuquerque and Innovate+Educate (with support from the Rockefeller Foundation) partnered for the first-ever “Job Ready Hire” hiring fair with a goal of reaching to young adults in the Albuquerque region who were out of school and unemployed. We wondered what would happen if we threw out resumes altogether and went right to what matters— talent and potential. On the morning of May 19th. top employers, with ready-to-start-tomorrow jobs made on-the-spot offers to over 300 of the 600 young people that showed up. They spent the first two hours of the day connecting these youth with job counselors and partners for skills validation, training, and career coaching before meeting with employers. Skill score cards replaced resumes. Employers had nothing to go on except the on-site assessment and skills scores. By the end of the day, 320 participants walked out with jobs. Six months later, 260 are still employed in those positions. These formerly disconnected youth were amazed to discover that skills they had taken for granted— like speaking Spanish— were actually in great demand. And employers were amazed they didn’t need a resume to see the talent. Both employers and employees discovered potential they had no idea existed.
So, the SHIFT is here. SHIFT happens. The unrest that emerged during and after this election season is not going away anytime soon. Nor should it. There are some deeply entrenched problems that we need to come together to tackle. And it would be wise for us to look first to the challenges young adults are facing. Employers must acknowledge their role in defining success measures as well as their responsibility for finding new ways to discover hidden talent. The equation has changed from train + assess = hire = success. The new model should be: assess for interest & competencies + hire for potential + train for skills = success. And that is the shift we are working to make happen.