Skill-Based Hiring Goes Mainstream

Published on Jul 21, 2020

Updated on Nov 3, 2022

Written by Remie Verougstraete

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The president meets with members of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board on Friday to discuss skill-based federal hiring, June 26, 2020.

As of last Friday, it’s official: Skill-based hiring practices are the new normal at the nation’s largest employer.

On June 26, President Trump signed an executive order implementing “merit-based reforms that will replace degree-based hiring with skill-based and competency-based hiring.” While the direct impact of the order is limited to the federal government’s own hiring policies, the move was described by advisor Ivanka Trump as the government’s attempt to “lead by example.” And the presence at Friday’s meeting of prominent business leaders (including from IBM and Lockheed Martin) as well as the inclusion of major CEO’s on the advisory board that developed these proposals seems to indicate support from the private sector.

Many of the reforms and initiatives discussed at Friday’s board meeting are still in the early stages and it’s not yet clear how these recommendations will play out. But what is clear is that the future of education and work is skill-based. In that sense, Friday’s meeting offers a vision into the future of learning and work in America.

Modernizing learning and work with the language of skills

Through our open skills library, Emsi is working to help educators, employers, and communities make this vision a reality. We constantly collect and curate skills from online job postings and professional profiles, so the library is always up to date and reflects the real-life language of the labor market. In fact, the Emsi skills library is part of several pilot projects mentioned in Friday’s briefing, including the curriculum-to-skill mapping work described by Western Governors University (WGU) president Scott Pulsipher.

From syllabi to skillabi

For colleges and universities, adopting the language of skills is critical to serving students effectively in the new ecosystem of learning and work. Emsi facilitates this transformation with two unique applications of our skills library:

1) Mapping curriculum to skills

By tagging your curricular content with the Emsi skills library, we’ll help you relate educational offerings to the skill terms used by businesses (in their job postings) and professionals (in their online profiles). We deliver the resulting “skill map” via a software platform (called Skillabi) that gives faculty a central place to collaborate on and view the distribution of skills across your courses and programs.

This mapping lays the groundwork for unprecedented insight into your programs’ alignment with labor market needs, at the skill level. It can also be a critical first step towards creating the kind of “learning and employment record” (aka – interoperable learning record) discussed at Friday’s meeting that will help students better articulate the skills they acquire in your programs.


2) Connecting learners to courses (based on skills)

As skill-based hiring practices gain acceptance among employers and regulators, learner demand for skill-specific training is likely to accelerate. As the advisory board recently highlighted, the need is especially urgent for displaced workers and other non-traditional students seeking the most efficient pathway to a high-growth, in-demand job.

Using the SkillsMatch platform, institutions can respond to these trends by recommending educational content that aligns with an individual learner’s personal skill gaps and professional goals. SkillsMatch works by connecting our skill library to your course content, and then surfacing those connections to students through a user-friendly interface. Students inventory their current skills, clarify the skills they want to learn, and then discover relevant courses at your institution based on the skills taught.



The tide that lifts all boats

Towards the end of Friday’s board meeting, WGU president Scott Pulsipher provided a helpful take on what a more skill-based economy means for higher education:

“From a university’s perspective, it’s often perceived as skills versus degrees.  But in reality, in a skills-denominated future, it is that tide that lifts all boats.  Because even those who possess degrees, they can better articulate the skills and competencies that they now have for the future of work.”

In other words, while there is certainly strong demand for non-degree skill training, institutions can actually use this new emphasis on skills to highlight the work-relevance and value of traditional degree programs as well. The key is adopting a common skills language that is shared not only by educators and their students, but also the employers, policy makers, and workforce development, working professionals.

Emsi works at the intersection of education, employment, and public policy, using one shared skills language to unite stakeholders and create a more efficient economic ecosystem. Contact us to learn more about the skill library and how to leverage it at your institution.