09/06/2012 03:51 pm ET Updated Nov 06, 2012

Skill-Based Hiring Works

Sometimes finding a solution is simple. Not often enough, but sometimes.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, the good folks at the city's Public Service University -- the division that creates and deploys learning and training for city employees -- were saddled with a barrier that was affecting hiring, training and retention of city workers.

The barrier? If you wanted to be a bus driver for the City, you had to have a high school diploma. If you wanted to be a solid waste management driver, a GED was required. The same went for many other city positions.

The problem is that about 20 percent of New Mexico citizens never graduate from high school. In effect, that dramatically reduces the available hiring pool and leaves many essential jobs at risk of taking much longer to fill.

The real issue is that a diploma or a GED doesn't really tell you much about an individual's workplace skills. So requiring one is more than a barrier, it's an artificial barrier that reveals little about an applicant's qualifications.

What's important is the match between specific job requirements and an individual's measurable skill set to perform the tasks. Here's an example.

Suppose "Joe" never graduated from high school and never earned a GED. He's been working on his family's ranch for years. Joe has developed a lot of skills but has no way to prove those skills to an employer. Let's say he's interested in a position with the City as an animal handler. He applies. Because he has no diploma or GED, his application is discarded without a glance. Joe loses. The City loses. The citizens -- and their animals -- lose too. Based on his acquired skills, Joe could have been an exemplary public servant.

So what did City officials do to change this outcome? They are adopting a skills-based hiring model. They have an authorized job profiler conduct a detailed job analysis for each position, starting with the high-churn positions. The resulting report paints a complete picture of the tasks and skills needed for the job. The profile report lists the appropriate assessments -- standardized, nationally recognized, evidence-based workplace assessments -- to measure those skills and the minimum test score for each.

Now let's suppose that Joe resubmits his application under the new hiring model. He takes the required assessments and earns the needed scores. Joe's application is considered, and the rest of the hiring process continues. The outcome is that Joe's years of working with animals on his family's ranch help him earn the credit he deserves. His demonstrated skill levels give the City a greater degree of confidence that he can be successful in the required training and on the job. Everyone wins.

Beyond this hypothetical scenario, real change is taking place. Mike R. Smith, director of Albuquerque's Public Service University, reports that skills-based hiring is making a difference. In the early stages of deployment, he's seen a reduction in hiring time and cost. The cost of training and supervision will be lower because it takes less time to help a new hire reach an effective level of performance. Retention will improve. The new hiring model allows applicants who do not reach the required assessment scores a learning portal to skill up and then reapply. In short, skills-based hiring is working. Mike says he's hopeful that this transformation will also create career portals for individuals to help them qualify for job advancement. Mike and the New Options New Mexico team are in the middle of an ROI study that he is sure will solidify the early signs of success.

Sometimes finding a solution is really just a matter of knocking down barriers. Let's bring down those walls that are meaningless to employment success and help all of the Joes -- and Janes -- get the jobs they deserve.