Reskilling: The New Trend in Recruiting

It doesn’t matter how talented your new hires are, or what stellar technology training they’ve received.

Chances are within a few years those skills will be obsolete.

Technology evolves so quickly that it is no longer enough to hire for the skills needed today. To stay relevant, companies need to hire people who have the ability to constantly learn new skills that may not yet exist. This focus on reskilling as a talent management strategy is already taking place, said Art Mazor, principal of Deloitte’s human capital management consulting practice, in Atlanta. “Most big companies today are focused on reskilling, and for good reason: The half-life of skills is two to five years,” he said. “That has huge implications for recruiting.”

With demand for talent at an all-time high, companies can’t expect to pluck these skills ready-made from the talent pool. They will have to create them in-house by providing employees with constant access to training, and incentives to continuously reskill.

Research from McKinsey found 82 percent of executives at large organizations believe retraining and reskilling must be at least half of the answer to addressing their skills gap, with 27 percent calling it a top five priority. And 74 percent of global recruiting firms say reskilling workers represents an effective strategy to combat the perennial skills shortage, according to Bullhorn’s 2019 “Staffing and Recruiting Trends” report.

“Reskilling is an important solution to the talent shortage,” said Vinda Souza, vice president of marketing for Bullhorn. She said that as long as there is low unemployment, companies need to consider what training they can provide to new and existing talent to constantly close new skill gaps.

To reskill someone, look for people with “adjacent skills,” said Jesper Bendtsen, head of recruiting for Thomson Reuters in Toronto. “Don’t just look for people who know blockchain or AI,” he said. “Look for people who work with related technologies that will lend themselves to your future needs.”

That talent pool may already be on staff. Bendtsen noted that employees who have been with the company for years may not have the exact skills you are looking for, but they know your culture, your customers and your way of doing business. “Start by looking internally at who might be interested and able to transition to a new role through retraining,” he said. An internal upskilling program can help companies close talent gaps while reinforcing their commitment to the existing workforce.

When recruiting externally, companies need to consider what skills they are looking for and how that impacts the recruiting process. New hires need to be willing and able to learn new skills and to tackle nebulous workplace challenges. Identifying these skills requires more thoughtful assessments of candidates’ soft skills and personality, not just their past history, Mazor said.

Some organizations are adding virtual reality, automated simulations and gaming tools to the recruiting process to observe how candidates handle unknown situations and learn new information to solve problems.

“These tools test their predisposition for handling challenges while creating a compelling candidate experience,” Mazor said.

Companies are also integrating hiring managers into this assessment process. At Thomson Reuters, for example, software engineers oversee candidates as they complete coding challenges, while asking questions about their process.

“The goal isn’t to see if they get the right answers, but to see how they tackle problems and use information,” Bendtsen said. “It’s an objective way to assess a candidate’s skills and ability to learn.”

This new approach to recruiting could make it easier for companies to look further afield for candidates who show an aptitude and interest in learning, even if they don’t follow a traditional academic or career path, said Tara Cassady, senior vice president at Cielo, a global recruitment process outsourcing provider in Milwaukee. “You want people who are curious, have an aptitude to troubleshoot, and who use technology to solve problems,” she said. These lifelong learners could just as easily come from tech schools, boot camps and online universities as from traditional college campuses.

Once they do find or retain these candidates, they are also investing more effort into retaining them, she said. From ensuring that interns have a clear path to employment, to making sure newly trained talent are given new assignments and competitive salaries, engagement and retention must be part of the reskilling trend, she said. “If you are going to invest in training talent, you don’t want to lose them to a competing firm.”

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer in Chicago.