As the war for talent continues, employers' focus on exact experience and education has blurred.
The "rules of employability" are shifting because the future of work demands different types of skills and competencies than those historically taught well by higher education, Andrea Backman, chief employability officer at Strategic Education Inc., previously told HR Dive.
So with once highly sought-after credentials moving down the list of priorities, what's soaring to the top?
Generally, employers are looking for a mix of skills and behaviors, Backman told HR in another email interview. This includes communication skills, problem-solving, digital proficiency, productivity, data analysis skills, confidence, drive, self and social awareness, agility and creativity, she explained.
"It’s important to understand the distinction between skills and behaviors. Performance-based skills — such as data analysis, digital proficiency, and problem-solving have expected standards of performance to increase in complexity over time; while behaviors are often just as important for career success, they are harder to measure,” Backman said.
Room to grow
Drive and agility are particularly key as technology continues to reshape work. Paul Lesser, head of talent acquisition at Fidelity Investments, calls it "technical adaptability."
"We see technical adaptability as three things," he told HR Dive: how workers use technology to do their job better; how they learn using technology; and how they use technology to solve business problems. "We believe it’s important that candidates today understand how technology fits into the ecosystem of the specific company where they’re interviewing."
Fidelity looks for candidates who think horizontally, he said — those with a firm grasp of how to work across different departments, companies, partners, levels and geographies. "Fidelity, like many other companies, is prioritizing collaborative skills, skills that enable the candidate to be a contributor and a leader when working with anyone in the company. More important than ever, as businesses get less hierarchical, it is important to look for candidates who sometimes lead and sometimes follow."
Peter Bonjuklian, vice president, delivery at Yoh Specialty Practices, agreed. "For the highly skilled roles we often fill at Yoh, employability means one of two things — either having the experience in a very specific technology/skillset or having the willingness to learn a specific technology or skillset," he wrote to HR Dive.
With so much demand for talent, employers appear more willing to take a leap on a candidate they feel has softer skills — here, the ability and willingness to learn — rather than wait for the perfect candidate to appear, Bonjuklian said. "Employability means flexibility and adaptability."
That's true for hiring managers even at companies that don't consider themselves agile, Lesser said. "As the future of work becomes reality, more companies will start to value agile skills even more, but I think we’re already starting to see it," he wrote.
Molly Brennan, founding partner at Koya Leadership Partners, echoed that observation. "Whatever field you’re in, whatever role you’re applying for, critical problem solving skills are crucial," she told HR Dive via email. Social, or soft, skills are the newest currency. "In a future dominated by artificial intelligence and other technology advances, 'soft' skills will be highly sought after. These include the ability to manage people, emotional intelligence, collaboration [and] creativity."
Can education keep pace?
Traditionally, higher education has been a few years behind industry in terms of skills taught in the classroom, according to Bonjuklian. But as technology has advanced at warp speed, educators have had to work to keep that gap from widening. According to Bonjuklian, partnerships have proven key. "Those higher education institutions that partner with industry to identify missing skillsets early and offer more integrated internship and co-op opportunities will deliver graduates better prepared to enter tomorrow’s workforce," he said.
The higher education system as a whole is doing a good job of preparing graduates for increasingly agile environments, Lesser said. Colleges and universities understand that companies are less hierarchical now, he noted, and they're encouraging and enforcing a collaborative collegiate environment to prepare their students for the workplace.
"As a generation, young people entering the workforce now have the most technical aptitude that we have ever seen before," Lesser said, “which makes their potential even stronger as companies continue to transform digitally." But there's still work to be done. "Colleges and universities need to continue teaching this flexibility towards technology — regardless of the individual area of study, as it’s applicable to any job or career today.”
Backman agreed: "When essential behaviors and skills of employability are infused into learning, working adults have the potential to see benefits in their career during their academic journey, not just after graduation. Focusing on these employable traits and skills allows adult students and the employer to reap the reward for investment sooner."