OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Helping disconnected young people gain access to fulfilling careers through transferable skills

A number of recent surveys among employers have raised the prominence of soft skills and attitude in the skills gap discussion – skills that can be refined and proven over time in all sorts of work and education experiences. Yet standard hiring practices continue to focus on hard skill screeners, in-network referrals, and on-campus recruiting, leaving young people without direct experience or a strong professional network out in the cold. The service we created, theThings.biz, recognizes the value of work (any work) in developing the core characteristics that would make for a valuable, long-term hire. And we are helping job seekers market these characteristics in a jobs marketplace where the initial screen is based on soft skills.

Photo of Geordie McClelland
4 3

Written by

As a hiring manager for 13 years in consulting, advertising and marketing roles, I believe that companies need to consider real changes in their recruiting practices to help and benefit from the valuable pool of talent among young people who have attempted to enter the workforce in the past 6 years.  A number of recent surveys among employers have raised the prominence of soft skills and attitude in the skills gap discussion – skills that can be refined and proven over time in all sorts of work and education experiences.  Yet standard hiring practices continue to focus on hard skill screeners, in-network referrals, and on-campus recruiting, leaving young people who have been out in the workforce, though un- or underemployed, or groups with unique experiences, like Veterans transitioning into civilian careers, out in the cold.
 
The service we created, theThings.biz, recognizes the value of work (any work) in developing the core characteristics that would make for a valuable, long-term hire.  And we are helping young job seekers market these characteristics to companies through a jobs marketplace where the initial screen is based on soft skills and attitude.  Our hope is that with this manner of evaluation, we can help companies discover a more diverse population of candidates who are more qualified to deliver value over the long-term.  And for candidates, we want to support the idea that active participation in the workforce, even if it’s not directly related to the career they aspire to, can be valuable in getting the career they do want started.
 
Though we are still in an early user acquisition phase, our focus on transferable soft skills as a means to evaluate young talent is based on gaps identified in this area through a number of career-readiness studies, including the National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook Study and Bentley University’s PreparedU study.  We are currently designing a longitudinal effectiveness study to measure the impact of our process on employee tenure, effectiveness and diversity.
 

4 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Meena Kadri

We've been stoked to have switched-on folks who are working to re-calibrate recruiting and job seeking join this challenge! Welcome onboard, Geordie.

We're all keen to learn more about what you've found challenging, surprising and successful as you develop your initiative. (if you like, you can add this directly to your post by hitting the Update Entry button up there on the right)

You might like to check out these posts and commentary to see what insights are being shared on folks working to innovate this space in various ways – and join in on conversations there. Given OpenIDEO is all about collaboration, we're amped that you might connect with others here who are making fresh strides – and share + build upon each others insights to strengthen all of your collective impact.

https://openideo.com/challenge/youth-employment-pathways/research/hire-based-on-solving-a-challenge-not-static-background-info#c-5ebe8a29e61a7666b28d26f1599ed108

https://openideo.com/challenge/youth-employment-pathways/research/what-careers-are-right-for-me-self-guided-career-exploration-for-young-job-hunters-using-eparachute

https://openideo.com/challenge/youth-employment-pathways/research/play2work-who-said-gaming-was-a-waste-of-time-press-play-to-start-your-career

Photo of Geordie McClelland

Thanks Meena and Aysha for your comments.

Aysha, your point about the measures of potential is exactly in line with what we were thinking when we created theThings.biz. Going back even further there's the old adage about hiring for attitude instead of skills. In many ways employers know that hiring "the person" is more important than filling a specific skill need - but despite that awareness, most aren't hiring this way. Bentley University released a study last year called PreparedU (http://www.bentley.edu/prepared) that highlights this conflict - their poll of employers found that the majority favored soft skills in terms of importance among recent graduates, but only a minority of them used soft skills as a primary measure for candidate evaluation. We see this as a failure of process in HR and due to a lack of reliable ways to evaluate these intangible measures. We hope that with theThings.biz we can help to address these challenges.

From an employer perspective, we hope - and will test the effectiveness of - our means of evaluating candidates will:
- Provide a candidate pool with a higher proportion of dynamic individuals who can both serve today's needs and tomorrow's business needs
- Provide a more diverse population of otherwise underrepresented candidates that better reflects our broader economy

For job-seekers our goals are simple:
- Help them find and represent the value of what they've done (even if it's not "directly relevant" in standard hiring practices) as measures of how they think and work
- Help more, and a more diverse population of job candidates gain access to opportunities where they can succeed but that they otherwise might not have
- Help them understand that how they do things can as important as what they've done

Meena, in terms of lessons learned - we frankly have a lot to learn and we want to ultimately be able to comment using more reliable, longitudinal data about outcomes - but in the early days we are seeing:

- Our candidate focus is broadly defined as "disconnected young people" which includes anyone starting their careers without direct relevant experience or a strong professional network (including recession grads, people with non-traditional backgrounds, and Veterans). The good news is that though there is still work to be done, there are a lot of support systems in place to help Veterans and companies in general are compelled to look to hire Veterans - so we've found some traction there. The bad news is that these other, less defined groups are in many ways truly disconnected - there are no established pathways to young people who have been underemployed or un-employed for the years since they entered the workforce. We want to find these people and help them - but without these pathways, reaching them has proven surprisingly difficult.

- Employers in general tend to feel more comfortable using soft skills as an initial screen for hiring for sales and customer service roles. But that said, we've been surprised that even engineering companies have shown interest because they recognize that candidates lacking these skills, though they may be the right person for a certain task, are rarely the right person for the job over the long term.

One opportunity that we hope to realize but that hasn't yet come to fruition, is to serve as a jobs marketplace for people who have participated in organizations whose missions include fostering soft skill development in young people - including civic service and volunteering organizations like Americorps or Habitat for Humanity. Often the work participants do in these experiences is not "directly relevant" to the careers they aspire to and as such, the transferable value of the skills they develop through them can be lost. We believe that there's a better way to help people see the value of these experiences, not just for good they can do for communities, but also as a training ground for great employees in almost any industry.

Really excited to be a part of this discussion - and thanks to all of you for caring about and advancing the cause.

Photo of Geordie McClelland

Also, sorry if this posted elsewhere in these discussions - but no audit of efforts to help the young and unemployed in American would be complete without checking out the efforts of some of the organizations in Opportunity Nation's Coalition http://opportunitynation.org/who-we-are/the-opportunity-coalition/ which includes both well known organizations like City Year and Year Up as well as lessor known groups like theThings.biz who are out testing potential solutions to this problem.

View all comments