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How a Focus on Skills, Not Background, Can Future-Proof Houston’s Workforce

Published Jun 19, 2019 by Peter Beard

Beth Cobert
Beth Cobert

Lasting changes in job skill needs, expansion of technology in work and learning, and increasing mobility of companies and workers are among the critical trends affecting the development of our regional and national workforce. The 2019 UpSkill Works Conference will dive into these and other developments and their meaning for Greater Houston’s future on June 25.

Beth Cobert, CEO of Skillful, will take part in a fireside chat to discuss the increasing role of technology and automation in the workplace. Skillful is a non-profit initiative of the Markle Foundation, and is developing skills-based training and employment practices in collaboration with state governments, local employers, educators and workforce development organizations. 

Below, Cobert shares more about how the workforce is changing and where the opportunities are for Greater Houston. 
 

What are the differences between a skills-based labor market and a credentials-based labor market?

A skills-based labor market is one in which the entire workforce system, including workers, employers, and educators, share a common language around skills. In a skills-based labor market, workers know how to clearly express their skills, no matter where they were obtained. Employers can determine exactly what skills they need and attract and hire the people most likely to flourish in a given position. And educators and training providers can tailor their curricula with a focus on skills to better fit the labor market’s demands. 

Credentials are an important element of helping workers communicate the skills they have in a way that can provide clarity around the skills a person has. They can also help workers and companies build and communicate skills in targeted ways that will be needed as the economy continues its rapid pace of change. Educators and training providers are, and will continue to be, enormously powerful as we look to help workers become lifelong learners, a necessity in today and tomorrow’s labor market. 

Can you share one of your success stories?

Sure—we have lots of stories of people whom Skillful and our partners have helped connect to a better career or employers who have found new sources of great talent by adopting skills-based practices.  As one example, after working with Skillful, a call center and customer service center run by the state of Colorado changed its talent management processes to focus on skills rather than prior experience. The director of this division reported that this new, skills-based approach helped her department decrease her vacancy rate from 35 percent to under 10 percent and that abandonment rates have fallen from 60 percent to less than eight percent. And all these changes took place over a short six-month period. What stuck out to me when hearing her story was that the quality of the services improved. Skills-based practices helped her and her department get there. She also highlighted how these new processes have improved morale; by creating career paths that explicitly tie skills to pay raises, employees are “more invested and engaged in their work” and now have more opportunities for advancement.

For us, that’s what success looks like: connecting people to rewarding work for which they might not have been considered and providing them with career paths to help them remain competitive in today’s changing economy.

What opportunity do you see in Greater Houston’s own efforts to address our workforce challenges? 

The Greater Houston Partnership’s approach is parallel to ours in that it encourages cross-sector collaboration, a strong spirit of partnership, and works at broadening people’s narrow definitions of what a “good” job entails.

For instance, their campaign “My Life As” helps students and their parents understand the many career options available that don’t necessarily follow what you might consider a “traditional” career path. This work is perhaps the most important: changing the narrative. Opportunities are rampant and can be found in many places; the key is to realize how to take advantage of them.

Beth Cobert will share more in a fireside chat during the 2019 UpSkill Works Conference, hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership, June 25. Learn more about the conference and how you can register here

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The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the disruption of entire industries along with the way work can be done. And as technology and other forces reshape the nature of work, recognizing soft and other skills as real drivers of success can have more profound effects on rebuilding a high performing workforce, regaining employment and choosing good careers and education pathways than ever before. Recently, Greg Hambrick, co-founder and CEO of the skills identifying company Fast Forward Works; Dr. Fred Oswald, organizational psychologist and professor at Rice University’s School of Social Sciences and Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences and Director of Graduate Studies; and Mandy Williams (AKA Black), managing partner at RED+BLACK, recently shared their research, analysis and personal experience to help employers, educators and community leaders understand just how important recognizing soft and cognitive skills can be. The conversation was part of the UpSkill Houston initiative’s UpSkill Works Forum Series, hosted by Partnership Senior Vice President of Regional Workforce Development Peter Beard, and centered on: How employers can focus hiring practices on skills to tap into a talented and diverse workforce;  How individuals can identify the skills they possess and highlight them while pursuing employment; and How recognizing and developing soft and cognitive skills can help workers and students excel. Soft skills, including teamwork, communication, time management, empathy and negotiation, have applications across diverse industries and occupations. According to Hambrick, whose company helps organizations and individuals identify their cognitive skillsets, they are generally dynamic and are learned through experience.    Job analysis can drive better hiring decisions Most hiring decisions are based on what a hiring manager can measure. 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