Skills-Based Hiring: Creating Pathways for STARs in Maryland

February 22, 2024

Over 70 million workers are Skilled Through Alternative Routes (STARs) and represent the full diversity of our workforce. This has led many to rethink their own hiring practices and shift to a skills-based approach. In 2022, the State of Maryland launched a state-wide initiative eliminating four-year degree requirements from thousands of state jobs. The State of Maryland employs more than 38,000 individuals and estimates that more than half of those jobs can substitute relevant experience, training, and community college education.

In 2023, the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) launched a partnership pilot program that focuses on increasing the effectiveness of skills-based hiring. The partnership includes ACCT, Opportunity@Work, the State of Maryland, and four pilot Maryland Community Colleges. This program looks to demonstrate the effectiveness of skills-based hiring by designing and/or enhancing existing training programs at the community colleges around the essential skills most needed for specific occupations, creating a pipeline of skilled and career-ready job candidates for open roles.

While States like Maryland and other localities look at eliminating four-year degree requirements for positions, we look at understanding what the catalyst is for driving this initiative and how community colleges already play an important role in workforce development across the country. 

Anchoring in Skills

Skills-based hiring takes an equitable and data-driven approach to how employers think about recruitment. It also relies on skills rather than pedigree for individuals who are obtaining a new job. Skills-based hiring allows individuals to leverage relevant skills and experiences they have obtained through community college, military service, workforce development programs, and boot camps to secure a new job.

Many employers leverage a bachelor’s degree as a screener through their hiring process, which filters out about 50% of the available workforce. Anchoring in a skills-based hiring approach allows employers to not only take a deeper dive into what skills are needed for open and new positions they have but also allows them to consider the broad depth of skills that potential employees have and can bring to their organization.

The Skills-Based Hiring Initiative at ACCT is made possible through funding from Lumina Foundation. According to Georgia Reagan, strategy officer of employment aligned credential programs at Lumina Foundation, “while skills-based hiring has become one of many buzz words heard often in higher education and the workforce, Lumina is looking to national groups like ACCT to start making this a reality for workers completing training at community colleges.” Community colleges serve an important role in the ecosystem that supports students’ and learners’ completion of credentials, certificates, and degree programs. Many of these individuals work, support families, and have significant demands on their time, making the commitment to a bachelor’s degree program elusive.

Leading the Way at Community Colleges

Community colleges are the perfect partners to provide skill-building opportunities for STARs and already play an important role in workforce development across the country. Providing a high-quality option for sourcing skilled and career-ready candidates, community colleges are ideal partners for expanding skills-based hiring. Community college programs offer students an accessible, affordable, and quicker way to complete training that can lead them to a good career. Several states have announced that they are removing the bachelor’s degree requirement from many state positions. This is a game-changer for STARs who may not have a bachelor’s degree but have or will have skills relevant to the job from a community college training program.

Partnerships with employers are nothing new for community colleges. They already work with employers to provide workforce development opportunities to upskill workers. Community colleges are tied to their local communities and contribute to their regions’ growth and success through various avenues, including workforce development, growth of the labor force, community service, local regional and economic development, and technical and vocational training. The shift for many states and organizations to skills-based hiring is an opportunity for community colleges to leverage their strengths and support the pipeline and pathways for STARs seeking new opportunities.

Additionally, community colleges have the infrastructure established to support learners directly and/or have partnerships with local organizations to provide additional support services to ensure they are set up for success. Community colleges are central hubs for their respective communities and provide not just access to educational programs, but they also provide wrap around support services to help meet their students’ needs. Creating a pipeline of skilled and career-ready job candidates for open roles is currently underway at community colleges. The Skills-Based Hiring Initiative at ACCT will provide additional guidance to community college leaders who are looking to partner with their states and local agencies to create partnerships that lead the way for STARs to fill vacant government jobs.

Aspirations for Skills-Based Hiring

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023 indicates that “six in 10 workers will require training before 2027.” Furthermore, nearly 25% of jobs will be disrupted in the next five years according to WEF. Therefore, identifying the skills that are needed to succeed in a position is essential in setting individuals up for success in a new role. Creating a pipeline for the millions of STARs looking for new opportunities is one of the keys to supporting our communities and community colleges. The framework that is being developed by ACCT’s Skills-Based Hiring Initiative will serve as a guide to those who are looking to create and facilitate new partnerships with their state and local governments to recruit STARs into available positions. The framework will also provide guidance for community colleges on the process of facilitating a skills discovery process walkthrough with state and local government partners to identify the skills required for vacant positions. Knowing what skills are needed in a position will allow a community college to create and/or enhance new programs on campus to support students/learners in obtaining the skills needed for roles within state and local governments.

ACCT’s Skills-Based Hiring pilot program in the State of Maryland will lead to a comprehensive framework on how other states and organizations can make skills-based hiring go from pre-announcement to implementation. As other states wade into the skills-based hiring space, ACCT’s work will serve as a guide to connecting community colleges, employers, and state offices in these positions together to better streamline the hiring process for STARs to enter good careers within their state. There are many moving parts involved in enrolling, training, supporting, and hiring STARs into careers, and all these entities must be at the table to be successful. When institutions are ready to engage their state, it is important to leverage not only the state leadership, but also the staff who will work directly with STARs, such as human resources (HR) staff or hiring managers, to make this work feasible.

When asked what Lumina would like to see come as a result of the Skills-Based Hiring Initiative, Reagan elaborated, “ACCT’s work will serve as a guide for other states to use in their own skills-based hiring practices. Lumina recognizes this is long, hard work, but critical if we want to ensure that all students have access to quality training programs that can lead to good careers.” The training program enhancements that come from this pilot program will benefit students/learners and employers by creating career pathways which lead to family-sustaining wages.

Sean Robins is the Policy Associate at the Association of Community College Trustees leading the Skills-Based Hiring Initiative to demonstrate the effectiveness of skills-based hiring by designing and/or enhancing existing training programs at four community colleges in Maryland around the essential skills most needed for specific occupations, creating a pipeline of skilled and career-ready job candidates for open roles.

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