Gallup: How to Reduce Bias and Hire the Best Candidate

A Gallup publication. Find the original here.

According to Gallup, companies fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for management positions 82% of the time. That means organizations hire the best managers fewer than two out of 10 times.

Business experience and the data agree: Picking the right person for a job is far more difficult than people realize.

The solution is to use a selection process that is fair and objective and that identifies true job-related talent — not just good interviewing skills.

Using talent-based assessments for hiring not only helps minimize hiring bias, it also improves business performance:

1. Talented employees outperform others by a wide margin. Gallup has found that when organizations systematically select high-talent managers and individual contributors, they can see up to 33% higher revenue per employee.

2. When people do what they are good at, they find work enjoyable, engaging and rewarding — which leads to even higher productivity.

3. Hiring the best people for the job can improve nearly every measure of business health. When companies select the top 20% of candidates based on a scientific assessment, they realize 41% less absenteeism, 70% fewer safety incidents, 59% less turnover, 10% higher customer metrics, 17% higher productivity and 21% higher profitability.

But more importantly, scientifically valid hiring assessments remove subjective bias by narrowing your candidate pool to those who are objectively qualified for the role.

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Learn how SkillSmart is helping companies across the US remove bias and hire strictly on skills matching.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Detroit Pistons Partnership Aims to Increase Workforce Participation on Construction of Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center

Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center

SkillSmart technology helps match candidates with positions; Detroit At Work to help prospective workers gain the skillset needed for future employment

The Detroit Pistons, The Platform and Christman-Brinker today launched a new partnership with SkillSmart to create a workforce development system for the Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center, helping not only connect Detroit residents with good-paying jobs, but also giving them valuable work skills.

Utilizing SkillSmart technology, Detroiters will have direct access to workforce opportunities created around construction of the new state-of-the art practice facility and team headquarters located in the New Center area. And, for Detroiters requiring additional training and skill development, the City of Detroit’s Workforce Development arm, Detroit At Work, will provide Detroiters free job skills training.

“Our goal is to increase construction workforce opportunities for Detroit residents now and in the future,” said Pistons Vice Chairman Arn Tellem. “Using SkillSmart will not only align Detroit job seekers with available positions at the new performance center site, but create a more qualified pipeline of potential employees that will be mutually beneficial for job seekers and employers throughout the coming years as additional construction projects begin throughout the city of Detroit.”

The SkillSmart system is available at and will serve as a valuable resource for both job seekers and employers. The site categorizes available positions by using necessary skills and prerequisites, while inviting job seekers to build an individual profile based on their work experience, training and education, and other life experiences. The tool will then provide them with a score for each available position showing how well their skill set and qualifications align with the job, while also suggesting resources – such as the free training programs through Detroit At Work – that help potential employees become stronger candidates for available positions through additional training opportunities.

The Detroit Pistons partnership with Detroit At Work is already supporting Detroit’s future workforce as the organization has contributed $100,000 to the Randolph Career Technical Center through the Detroit Employment Solutions Corp.   “We are grateful for the Detroit Pistons’ commitment to help build a construction skill trades pipeline for both students and adults at Randolph Career Tech Center,” said Jeff Donofrio, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Workforce Development Team.

Job seekers at any stage of their search will benefit from the SkillSmart platform whether they’re searching for a job that matches their current skill set; looking to expand their qualifications; or simply starting their search and learning about the types of positions that will be available and how to begin preparing for future opportunities. By building a SkillSmart profile, prospective employees will learn how to become better-prepared for future opportunities and take a step toward developing a stronger and more prepared workforce that will benefit the entire city of Detroit.

SkillSmart’s technology and programming provides a multi-faceted approach aimed at helping construction of the Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center achieve the decades-old challenge of meeting a 51 percent Detroit-based workforce on construction projects.

“For many years, large-scale development projects have fallen short of reaching the city’s 51 percent Detroit-based workforce requirement because there simply hasn’t been enough skilled-trade workers in the city.  And, this benchmark becomes increasingly more difficult to reach today with so many projects currently competing for the same workforce,” said Pat Devlin, Secretary Treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. “The Detroit Pistons are being proactive in their approach to implement a workforce development platform that encourages immediate participation from qualified candidates interested in construction skilled trades apprenticeships, while also enhancing Detroit’s future workforce potential by directing other applicants to additional training programs.”

“Increasing Detroit’s skilled labor force by bringing those who seek to enter the workforce together with employers who are offering jobs is an important goal in our developments,” said Dietrich Knoer, President and CEO of The Platform. “We believe that the new affiliation with SkillSmart will increase The Platform’s impact on work force development in Detroit.”

The Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center will create construction-related jobs in the short-term while increasing city income tax and property tax revenue generated by the organization’s relocation to the city. The building is slated to open next summer. The first phase of construction has begun as foundation work, concrete basement walls and underground utilities have been completed. Structural steel work has commenced on the site with concrete floor pours expected to begin in late September.

“It’s clear the Detroit Pistons, The Platform and Christman-Brinker are committed to using local workforce development as an opportunity to drive regional economic growth,” said SkillSmart co-founder Jason Green. “This project will provide the Detroit community with both the near-term benefits and job creation around construction of the new Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center, as well as the long-term benefits of understanding and building a talent pipeline for the future of the city.”

Last year, The Platform LLC was selected as developer and owner’s representative for the new Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center and Christman-Brinker was selected to be the construction manager for all components of the development. Detroit architecture firm Rossetti is the architect. These Detroit-based businesses have formed a powerful and experienced team to develop this new world-class facility. The development will include a parking garage to be shared with Henry Ford Health System and utilize public spaces to allow for community activities, networking receptions and other team-hosted events.



About SkillSmart
SkillSmart is a for-purpose tech company that is reshaping how employers identify and hire talent. Its employer-driven hiring platform helps growing organizations and industries find the talent they need by matching job seekers to employment opportunities based on skills rather than traditional proxies like a degree. SkillSmart has empowered employers and job seekers to make the right match in states across the country—from constructing the nation’s largest rapid transit train service project and a new arena for an NBA team, to staffing large gaming resorts, growing a state’s cybersecurity industry and building regional talent pipelines. SkillSmart’s strategy is revolutionizing data-driven approaches to hiring—closing skill gaps, increasing diversity, and improving social and economic outcomes for job seekers, employers and communities.
About Detroit Pistons
Since their arrival in 1957, the Detroit Pistons have become one of the most storied franchises in the NBA. With over 2,300 regular-season and playoff victories, the club has celebrated three NBA Championships (1989, 1990, 2004), five NBA Finals appearances (1988, 1989, 1990, 2004, 2005) and 11 Eastern Conference Finals appearances. Last season the club made its historic return to Detroit, playing games at the new state-of-the-art Little Caesars Arena. The club also broke ground on the new Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center located in the New Center area, which will serve as the organization’s practice facility and corporate headquarters. Since its purchase by Michigan native Tom Gores in 2011, the organization has focused on operating as a community asset while promoting a culture of innovation and industry-leading thought.
About The Platform
The Platform launched in February 2016, focused on becoming a driving force in the rebuilding of Detroit. We are committed to inclusive development, working solely within the city of Detroit across neighborhoods from center city to the westside and eastside. Our experienced team has decades of experience and a legacy of successful developments in Detroit. Our vision includes quality residential, commercial, and retail opportunities. We develop in ways that honor and contribute to Detroit’s existing social and physical fabric with the goal of creating places and spaces in Detroit that bring people together. Our mission embraces revitalizing neighborhoods, inspiring the next generation, and using design as a tool to make Detroit a great place to live.
About Christman-Brinker
The Christman Company, a Detroit-Based Business who has an office in the Christman-built Fisher Building, was founded in 1894, and has been building in Detroit for 100 years. L.S. Brinker Company, a certified Detroit Headquartered Business and certified Minority Business Enterprise, was founded in 1993 and specializes in providing construction and management related services. Projects together have included the Little Caesars World Headquarters Campus Expansion, Wayne State University Mike Ilitch School of Business, multiple Detroit Public Schools, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan BLUnite, and the Detroit Cornice and Slate building renovation.
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SkillSmart to Help Fill Pistons Headquarters Construction Jobs with Detroit Residents

SkillSmart helps Detroit PistonsFirst published by Crain’s Detroit Business, September 12, 2018. 

The Detroit Pistons and partners building the team’s new headquarters and practice facility in the city’s New Center area have launched a jobs portal to help meet a hiring quota.

The Platform LLC, the developer, and Christman-Brinker, the construction manager, joined the Pistons in rolling out the hiring system through Skillsmart Inc., a skills-matching website based in Germantown, Md. Officials behind the project hope the workforce development system will help contractors fill more than half of construction jobs with Detroit residents.

Construction of the $65 million Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center is part of an agreement between the city of Detroit and Pistons owner Tom Gores to move the NBA team from Auburn Hills to Little Caesars Arena downtown.

Job seekers can visit the website to build a profile that details their work history and skills, where they can see how their experiences match up to available positions. The site also directs visitors to free job training programs through the city’s Detroit At Work.

Pistons Vice Chairman Arn Tellem said the technology targets Detroiters and would develop a pool of talent.

“Using SkillSmart will not only align Detroit job seekers with available positions at the new performance center site, but create a more qualified pipeline of potential employees that will be mutually beneficial for job seekers and employers throughout the coming years as additional construction projects begin throughout the city of Detroit,” he said in a news release.

As part of the Pistons’ 10-point community benefits agreement with the city, the team also donated $100,000 to the Detroit Employment Solutions Corp. to improve skilled trades training at Randolph Career Technical center, a trade school within the Detroit Public Schools Community District.

It is not clear how many construction jobs would be created through the Henry Ford-Detroit Pistons project. A project manager with Christman-Brinker could not be immediately reached for more details Wednesday.

Construction of the 175,000-square-foot facility began in October and foundation work, concrete basement walls and underground utilities have been built, the release said. The facility is expected to open next summer.

The Skillsmart system will offer jobs throughout the construction process and is open to non-Detroit residents as well, Pistons spokesman Kevin Grigg said.

Some large-scale development projects in Detroit have failed to meet the city’s requirement that 51 percent of construction jobs be filled by Detroit residents. Contractors have blamed a low supply of qualified Detroiters with skilled-trades training, which Pat Devlin of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council said is difficult as numerous projects compete for a limited pool of workers.

Earlier this year, the city fined contractors more than $5 million following the construction of the $863 million Little Caesars Arena for failure to employ enough Detroiters. Detroit residents made up just one-quarter of work hours in construction of the stadium.

“[T]his benchmark becomes increasingly more difficult to reach today with so many projects currently competing for the same workforce,” Devlin, secretary treasurer of the MBCTC, said in the release. “The Detroit Pistons are being proactive in their approach to implement a workforce development platform” to hire qualified candidates and promote training programs.”


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Should employers care about GPA anymore?

skills based hiringFirst published by HR Dive, July 26, 2018. 

In 2013, Laszlo Bock, then senior vice president of people operations at Google, revealed to The New York Times in an interview something most businesses probably already knew: GPAs were “worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless — no correlation at all except for brand-new college grads, where there’s a slight correlation.”

Five years later, many employers still rely on GPA to forecast success in the workplace.

A recent study by Kingsley Leadership Academy suggests only 12% of those surveyed at the C-suite level think grades are an important consideration when hiring new employees. But for new grads, GPA is overwhelmingly highlighted on the CV or resume. With few other selling points to offer, the inclusion can be demonstrative of their work ethic and commitment. And in some areas, like academia or finance, the data may be significant.

But in many cases, GPA may be a false indicator of potential success as well as a potential risk for discrimination. “Proxies — like degree credentials or minimum GPA’s — ineffectively evaluate talent and artificially cull the candidate pool,” Mike Knapp, CEO at SkillSmart, told HR Dive in an email. “Skills-based hiring is more efficient, less risky, and better suited to today’s skills economy than job boards or traditional resumes.”

As more workers pursue self-guided learning and online courses, the skills-based model will become even more relevant, and GPAs less so, he said.

New and recent grads

“We are still seeing candidates placing GPA on resumes,” Bill Kushner, manager, Administrative and Human Resources Direct Hire Division at the Addison Group, told HR Dive in an email. “That said, it is more prevalent in candidates with under 10 years of experience and with individuals that carry higher GPAs.”

How long candidates leave it on a resume depends entirely on your GPA, Kushner says. Candidates that had a GPA under 3.5 would likely not put it on a resume, while those with GPAs above 3.5 are more often recommended to keep it on the resume. Companies primarily within the financial services and professional services space place more emphasis on GPA than other industries, Kushner said.

“Skills acquired through hands-on projects, volunteerism, extracurricular activities, or internships/work experience are far more valuable indicators of the skills they would bring to the workplace — and not reflected in a GPA score,” Knapp said.

What are you doing with the data?

In the absence of other real indicators of an applicant’s skills and abilities, hiring managers often use the GPA as a proxy for the work skills they hope an applicant has acquired, Knapp said.

“Unfortunately, using the GPA as a screening method often takes qualified, skilled applicants out of the candidate pool,” Knapp added. “When employers rely on traditional — and often unnecessary — proxies like degree or GPA requirements, they shut out entire portions of the workforce from opportunity and limit their access to a skilled labor pool.”

He warned that at a time when there are more open jobs in the United States than people to fill them, these types of requirements can arbitrarily reduce the pool of applicants and may have a disproportionate impact on all protected classes.

Kushner suggests using GPA as a portion of the hiring equation, but not as the final determinant. “It is weighed in conjunction with the experience level of the candidate,” Kushner said. “Typically with candidates with only a year or two of experience, their GPA represents what most likely is their largest body of work to date, and as such, will be weighed more heavily than that of individuals with a few years of relevant experience.”

Potential pitfalls

GPA, like so many other “rules” for employment, could put businesses at risk.

“Scored tests have long been used by employers to make employment selection decisions, and have just as long been challenged by job applicants as having a discriminatory impact on protected classifications,” Allison Kahn, labor and employment attorney at Carlton Fields, told HR Dive in an email. “While GPAs are not a traditional scored test, this measure may also be subject to non-discrimination laws if used as selection criterion for a position.”

A claim must show statistical evidence that supports disparate impact, but there are defenses employers can make to protect their hiring policies and practices.”For example, employer proof that the selection procedure, like GPAs, is ‘job-related and consistent with business necessity’ may defeat employer liability, particularly where there is no less discriminatory alternative that would predict job performance,” Kahn said. The responsibility is on the employer to provide evidence that GPA is a business necessity to avoid liability.

Luckily, employers have a few resources available to analyze whether GPAs should be used as a selection criterion for a position. The EEOC has a fact sheet on Employment Tests and Selection procedures with best practices that may be useful for employers considering whether to rely on an applicants’ GPAs as selection criteria. The Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (UGESP) for employers can also help determine if selection procedures are lawful under a disparate impact theory.

Hiring holistically

While companies may not yet be shying away from GPA, more are becoming focused on a holistic approach to a candidate’s background. Recruiters would be wise to consider GPA as only part of the equation, experts said; experience, education, and ability to learn new processes, concepts, and technology should round out the decision making process.

The Kingsley data reveals C-suite level managers defer to other traits in favor of GPA. Work ethic was cited by 60% of respondents, while 45% cited teamwork as the most important skills. Leadership ranked around 55% for professional services and manufacturing companies. And in large firms, grades were relied on only to determine where the candidate’s expertise lies. For leadership roles, the focus is on people management, creativity and cognitive flexibility.

For Kushner, GPA is a data point in a data series. Using only GPA, he says, “eliminates candidates that may have strong related or transferable experience that have the potential to make an immediate positive impact on the business.”

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How Tech Can Bridge the Employment Opportunity Gap

First published by Walmart, March 22, 2018. 

Technology is quickly changing how we live our lives, helping to make so many things easier, cheaper and faster. It’s also changing the way we work. Research suggests that innovations like artificial intelligence have the potential to significantly shift what certain types of work look like in the future.

While these changes might cause some to worry, they also provide an incredible opportunity to help us work in ways we haven’t before. Imagine being able to match your unique skillsets, strengths, and personality in a way that helps you find the right job. Or learning new skills through an app or platform that performs as easily as social media does. Or technology that connects you directly to services that can help overcome specific career barriers.

Helping bring technologies like these to life is exactly what the Employment Technology Fund (ETF) has set out to do.

Funded by the WalmartRockefeller, Joyce and W.K. Kellogg Foundations, the ETF invests in organizations and companies that have developed technology-enabled solutions that help workers overcome the barriers that often hold them back from advancing their skills, connecting to meaningful work and ultimately living up to their full potential. In doing so, the ETF strives to increase equal opportunities for millions of working adults – many of whom are women, minorities, and immigrants.

ETF’s latest social investments include Signal Vine, a company that uses text messaging to deliver highly personalized and interactive coaching to drive better behaviors and outcomes; SkillSmart, a skills-matching platform that increases transparency in the career development and job search process; and Nepris, a video-driven platform that provides teachers and students a way to connect with professionals around the world. These three companies exemplify a growing force of new entrepreneurs who share the belief that technology can drive social and economic progress.

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Springfield Works Gets State Funding to Expand Programs to Help Job Seekers

SkillSmart with Springfield WORKS

First published by MassLive, March 6, 2018. 

Springfield Works will use $75,000 it received last week from the state to expand efforts to mentor and guide job seekers all the way from initial assessment to employment.

Director Anne Shecrallah Kandilis said Springfield Works will also use the money to expand financial literacy programs aimed at easing the transition form public assistance to self-sufficiency in ways that keep folks from losing necessary services and benefits before they are really ready to go it alone.

The state awarded $500,000, including $75,000 to Springfield Works, through the Urban Agenda Grant Program designed to promote economic development in Massachusetts through the building of community partnerships in addressing obstacles to employment.

Springfield Works is part of the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts, and its aim is to simplify both the search for jobs and employers’ search for workers.

It uses SkillSmart, an online portal at springfieldworks.skillsmart, where job seekers can catalog their experience, education and work history, see what available jobs they qualify for and learn what training is available that they would need for open jobs. It’s the same online portal MGM Springfield is using to fill its 3,000 jobs. Employers and cities elsewhere also use SkillSmart.

Kandilis said SkillSmart is starting to catch on here even though she’s only got about 100 jobs listed thus far in addition to MGM.

“I have employers calling me every day,” she said. “So certainly the demand for the portal is really great.”

Kandilis said she has 320 job seekers signed up right now and she spent a recent day at the Springfield Public Library signing up more. MGM Springfield has a database of 8,000 job seekers.

“I want a thousand in our portal,” she said.

There are 43 separate agencies and organizations provide workforce training in the city and surrounding communities. Springfield Works’ job is give jobs seekers and those looking to hire one-stop-shopping.

“I think there is a disconnect,” Kandilis said. “Our job is to get people moving from program to program, step-by-step, and on to a job.”

The portal launched in October.

Just 58 percent of Springfield’s working-age population is working or looking for work, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Springfield Works received a $475,000 Working Cities Challenge grant through the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston in 2016.

While directed at Springfield residents, the portal is open to any area job seeker or employer, Kandilis said.  

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said in a news release that he is thankful for Gov. Charlie Baker’s support of Springfield and its workforce.

“I’m proud to support this initiative, which will help advance the city’s economy by enhancing and strengthening the connectivity between employers who need qualified workers to support operations and growth to Springfield residents in need of work,” Sarno said. “I’m also appreciative of our EDC and Springfield Works Director Anne Kandilis’ continued and dedicated efforts in leading this initiative.”

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MGM Springfield Looks to Hire Puerto Rican Evacuees Using SkillSmart Platform

First published by MassLive, January 24, 2018. 

In Puerto Rico, Omyra Merced worked at several hotels planning events. “I worked in tourism and event planning, doing weddings and parties, things like that,” she said Wednesday. “After the hurricane, many of the hotels closed, so finding employment is difficult.”

Merced was one of a dozen Puerto Rican evacuees who attend an informational session at the MGM Career Center on East Columbus Avenue to fill out job applications.

“We’re here to talk about career opportunities that we can offer to those individuals displaced by the hurricane in Puerto Rico,” said Jason Randall, MGM Springfield‘s director of talent, acquisition and development. “We recognize that Puerto Rico does have a vast hospitality industry, including gaming and operations, and there are individuals who have backgrounds in these fields who are displaced in this area.”

With 3,000 jobs to fill at MGM, Randall is confident that some evacuees will have a chance at a new career and a new start in life.

“We will talk about jobs with anyone who wants to listen,” Randall said. “We are committed to 3,000 jobs, of which 80 percent are going to be full-time positions on property with us, so our goal in 2018 is to fill all of those positions.”

While the language barrier has been a major hurdle for many people seeking jobs, MGM has many employees fluent in Spanish. Several of them were on hand Wednesday to guide the applicants through the process of submitting their resumes and applying for jobs using the SkillSmart program available in the career center’s computer lab.

MGM Springfield is expected to open in September.

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Veterans: America’s Skilled Workforce


veterans skills gapVeterans and their spouses have the right skills.

On this Veteran’s Day, our thoughts turn to those who have served and are serving our nation in the military. There is often talk of sacrifice and service, but most of our population has very little understanding of what our Veterans have done or the commitment they’ve made.

In fact, only about 7% of the total U.S. population, or about 22 million people, have served or are serving in the military. When you consider that nearly two-thirds of these Veterans served prior to the Gulf wars, then it’s not surprising that most people in the workplace have very little opportunity to interact with someone who may have served and have any understanding of how much value a Veteran can bring to their organization.

At SkillSmart, we are honored to be supporting the Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corporation in implementing the Military Corps Career Connect (C3) program to assist transitioning military, military spouses and Veterans in finding employment opportunities in their community.

We know that those serving and supporting our military acquire numerous skills during their duties each day, but don’t know how those skills correlate to civilian jobs. Using our technology, we can help employers better communicate the skills they’re seeking and help Veterans better see how the skills they’ve gained in the military can land them a good job.

We hope that our contribution can help improve the lives of some of those who have chosen to defend ours.

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Getting Smart About Skills Transfer Could Solve the Skills Gap

First published by SHRM, November 7, 2017. 

A poor understanding of how job skills transfer among occupations—especially from occupations in decline to in-demand fields—is one of the biggest reasons for the nation’s skills gap. But employers and job seekers can identify similar skills for different jobs with tools that help recruiters expand their searches for qualified applicants and help workers move across occupations and industries.

“Most organizations haven’t quantified the skills they’re seeking, so if I haven’t articulated what I’m looking for, it becomes harder for me to look at a skill someone may have used in a different industry and see how that translates to the job I’m trying to fill,” said Mike Knapp, CEO and co-founder of SkillSmart, a job placement platform that connects employers, job seekers and educational partners to help close skills gaps. “Added to that, people haven’t quantified their own skills from previous jobs, so even if I knew what I’m looking for, how would I know that person had those skills?”

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Information Network (O*NET) is one place to start. O*NET is a continually updated database containing hundreds of distinguishing characteristics for almost 1,000 jobs across the U.S. economy. The information includes:

•  The knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to perform each job.
•  Occupational interests and work styles associated with each job.
•  Tasks and activities that make up job duties within each occupation.

“O*NET can be very useful for talent acquisition,” said Nicole Smith, a research professor and chief economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce in Washington, D.C. “I use it myself when searching for research assistants. My team will get together and decide what skills we need in order to complete a project. We go to O*NET to help us craft the job description because it provides the knowledge, skills and abilities one would use in that job.”

It’s also a great tool for determining skills overlap, she said. O*NET identifies similar required skills among different occupations, so people considering a career change can identify new opportunities and employers can feel more secure in widening their search parameters.

“You can line two occupations up and compare them for shared competencies,” Smith said. “Even if someone has trained for occupation A, they may have 90 percent of the competencies for occupation B.”

A 2017 New York Times review of the database showed how much overlap there is between seemingly dissimilar occupations. Service industry jobs, for example, require social skills and experience working with customers—abilities which also apply to sales jobs. The skills of tractor-trailer truck drivers are most aligned with jobs like rail yard and locomotive engineers and crane operators. Not surprisingly, payroll specialists’ skills match up with tax preparers, accountants, court clerks and legal secretaries. The article relates how a man laid off from oil production work couldn’t find a stable new job working in oil and gas. He was eventually hired by aerospace and defense firm Lockheed Martin for an advanced manufacturing job after a 16-week retraining course leveraged the mechanical aptitude and other skills he already had.

Work in Progress

But there are drawbacks to the O*NET database, according to experts. Knapp pointed out that the information—based on the government’s Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) codes, last updated in 2010—is out of date, and also doesn’t reflect how any particular employer defines the skills that make up their jobs. It is scheduled to be updated in 2018.

“The SOC codes are behind,” Smith agreed. “Every job is included in the database, but some will not have their own classification. For example, app programmers are included under the classification for software programmers. Cybersecurity professionals are subsumed under information security analysts.” If an employer wanted a breakdown of competencies for an app programmer, the skills for software programmers and other jobs under that classification would be included as well, she explained.

In addition, the tool can’t produce customized results for organizations looking to hire for specific skills. “Being an additive database, you end up with a compendium of all skills associated with a particular occupation, and not necessarily what an employer would be seeking to hire in any particular locality,” Knapp said.

SkillSmart takes a more tailored approach to match workers with employers in need, he explained. “Our sense was to go out and work with employers to see what they were hiring for at any given point in time and build an index of skills back that way.”

The idea is that skills for any particular job change over time as technology changes, and employers seeking to hire for the same occupation, even within the same industry, could be looking for slightly different things.

The problem is tellingly expressed by the example of a large hospital system in Maryland with a nursing shortage, Knapp said. “The nursing shortage is not unusual. But a university that is closely connected to that hospital trains nurses. The system doesn’t hire those nurses because they are not trained on what the hospital actually needs.”

SkillSmart breaks job seekers’ experience down into skills, and then assesses and designates a proficiency level for each applicant based on the skills an employer has identified. Applicants remain in the local talent pool and can later be pegged with the right set of skills for another job, even in an entirely different occupation. “We try not to leave any job seeker without a clear next step,” Knapp said. “Job seekers should have a clear understanding of what skills are in demand. And if they need additional education or training, they know precisely where to go.”

That’s because SkillSmart attempts to work with the local community—employers, educational institutions and workforce development programs—to develop learning opportunities to fill in skills gaps, highlighting another limitation of O*NET.

“While you have a clear idea that a certain skill is required for a particular job, the major shortcoming of O*NET is that it doesn’t provide information on how to attain those skills,” Smith said. “Without that, how can a curriculum be developed based on knowing a particular occupation uses certain skills? How can we develop a curriculum that translates that knowledge into learning a particular competency?”

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Milwaukee Bucks Retrain Jobless Workers to Build New Arena


First published by Dusty Weis, Association of Equipment Manufacturers

At the urging of local officials, contractors on the $524 million project have approached hiring challenges with bold, unconventional workforce development strategies that help people get needed job training. Equipment manufacturers that struggle to find skilled workers could replicate these successful workforce development program models by utilizing new recruiting software that links applicants to needed training, partnering with local governments, connecting with the community and utilizing regional job training services.  

From a distance, it looks like any other large-scale work site. Newly-placed steel girders arch overhead as hundreds of yellow-vested workers swarm over the NBA’s newest arena in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, still a year away from its completion in time for the 2018 basketball season.

But a closer look at the construction crews reveals a workforce made up of at least 40 percent Milwaukee residents who were, until recently, underemployed, jobless or even unskilled. These nontraditional work crews are gaining valuable on-the-job experience and providing for their families thanks to a partnership between the Bucks and the city of Milwaukee aimed at helping disadvantaged urban residents benefit from the city’s boom in downtown development.

In order to meet the city’s hiring requirements and qualify for public financing, Bucks Senior Vice President Alex Lasry says the organization and its contractors have had to implement a creative workforce development strategy template, employing unconventional recruitment efforts and even finding ways to train underqualified workers. But he says the benefits of putting local people to work on the project go beyond good corporate citizenship, and he sees lessons that other employers, including equipment manufacturers, could apply to their own hiring efforts in urban areas.

“There are qualified workers out there, and there are people who want to work that are out there,” Lasry says. “I think what separates us really was the outreach and the dedication we’ve had to making sure this was a top priority of the project.”

Workforce Development Program Models that Break the Cycle

This untapped labor pool starts just a dozen blocks to the north of the new arena, where people are buzzing over a different development. In the city’s Bronzeville neighborhood, a small supermarket has opened in what was once a boarded-up pharmacy, providing residents with convenient access to fresh fruits and vegetables for the first time in years.

In its subtlety, the transformation taking place in this historically African-American neighborhood contrasts with the $524 million arena and massive high-rises going up in downtown Milwaukee. But, in a zip code where the median household income hovers around $30,000 and unemployment is over 15 percent, the slower, more gradual improvements are no less important.

For decades, this and other Milwaukee neighborhoods have been mired in a cycle of poverty, where finding a job requires skills and experience, but skills and experience come from holding down a job.

“That cycle, sometimes it’s not just the economics,” says Alderwoman Milele Coggs, Bronzeville’s representative on Milwaukee’s city council. “It’s mental, too, it’s emotional. Once you’ve been caught in that cycle, you start asking, how many more jobs am I going to apply for and get denied?”

So when negotiations began over the incentives the city would offer the Bucks to build their new arena in Milwaukee, Coggs and her colleagues in city government saw an opportunity to help break that cycle. In exchange for city financing assistance, the Bucks would have to employ at least 40 percent of their construction workforce from the city’s Residents Preference Program (RPP), which maintains a list of unemployed and underemployed city residents.

“If we’re putting taxpayer dollars into a project, it just makes sense that the taxpayers should benefit from that project,” Alderwoman Coggs says.

On a project that will employ thousands of people across several years, Lasry says meeting the city’s 40 percent RPP requirement while staying on-time and on-budget is no simple task. “There are only so many qualified, experienced workers,” he says. “But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible.”

To address the challenge, the team pledged $375,000 to workforce development and training efforts, and asked the city to make a matching pledge, launching a one-of-a-kind partnership.

“We weren’t going to BS around and hire people to just sweep floors or hold up a sign,” to meet the RPP goals, Lasry says.

Build-Your-Own Workforce

As the Bucks arena project was ramping up, another major addition to the Milwaukee skyline was winding down. At a price tag of $450 million, the new high-rise headquarters for the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company employed more than 40 percent of its construction workers through the RPP—many of whom then joined the ranks of the Bucks arena workforce.

“I think that’s great,” Alderwoman Coggs says. “The point is not just to have people temporarily hired, but to give them the skills to get hired on an ongoing basis. Northwestern Mutual went above and beyond to ensure that they would meet and exceed those numbers.”

But other developments were tapping into Milwaukee’s RPP well of workers too, and, in order to meet their quota, Lasry says the Bucks had to build their own workforce through training and recruitment. Their first innovation was to employ a new piece of online software called SkillSmart Seeker, which helps create a path to employment for unqualified workers who would typically receive an outright rejection.

Lasry says all job applicants can apply via SkillSmart Seeker, which charts their qualifications and certifications. In cases where applicants come up short, SkillSmart Seeker creates a list of steps they can take to qualify for a job and connects them with resources to complete those steps, including local jobs training agencies, technical colleges and apprenticeships.

“We’re not telling anyone no,” Lasry says, “we’re just telling them not yet.”

“So many people may not have the proper certification, but they’re willing to get it,” Alderwoman Coggs says. “If they know what they need to do, they could go get qualified for future opportunities.”

And there will be many such opportunities. In addition to the arena, the basketball team is building or plans to build a practice facility, a sports clinic, an entertainment block, apartment buildings, parking garages and more. With 10 years’ worth of ancillary development in the works, Lasry says it will be to the team’s advantage to grow the pool of qualified workers.

So, with SkillSmart Seeker as a conduit for training new workers, Lasry and his team set about getting more people into that pipeline. Instead of a traditional job fair at the team’s headquarters, they offered opportunities directly to people in their own neighborhoods, holding “jobs town hall meetings” in nearly a dozen different parts of the city. Hundreds of Milwaukeeans turned out, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, and each was given an opportunity to sign up for SkillSmart Seeker and register for RPP on-site.

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