Potential over Proficiency: Hiring for Future Success

Potential over Proficiency: Hiring for Future Success

Events over the last three years have underlined to many of us that we need to re-evaluate the place of talent and human capital in our organisations and look for new ways to attract and retain crucial skills. So it’s no surprise that one of the major topics at the 2023 World Economic Forum in Davos was the Future of Jobs.

One point that stuck out to me over the course of the sessions held by the WEF and similar events by the FT was the shift in focus of these industry leaders to becoming “skills-based organisations” in order to deal with the massive changes in skill requirements and the acceleration in the need for digital skills across all industries.

Hiring for potential, or hiring for skills, as opposed to looking solely at on-paper qualifications or experience requires not only a huge shift in attitudes to recruitment and talent development but also a massive investment. Ellyn Shook, the Chief Leadership & Human Resources Officer at Accenture, mentions in the FT Live event that they have spent $1 billion on training and development to facilitate this shift.

Let’s be realistic, the public sector simply doesn’t have the same resources or attitude to risk as the private sector! However, it is possible for the public and not-for-profit sectors to take some of the principles and practices of skills-based hiring to close the gap between the skills needed and the skills possessed, build adaptability and resilience, and ensure we retain the best possible talent.

Challenges of implementing skills-based hiring for the public and non-profit sector

As a solution to the talent shortage currently facing the public and non-profit sector skills-based hiring is worth exploring. But as I’ve said it needs a change of approach, commitment to the concept, dedicated resources, it needs structure around Learning & Development plans, and it needs a program to produce those internal skills.

Which is great if you are a big company with a big budget like Accenture! With the talent and resources that the sector has currently – it’s not to say it can’t happen – but it is going to be a long way off.

Beyond a lack of resources there are other challenges to implementing a skills-based attitude to hiring and talent development in the public sector. Here are the biggest as I see them:

  1. Need for large scale skills audits
    It’s a big ask to conduct a skills audit, especially in a large public sector organisation. You need to account for the skills you need, identify what skills are in demand now and that the organisation might demand in the future, review the skills of your current staff and see how they benchmark against that skills matrix. All of which take a huge amount of executive and HR time. Then it becomes a question of how you hire for those skills in the long-term or reallocate internal resources and can you put processes in place now to address future potential gaps.
  2. Restrictions on internal movement
    Internal reallocation of skills can be a fantastic way to plug short term gaps and spread knowledge through an organisation. However, it requires the ability to spot opportunities for rotational internal movement to maximise the skills in your workforce. That’s a massive structural shift. Organisations may not have the agility to do this on that scale. Not to mention restrictions from a union perspective and pushback from employees who may not feel confident in their ability to move from department to department in the same way as a private sector employee.
  3. Rigid role requirements
    Are the requirements for roles too rigid? This is a question I get asked a lot, especially by candidates who are coming from the private sector. My answer is often yes. Especially in a competitive talent market like this one, which is why we are seeing jobs going back out two, even three times. Employers can be wedded to an unrealistic list of essential skills or a list of desirable skills that they really intend as essential. Rebalancing expectations is necessary as is understanding that employee expectations of what they want from employers has also shifted.
  4. Poor candidate experience
    How candidates experience hiring processes has a huge impact on their acceptance of roles. This dramatically affects organisation’s ability to attract and secure highly skilled candidates and candidates with the best potential for a role. Employee experience should be the fulcrum of any employer branding exercise designed to attract skills. Right now, it isn’t.
  5. Lack of publicity around development opportunities
    Even if employers are conducting skills audits, improving their candidate experience, being realistic in their expectations and leveraging internal talent, they are often failing to retain skilled employees long enough to develop their potential. To be clear this isn’t always because the training and development programs aren’t there. In many cases they are. It is because organisations are failing to put these programs centre stage in their Employee Value Propositions.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. There are ways public sector and not-for-profit employers can become more confident in the nuts and bolts of skills-based talent models. It’s not always necessary to do everything all at once. Focussing on the basics of a strong learning and development structure, better candidate experience and a more open mind around hiring requirements can start to put in place a new mindset around recruitment.

It also helps that there are certain functions where skills-based hiring is easier to implement. Focusing efforts on finance, Human Resources or IT can ensure that these key areas attract and retain critical skills.

Partnering with other organisations can also help to spread the resource load and to connect with candidates you might otherwise miss. For example, at Morgan Law we work closely with Getting On Board, an organisation that gives employees from underrepresented communities the toolkit and coaching needed to become trustees in the voluntary sector and simultaneously develop leadership skills that can help them in their careers.

Best of all the amount of investment and resources needed to support hiring for skills and potential will decrease over time as you refine your training and development processes. Meaning as time goes on, you’ll see the impact of results sooner.

Leveraging technology for skills-based hiring

Organisations can also tap into new technologies to enhance skills-based talent attraction, retention, and development:

  • Artificial Intelligence and machine learning
    AI can help organisations leverage data for insights into effective hiring, can streamline recruitment processes and even identify candidates’ profile with skills and potential required. AI algorithms can also help with candidate sourcing, eliminating unconscious bias, allowing you to tap into diverse talent pools accessing candidates who could be overlooked.
  • Recruitment Automation
    These tools can free up HR resources by automating tasks such as candidate screening, assessment, and interview scheduling. They can even be used to help improve candidate experience facilitating regular communication with candidates.
  • Learning and development apps
    There are a new breed of apps available designed to help organisations deliver effective learning and development programs. Many focus on leadership skills, executive coaching and behavioural training and can be tailored to an organisation’s needs. Outsourcing learning journeys like this can be easy and cost-effective.

These technologies can give organisations the confidence to look for potential as they give access to the resources needed to implement strong learning and development programs alongside improving the candidate experience without massive investment.

Opening your mind to embracing potential and putting the resources behind developing a skills-based talent mindset is perhaps the best solution to the talent shortage. Doing so can help build trust and loyalty. An important factor, not only in talent attraction, but in retention.

Of course, there is always an element of risk. The fear that hiring for potential and investing in a person will lead to that person leaving or that they won’t fulfil their potential at all. That fear is something to let go of.

Something I often ask my clients is “Do you want someone who CAN do the job, or someone who HAS done the job”. Having the right answer to that question will determine your ability to hire for potential, or not. The answer depends on the organisation’s expectations, attitude to risk and ability to help the person they hire get up to speed.

If you have the resources and the team available, you can go for the candidate who can step up to the role. In that case you may get five years out of them. If not, organisations choose someone who has worked that role before and who may move on up the career path in two years.

A skills-based strategy and a mindset of hiring for potential must tie into some form of workforce or succession planning. Organisationally you must be able to offer candidates with potential a clear career path. Let go of that fear, accept that they may leave, and that you are capable of continuously bringing in potential and developing talent.

Founding partner of Morgan Law, David Morgan is responsible for strategic development and involved in all areas of the business. With over 20 years’ professional experience as a specialist public sector recruiter, he ensures Morgan Law’s expert teams continually provide excellent recruitment experiences for both clients and candidates in the public and not-for-profit sectors.

If you are a public sector leader or hiring manager, contact us today to discuss your recruitment needs or explore our in-depth insights and advice.