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Hearing Recap: Skills-Based Edition

Today's Education and the Workforce Committee hearing covered the emerging shift among employers to hire employees based on competencies—not degrees. 

This was the first full Committee hearing focusing solely on skills-based education and hiring. Previously, in May, the Higher Education and Workforce Development (HEWD) Subcommittee held a hearing entitled “Examining America’s Workforce Challenges: Looking for Ways to Improve Skills Development,” in which members laid the groundwork for today, detailing proposals to modernize workforce programs to meet our 21st century economic needs.

You can read that recap here.

Building on the discussion from last month’s subcommittee hearing, Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) laid out the necessity for an updated workforce system in her opening statement. “Our economy is rapidly changing, and there is an urgent need to match the competencies of our future workforce with in-demand jobs,” remarked Chairwoman Foxx.

In his opening, Ranking Member Bobby Scott (R-VA) concurred, saying, “I’m encouraged by the bipartisan enthusiasm for skill-based hiring.”

The first Republican-invited witness appearing on today’s panel was Dr. Karin Kimbrough, Chief Economist at LinkedIn. Her opening testimony pulled from LinkedIn’s vast network and career database to support expanding hiring practices outside of the traditional box of degree requirements.

“When employers hire based on degrees, they miss out on half the workforce,” said Dr. Kimbrough. She further added, “The impact of shifting to a skills-first approach increases the number of qualified eligible workers by nearly 20 times.”

Evidence from LinkedIn indicates that this shift is already underway. Per a recent comprehensive LinkedIn report, one in five job postings no longer requires a degree. The job market is moving rapidly, and through reauthorizing the legislative framework for our workforce system, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), we can meet the demands of the modern economy.

Technological change is a major factor in this shift, and Republican-invited witness Dan Healey, Head of People for Customer Success at SAP, knows that better than most. SAP is on the cutting edge of technological development and ahead of the curve in skills-based practices.

Commenting on the SAP model, Mr. Healey said, “For example, our salespeople and software developers receive skills assessments annually and personalized coaching. Regardless of their background, we can correlate skills to on-the-job performance and company achievement.”

Education is a lifelong process, and Mr. Healey rightly recognizes that some of the best skills-based learning occurs on the jobsite. By updating WIOA to dedicate resources towards work-based skills development and simplify the process for employers to participate, Congress can help companies like SAP better educate their employees.

Furthermore, when the question-and-answer session opened, Chairwoman Foxx turned to Mr. Healey to ask how Congress could do even more to break down barriers to skills-based hiring. He identified the “difficulty to objectively assess skills and validate those skills,” as a top concern.

With reforms to WIOA, Congress can make the credentialing system more transparent. Employers need an apples-to-apples comparison of skilled jobseekers, and the vast landscape of unique credentials like diplomas, certificates, occupational licenses, and degrees makes that difficult.

Then, Rep. Rick Allen (R-GA) identified potential legislation, the Validate Prior Learning to Accelerate Employment Act originally introduced by himself and Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Julia Letlow (R-LA), which would improve how the workforce system validates job seekers’ skills and accelerate their return to the workforce.

“Do you agree this would be a good update to the law?” asked Rep. Allen. 

“Congressman, I do agree,” responded Mr. Healey. “I think any opportunity, again, where we can focus objectively on skills and remove barriers creates standards around that so that companies can match demand with existing talent that’s out there. And we know and my fellow experts here have confirmed that there’s an inordinate number of amazing talents out there that are seeking opportunities.”

With consistent and transparent information on the skills individuals have obtained, we can begin to bridge the gap between employers and apprentices, interns, and other learners who took alternative pathways to the workforce. Though a college degree still has value for a number of professional fields, a baccalaureate certainly shouldn’t be necessary for all to be a contributing member of our economy.

The hearing concluded on the same bipartisan note as it began. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) had this to say about the hearing today: “If someone can get Chairwoman Foxx back in here, I want her to hear me say this [hearing] is great, and I want to give her a huge shoutout.”

The Committee agrees. Competencies over degrees is the direction our economy is headed, and let’s reauthorize WIOA with that in mind.

Bottom Line: Committee members are taking bipartisan steps towards reauthorizing a WIOA which helps better connect employers with skilled workers.
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