Using Skills Assessments Over Education, Experience Requirements

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer August 31, 2022
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​A significant portion of HR professionals value skills-based hiring assessments, and some would weight them strongly as alternatives to traditional education and experience qualifications, according to research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).   

The survey of 1,688 SHRM members shows more than half of employers—56 percent—use pre-employment assessments to measure job applicants' knowledge, skills and abilities.

SHRM found that:

  • 79 percent of HR professionals who use prehire assessments said that the skills evaluations are just as or more important than traditional hiring criteria.
  • 36 percent said a job candidate who scores high on an assessment but doesn't meet the minimum years of experience is very likely to make it onto the list of final candidates.
  • 28 percent said a job candidate who scores high on the assessment but doesn't meet the minimum education requirement would be very likely to make it onto the list of final candidates.

"With employers still struggling to fill vacant positions, HR professionals are leading the way in using skills-based hiring and skilled credentials to acquire top talent," said SHRM Chief of Staff and Head of Government Affairs Emily M. Dickens.

The SHRM survey also found that 78 percent of HR professionals said the quality of their organization's hires has improved due to their use of assessments, and 23 percent said the diversity of their hires has improved using assessments.

Twenty-five percent of employers plan to expand their use of prehire assessments in the next five years, and 10 percent plan to start using them in the next five years.

A Timely Shift

Whitney Martin, an employment assessment expert and president of ProActive Consulting in Louisville, Ky., believes the adoption of prehire assessments is lower than the SHRM survey indicates, but supports the trend the data represents.

Rethinking recruiting and hiring screening criteria is a timely consideration, she said, with reported labor shortages and record levels of job openings, as well as more employers trying to reach candidates with more diverse backgrounds.

"For so long, we've relied on education and experience as a proxy for things we think are important," Martin said. "We assumed that college graduates have a certain amount of intelligence and drive. We assumed that people with a certain amount of experience have the behaviors and knowledge necessary to do the job. There's a lot of assuming with traditional hiring criteria. Not only does this method introduce bias, but we have data that shows that education and past job experience are not good predictors of job performance."

Kermit Kaleba, strategy director of employment-aligned credential programs for the Lumina Foundation, a philanthropic nonprofit focused on postsecondary education, described skills-based hiring as "focusing on what you can do rather than the particular degree that you have."

Employers have historically inflated degree requirements for jobs, asking for a bachelor's degree or higher even when it's not really needed to do the job, Kaleba explained. 

"If you set the expectations that you must have a degree to qualify for a job, you are automatically excluding a large number of people," Kaleba said. "In recent years, we've seen a correction, where more employers are asking if a college degree is really needed to do the job, or are recognized skills and competencies enough for workers with the right training."

SHRM Resource Hub Page
Skills Gap & Workforce Readiness

Which Measures Are Best?

Martin said that having job candidates take skills and knowledge tests—instead of relying on assumptions based on education level or job tenure—is a step in the right direction but not the best use of assessment science to find the right person for the job.

"Skills and knowledge tests can be used to confirm relevant skills and knowledge coming in the door, but they are not predictive of future job performance," she said. "The half-life of learned skills is five years, and the necessity of learning new skills is increasing year over year. The ability and the motivation to learn, as measured in cognitive, personality and values assessments, are a lot more predictive to overall job performance in the long run."

Martin recommended employers use both kinds of tests, "working at both ends to get the best information."

She also agreed with SHRM that having a granular understanding of the role is critical to applying the right assessment. "You absolutely must have a high degree of alignment between what you're measuring and what's necessary for the job," she said. "Putting everyone through the same assessment—measuring everybody's Excel skills or attention to detail, for example—is just not relevant."

Removing Hiring Barriers

Amanda Cage, CEO of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, a Washington, D.C.-based workforce development organization, said that removing unnecessary educational requirements from hiring is a "win-win for workers and employers as degree inflation subsides and more jobs are open to qualified applicants."

Cage said that the movement to remove degree barriers is building, as evidenced by:

  • A 2022 Harvard Business Review analysis of more than 50 million job postings from 2017 to 2020, showing a growing number of employers looking for skills and competencies rather than relying on degrees.
  • Recently released rules making it easier for people without four-year college degrees to apply for federal jobs.
  • About 100 major U.S. companies committing to offer high-wage jobs with career paths to people without four-year degrees.

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: What should employers consider when determining if a job requires a college degree?]

"Employers are rewriting job descriptions, revising interview processes, adding more training and developing new career pathways," Cage said. "Companies can expand on these opportunities by partnering with community colleges and other providers offering high-quality nondegree training. If we get this right, skills-based hiring can be crucial in expanding opportunities for millions of workers while helping U.S. businesses compete with wider talent pools."

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