- Today’s employers recognise that possessing a degree or qualification does not guarantee practical skills.
- The demand for specialised skills surpasses the supply of qualified professionals, making employers look beyond traditional qualifications.
- The access to online learning has created a talent pool of people who may not have a degree, yet possess necessary skills.
ETHRWorld through exclusive interactions with HR leaders of different sectors makes an effort to gauge the changing mindsets and patterns of hiring, with respect to the importance of qualification or degrees with the passage of time, in comparison with real-time skills of employees.
The changing mindset of professionals
According to a report by McKinsey, hiring for skills is 5x more predictive of job performance than hiring for qualification, and more than 2x more predictive than hiring for work experience.
As per a LinkedIn survey, over 8 in 10 Indian professionals believe skills are more important than degrees at present than earlier times, which thus portrays how Indians have embraced skill sets as a more necessary way to shape their careers.
The survey also underpins the significance of learning new skills, as skill sets for jobs in India have increased by nearly 30 percent since 2015.
Avneet Hora, Senior Director – Human Resources, Unisys, summarises three factors that influence the changing mindset of professionals.
- An evolving job market: Indian job market is dynamic, competitive and evolving. Today’s employers recognise that possessing a degree or qualification does not guarantee practical skills.
- A big skill gap: The demand for specialised skills surpasses the supply of qualified professionals today, making employers look beyond traditional qualifications and degrees. The mindset toward education has shifted significantly with a focus on lifelong learning. Professionals also understand the need to update their skills to adapt to the changing industry landscape.
- Rise in tech advancements: Technological advancements have transformed nearly all industries. New roles and job opportunities have emerged, requiring specialised knowledge and skills that may not be covered extensively in some traditional degree programmes completely.
Krishna Raghavan, Chief People Officer, Flipkart, feels that professionals have realised the importance of upskilling themselves more to stay up to date with new technology and upgrade to owning a set of essential skills.Even at the time of hiring, more emphasis is placed by employers on evaluating an applicant’s practical abilities, relevant experience, and capacity to contribute to the position than mere educational qualifications.
Aparna Sardar, Country Head – Human Resources, 3M India, explains the phenomenon, “One, the industry now has many tools available to assess skill & aptitude. Two, the need for being agile requires hiring teams to think creatively to hire talent based on skills, rather than on qualifications.”
In addition, she says that the access to online learning has created a talent pool of people who may not have a degree, yet possess necessary skills. This has created opportunities for people to explore beyond their degrees, learn cross-domain skills, shift career streams, and succeed based on their interest.
“It is amazing how individuals today invest in self-learning, and exploit the available resources. Many of these courses, online or offline, are detailed, intensive, and provide a platform for the individual to try a new line of work, one that might be very different from their degree,” Sardar adds.
Reasons for giving more weightage to skills than degrees while hiring
Raghavan says, “At Flipkart, we believe in creating equal opportunities at the workplace which are both inclusive and empowering at the same time. This includes evaluating potential employees beyond only their educational qualifications, while placing importance on their skill set that they bring to the table.”
This shift in hiring approach, says Raghavan, has also led to an increase in internal talent mobility in organisations, thus opening access to a larger pool of talent in the organisation while reducing the time, energy and money incurred in hiring external candidates.
Sardar of 3M India says, “Talent acquisition today, proposes offers based on the skill and role, rather than on the tenure and qualification. Attracting talent too, focuses heavily on the experience and know-how. Recruiters today need to be enabled to assess skills, instead of competencies or qualifications.
According to Sardar, this search for talent also goes beyond traditional talent pools, and necessitates creativity in identifying the skills needed for a job, and where one can find these specifically skilled people.
“Technology has made this easier than before, but a recruiter still needs a dare-to-think-beyond mindset to find the most suited incumbent,” Sardar adds.
Why some employers still focus on degrees more than skills
The reason for this, Hora of Unisys feels, is that formal education is necessary for obtaining the basic, comprehensive knowledge needed to enter any career field. For most recruiters, degrees from a reputed organisation represents credibility.
“But it is important to recognise the significance of skills acquired through hands-on experience in the hiring process. Currently, companies in India follow the conventional method of hiring, and qualification continues to play a significant role. However, with the country entering the digital era and witnessing the dawn of upskilling, there is a growing recognition of skills-based hiring,” says Hora.
Kinds of jobs where degrees are more necessary than skills
Abhijit Abhyankar, Regional Head of People – South Asia, Middle East and Africa, Cathay Pacific, says, “Certain professions require specialised knowledge and extensive academic training. Degrees indicate a commitment to learning, discipline and a solid theoretical foundation. Degrees, in fact, are mandatory for hiring or smoothly carrying out the function.”
Abhyankar hence feels that depending on the nature of the job and the level of responsibility, certain professions place more emphasis on degrees than skills.
“For instance, engineering professionals require an in-depth knowledge of STEM and basic understanding of various subjects within the realm of science and technology. To build structures that won’t collapse, civil engineers are needed,” he says.
“Another example I can think of is the airline and air cargo industry. With customer-centricity, the rapid adoption of data analytics and digitization, the industry has witnessed revolutions shortly after the pandemic. Engineers with data science skills will most likely be hired to help sustain the industry,” Abhyankar adds.
He also says that fundamentally a sound education background in these sectors is the foundation for acquiring specialised knowledge and technical skills. While skills are essential, degrees provide a structured educational framework crucial for these professions to function effectively and responsibly.
Recruitment based on ‘Only Skills’
Abhyankar of Cathay Pacific explains with an example from the aviation sector that any operational roles like aircraft engineering, cargo handling or IT form the crux of safe operations. Any shortfall in degree or skills weightage can prove to be damaging in this area.
“We recognise that different jobs have different requirements and build platforms to facilitate only skill-based and more operational heavy jobs,” he says.
“For example, we offer the Engineering Graduate Trainee Programme which is designed to nurture the next generation of engineers and provide new talents with a pathway for professional development to become future leaders by gaining hands-on practical training experience in one of the most technologically advanced fleets in the world,” Abhyankar adds.
He also talks about Cathay Pacific’s Cabin Crew Promotion Training that helps them prepare their new inflight leaders with both customer-centric and managerial skills. This is a newly developed training course which focuses on both service excellence and leadership.
Challenges in ‘Only Skills’-based hiring approach
While technical expertise is important, relying solely on skill-based hiring can lead to potential drawbacks for organisations.
Hora of Unisys explains the flipside or challenges of hiring only on the basis of skills.
Hiring people only on their technical abilities, she says, may ignore essential characteristics such as intellectual diversity, teamwork, social aptitude, flexibility, and grit. This may lead to hiring employees who may not be suitable for a role.
“And these qualities play a crucial role in fostering a positive and productive work environment, promoting innovation, and driving the company’s success,” Hora adds.
Hence, she opines that just a skill-based professional may not be able to meet all the aspects of the job except the technical skills.
“At Unisys, we believe in a holistic approach to hiring. While skills are essential, we prioritise scouting candidates who also align with our organisational values, exhibit the desired work ethic, and possess the traits necessary for long-term success,” she adds.
By considering a holistic and ethical point of view in its hiring practices, Unisys is aiming to build a diverse and inclusive workforce that can thrive in an employee- centric culture.
Cross-functional job rotations: A paradigm shift through L&D by employers
The changing mindset towards upskilling and reskilling has significantly influenced hiring and talent acquisition in present times.
Niccolo Nitti, Global Head – People & Organisation, Novartis, shares that Novartis empowers its associates with virtual access to vocational training across leading universities, regardless of their role, level or location.
“Our associates have free access to thousands of courses via learning interfaces, through which they can learn from over 190 top universities worldwide, covering a variety of business, communications and IT/digital topics from leading experts. We encourage every associate to have holistic learning not only based on their roles but also focused on life skills, leadership skills, social skills, and beyond,” adds Nitti.
Sardar of 3M shares, “In 3M India alone, we filled 10 percent of our positions in 2022 with internal talent. This is a result of the development plan and focus on self-learning through Learning Tracks that 3M drove through the last few years. These learning tracks were customised to each employee’s needs and aspirations, ensuring self-driven skills upgrades and leadership development.”
Sardar adds that at 3M, the company has a culture that fosters growth through cross-functional job rotations, and ensures these job opportunities are available internally, before embarking on an external search.
Abhyankar of Cathay Pacific talks about how the organisation’s internal vacancies are publicised and employees are encouraged with a skill set match to apply for relevant positions.
“Interdepartmental transfers and job rotations, often with wider exposure to and opportunity of living in different countries, leads to overall development of employees,” says Abhyankar.
He says that a gamut of leadership training is offered by Cathay Pacific’s in-house Learning Academy and its digital form ‘The Learning Hub’ that provides opportunities to the airline’s teams to develop the skill set in areas of their interest.
“Apart from the functional training, employees can also avail non-functional training through special requests, as well as enrol in timely common LinkedIn Learning sessions,” Abhyankar says.
He also talks about how their willingness to offer skill based cross-functional job rotation and an open culture to support learning and development has been a very big contributor to Cathay’s low attrition rate.
“To cite an example, we recently affected an internal promotion from travel to the cargo sector. While both are subsets of the aviation business, the workings of each sector are unique. Analytical skills were the foremost requirement and it was an opportunity for the team members to pivot into a different sector and adapt their analytical skills from one role to another,” says Abhyankar.
Raghavan of Flipkart also shares something similar, “At Flipkart, we have a policy that mandates posting openings internally first to check for suitable fits among our existing employees, before it is externally circulated. ‘Thrive’, our AI-enabled talent marketplace has been built with the capability to source candidates internally based on the skill requirements for the open positions.”
Further, ‘Thrive’ also enables employees to find stretch projects and mentors recommended by the AI tool to hone their current abilities and upskill themselves on aspirational talents at Flipkart.
“For existing employees, we work towards ensuring that the right opportunities are given to them which prioritise their learning and growth. We are heavily invested in nurturing talent across the organisation by preparing a future-ready workforce,” says Raghavan.
One such example he shares is the organisation’s Supply Chain Operations Academy (SCOA), which aims to provide relevant industry training to help create a pool of skilled supply chain operations talent in the country.
“We have also partnered with the government-led Skills Development Council and signed an MoU with the Logistics Skill Sector Council to build a skilled and trained workforce,” adds Raghavan.
The evolving job market demands specific skills for better employability, driven by technological advancements and a shift towards practical experience, in addition to degrees or academic qualifications.
In the words of Nitti of Novartis, “It is important that we actively listen to our people and understand the different and complex realities. Recognizing that not everyone has the advantage of starting from the same place, we should consciously work to address this imbalance. We need to consider how we recruit for certain roles and how we balance the need for experience versus transferable skills.”
Hence, when it comes to skills versus degrees, it is often not professionals’ choice of one over the other, but a fair and just blend of both, along with nurturing and some flexibility on the employee side as well.