On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks to Nellie from Tigerhall about possible solutions to bridge the skills gap between university and HR requirements.
Some Conversation Highlights:
Listening time: 27 minutes
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William Tincup (00:34):
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup. You are listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today we have Nellie on, from Tigerhall. Our discussion is, what will finally bridge the gap between university skills and HR departments?
I’ve been wondering this for at least a hundred years, so I’m really, really excited to unpack this with Nellie. Nellie, would you do us a favor and introduce yourself and Tigerhall?
Absolutely. Great to be here again and chat with you, William. My name is Nellie Wartoft. I’m the founder and CEO of Tigerhall.
Tigerhall is a social learning platform where you can learn directly from senior executives and business leaders and experts around the world and doing that in a way that is much more like social media.
So, you learn through podcasts, live streams, power reads and being social with your peers and colleagues, on a mobile app. So, very easy, user friendly way to learn directly from the best in business.
William Tincup (01:34):
The gap between university skills and HR departments, let’s just talk about what you see so far, just if you were to look at the market. What’s being pumped out of academia? What’s being required or needed by HR departments? How far is the gap? How far off are we?
I think far off would be a compliment.
William Tincup (02:05):
Mars and Venus. Got it.
Mars and Venus. I think we’re much, much further away than just simply far off. I think it is not anywhere close.
I just love, love this topic. I love that you’re bringing this up, William, because this is what I’m dedicating my life to solving.
I went to university, as most other people, and realized that that was absolutely not taking me anywhere. But besides that personal experience, which I thought that was probably just me, when I then went out to recruitment and I spent four years with Michael Page, leading their sales and marketing practice in Southeast Asia and just seeing very firsthand, how people were coming out of many times great schools, top GPA, having all of those paper qualifications, but it was so far off what the business needed.
So, I would say the gap between what university produces and what HR departments want, that might be a little bit closer. But if we look at university, what you come out of from university with and what business needs are, that gap is just astonishing.
I can give you countless of examples where it’s, people have studied the four P’s of marketing and Porter’s 5 Forces. And then they come out and people are like, oh, how does the TikTok algorithm work? How do we go viral? How do we launch our own YouTube channel? That’s the type of marketing you need to do today. Right?
William Tincup (03:28):
That’s just not at all what you learn in university. I would just like to make one distinction, because when I speak a lot about this topic and the gap between university and what business is requiring from their talent, and one distinction that I would like to make is, I’m talking about topics that change.
William Tincup (03:47):
Right. Of course.
This includes marketing, all of those topics that you need to know when you go out and work. I’m not talking about chemistry, physics, topics that don’t change. I think there could be a place for studying that in university.
The second distinction I’ll make is that, I speak about it very much from an employability point of view. So, it means that I assume people go to university to get a good job and to be successful in life.
If you have the kind of time and manage to just curl up and study the topic of marketing from an academic point of view because it’s super interesting to you, then by all means, be my guest.
But most people don’t have that time and money. They want to get a job. So, that’s the point of view that I’m speaking from.
William Tincup (04:27):
We have three constituency groups, as I see it. You might see more. The university, so academia, again, as formal or however we want to look at that.
Then you have the business side of things or corporate. They have different interests.
Then you have students and graduates, employees, et cetera. So that group of people there.
Okay. We all recognize that there is a gap and the gap’s been there, especially in the things that you mentioned, the things that change. The gap’s always been there.
Maybe it’s widening because things are just moving faster. Fair enough. But how do we bring those constituencies, those groups of people together, to recognize that problem? How do we actually fix the gap?
I mean, you speak with any employer and the problem is very recognized. So, we have an issue there. They’re very clear, that what comes out of universities is far off from what they need for their businesses to succeed.
William Tincup (05:36):
Do universities have the same recognition of the problem?
I don’t think they do, definitely not to the same extent. I mean, obviously if they would, the would probably close down shop or change things dramatically.
It was interesting. I was interviewed by a professor actually, who told me that, “Oh but my program is great. We do so many things, because our students get to go out and work in actual businesses and get exposure in real work life. They get to work with companies.”
I’m like, “That’s actually saying that your university’s not doing the job, but it’s going out and working and getting that work experience that is doing the job.”
So, I think they are trying to get a little bit closer in some areas, but they tend to still not change the fundamental way of how universities operate.
So, they tend to add on things like this professor had done. They add on work experiences. They add on internships. They add on guest lecturers from the business world. They bring in those different types of speakers.
So, they try to do things around the actual university education, but they don’t still change the core of the university education. I think that is where the problem lies, because that’s still where the majority of time goes for the students.
We have all seen how much tuition fees have continued to risen, how much more expensive university is. Salaries have not kept up. So it’s just super, super expensive to go to university today, especially in the United States.
William Tincup (07:10):
On one level, I guess one of the things as a student coming out of high school or whatever, and you’re evaluating college is again, as you described it, is this something that’s going to fundamentally change every six months, every year, every month, whatever that is, whatever timeframe is?
Even in those instances, like you said, chemistry and biology, I was thinking of accounting. When you said that I’m like, okay, basic T accounting’s not fundamentally going to change. However, the tax code changes every year. So, something changes.
I guess that’s probably true of a lot of the hard sciences, that there is basically calculus. Calculus doesn’t change, but there’s some nuances that might change.
If you’re going into a major that you… a career where you need that major, universities make sense, as I understand it.
If you’re going into a career… social media marketing is a great example, if you’re going into that career, maybe university isn’t your best use of funds or times. Am I getting that right?
No, I would say even the calculus example, I’m not sure university is the best use of time and money. If you look at the expense of getting a degree and how ridiculously expensive that is today, and comparing that with the salaries that you make when you go out and work, it’s just not adding up.
The ratio used to be something like, you could pay off your university degree in three to four years, if we look at, let’s say my parents’ generation. So, it used to be a three to four, maybe five year payoff.
If you look at that today, many students have 20, 25 years to pay off their university debt, by the time which they might already be retired.
I think spending your entire working life paying off that debt, it’s not justified. It can’t be justified.
The rate at which university has been increasing their nutrition fees is not justified.
So, I would say even the calculus example is, there are better, faster, cheaper ways to learn calculus than to spend four years and over a hundred thousand dollars on learning that through a book that you could’ve bought for 20 bucks and learning in the same way.
William Tincup (09:35):
How do we change the recruitment side of this? Because you worked in that space, it’s fascinating to be able to talk to you about this.
You see job descriptions every day of, bachelor’s required or masters required, PhD required, et cetera. How do we change the mentality of recruiters, to understand that those gaps exist, A, and the degree isn’t necessarily important?
It’s the skills and experience, which someone can gather in different ways. Khan Academy, all kinds of different ways. Reading a book, you just mention it. You can go down to your local bookstore and get a calculus book and read the book, take tests, do a bunch of stuff online, YouTube.
You can learn calculus in a different way, but yet recruiters… I’m not blaming recruiters. It’s usually hiring managers, generally speaking. They’re the ones that have degrees in mind because that’s probably how they came up.
They came up. They got their bachelor’s or whatever. Then they want other people in their department or people they work with to have a bachelor’s degree.
Which again, fundamentally flawed. You don’t have to go down that rabbit, but how do we change that? How do we change the mentality, I guess, is the point.
Yeah. I’ve actually had countless conversations with both recruiters and HR leaders and business leaders on this topic. They all know it’s flawed. S.
O, there are very few that sit and actually think that university degrees is a predictor of success. It’s shown again and again, that it’s not a good indicator of success.
Even if you look at the firms that are very Ivy League focused, for example, and they go after target schools… think of the big consulting firms or investment banks, even they know that it’s not a way to get the best people, but it’s a way to avoid getting the worst people. So, even they themselves, acknowledge that it’s just a way to keep the bar high.
But it is not, by no means, a way of getting the best people into your business. It’s just a way of not getting the worst.
William Tincup (11:48):
This could be a little dark. Sorry to interrupt, Nellie, but you just inspired me to think of this. Again, with the backdrop of DEI and belonging and everything that’s going on there, do you think the over-focus or maybe over-indexing on degrees from universities has been a way to screen out people?
I definitely think it has. I definitely think it has. It’s been a way to screen out people and to make life easier for the recruiters, to get an idea of, okay, this is the type of person I would get. They will somewhat fit into this environment.
It’s actually a very lazy way of recruiting. It’s an incredibly lazy way of recruiting because you’re not going out there looking for, how can I find the best talent for my business? You’re just looking at, how can I make my job as easy as possible and make it quick and fast and get to a, actually very homogeneous group? Which is, to your point on DEI, makes DI even worse.
I think that has been one of the factors contributing to this whole DI focus that we have today, is that focusing too much on universities and degrees has been one of the ways that we have been not getting the diversity that we’re needing in businesses.
But overall, I think employers are aware that universities, it is a flawed way of looking at it. But the problem is that they don’t have an alternative.
That’s what we’re trying to be. We’re trying to be that alternative, where people can get data on, for example, what is someone’s growth mindset? Getting acknowledged by peers, by different leaders.
‘Cause if you ask any business leader, “Would you rather hire someone with this GP and university degree or this growth mindset?,” 99% would select the growth mindset. But they just don’t have a way to evaluate that.
Getting the data of, what is the level of growth mindset of this person? What is the level of learning agility? All of these soft skills or what I call power skills, we don’t yet have a good way of evaluating those and assessing those.
That’s what we at Tigerhall are trying to build, is having a way of evaluating power skills, soft skills, mindsets, learning agility, and helping employers hire based on that.
So that could be done, both for internal mobility, but also external recruitment and seeing how people behave, how they’re interacting with their peers, how they’re accredited by different leaders and experts worldwide. That’s the type of platform that I think is required.
William Tincup (14:21):
Right. One of the things that in the title, bridge the gap… and you just went into it a little bit, so we spent enough time explaining the problem.
The audience, I think everyone listening will understand, okay, yes. They didn’t cover. We get the problem.
Now let’s get deeper into what you were just getting into, in terms of, how do we actually solve this problem? So, let’s go into that and go deeper into that, if you don’t mind.
Let’s use Tigerhall as a great example. Again, you’re approaching HR. You’re approaching hiring managers. You’re approaching the company, to understand what they want. Then you’re obviously helping them attract the talent, but in a different way. So if you don’t mind, let’s back up and actually deconstruct that process.
Yeah. Looking at how people are hiring and the data and what they’re looking at, it’s all about learning from other people, learning from reality, learning from human experience.
As opposed to studying, for example, marketing theory and how that was back in the 1950s, it’s talking with the CMO of a big company, talking with someone who runs the social media campaign, someone who has a good TikTok campaign, someone who has a lot of YouTube followers. Learning directly from them on how they are doing it, and getting insights from what is actually working today, in today’s world.
That’s part of social learning, is learning from human experience and learning from what people are doing today.
I think a big part of solving the problem is also this shift that has actually already started. You’ve seen this where a lot of large companies… you have Google, Amazon, EY, large companies going out and saying that they don’t need university degrees anymore.
So, the mindset has already started to shift. But looking at the skills and how we solve for it with individual, I think we need to shift from focusing on skillsets to focusing on mindsets. I think that is the next shift.
I believe that we actually have to put people through these experiences to build those mindset. Because if you think of how you build skillsets, it’s very much…
Well, first of all, even before skillsets, it was knowledge. Which was basically studying a book, memorizing facts, and then spitting out those facts in an exam.
Then it was moving into skillset, which is more like, how do you do this? Practicing as well.
But I think the next step here is mindset. To build people’s mindsets, we actually have to put people through different experiences, that makes them build these different mindsets and emotional intelligence.
That could be things like destroying their projects. This might sound crazy. But giving someone a project and halfway through, you’re forcing them to fail. That’s how you teach to deal with failure, or being unfair.
How do you deal with unfairness in the world? If you look at how parents treat siblings, they usually always try to have it equal and be equal with their children.
I think that’s a really bad idea. I mean, give Mike all the candy and teach Lisa how to deal with it, because that’s how the world works. Or how to stand up against it, because life isn’t fair. If you’re taught that it’s fair when you’re a child and expect that when you graduate, you’re going to go into a world that is fair and the candy is always going to be divided equally, then you’re going to struggle.
So, I think we need to put people through these experiences deliberately. You don’t get that by sitting on a chair and reading a textbook and looking at a professor. You have to have more experiential learning.
When it comes to change management, which is in huge demand right now from employers, have people do a project and then midway through, the requirements change.
Now we’re doing something completely else. Whatever you did, throw it out the window. It doesn’t work anymore.
That’s the type of schooling and education I think we need to get to. You can’t study the theory of it. You have to experience the emotions of it. Because going out, working, experiencing life, that’s more about emotions and emotional intelligence and building that mindset around how you deal with those situations. That, I think will be a lot more useful for people when they go out and work, than knowing how to memorize a textbook.
William Tincup (18:47):
With mindsets, you said putting people through those experiences. Down the road, if not now, are you thinking about simulations, metaverse, augmented reality, virtual reality, et cetera, literally putting them into those situations and simulations?
Right now, is it more putting them in the examples that you use? Putting them in a situation, knowing that you’re going to change the criteria, to then see how resilient they are, how they build resilience, how they deal with ambiguity, et cetera.
Yeah, exactly. We’ll be constructing those experiences and constructing something that to the participant looks like, this is what is going to happen, this is what I’m going to go through. You prepare them for something. Then throughout the experiences, things happen.
It’s like walking through a ghost house at Halloween, where you suddenly have a ghost popping out of something, a murderer comes around the corner. Things happen to you as you go through.
To your point, this could be in AR, VR. Metaverse could be a good use case for this, but it has to be real. That’s the most important.
It has to be real emotions. It can’t be going into a classroom, and then you do a little bit of a role play, and then you go out. Because then you’re still looking at it from a confined space. You’re still in a bubble.
So it has to be, let’s say you’re going through a learning experience, together with your colleagues. If we take the candy example, it’s supposed to be fair, but then suddenly, someone gets all the candy. How do you deal with that?
So it’s something that you think is real, this is how it’s happening. It’s not a simulation. It’s not a bubble. It’s not a role play. It’s actually happening to you in real life, but it’s throughout that learning experience.
William Tincup (20:33):
Does this work better for any particular vendor? Oh, not a vendor, for any industries or job positions, et cetera.
Do you see this applied for knowledge working jobs, but not necessarily hourly jobs or something like that? Is there anything that you see, where it works or where it should be applied and maybe not be applied?
I think it could be applied everywhere, to be honest. I think it could be applied in all types of roles, because every role requires levels of resilience, of change management, of dealing with customers, dealing with people. All of those kind of skills, I think are needed in every job.
William Tincup (21:11):
Okay. I guess one of the things I wanted to ask about, because you’ve mentioned EQ a couple different times, and I guess that’s some of what we’re building with mindsets, is building a literacy around EQ. Understanding where people are, but also probably teaching and training them up to have a better understanding of their own EQ, but also others’. Is that about right?
Yeah. I think, overall, we need to focus more on power skills, which is soft skills, communication, leadership. I call it power skills because it is the skills that are the most powerful.
Bottom line is, anything we can Google, we should not learn in school. We should not waste our brains on memorizing facts that we could easily just type into our smartphones and find in 0.2 seconds.
It’s interesting because I spoke with a fellow founder about MBA education. I’m very openly on [inaudible 00:22:07]. He had an MBA. We discussed that.
He said that he had gone through a course in his MBA education, which is about how to acquire a company. I think this is part of most MBA curriculums, is acquisitions and how to acquire a company.
But when you’re actually the CEO running a business, which is what he is today, and you’re about to acquire a company, you bring in a team of specialist lawyers and bankers, to do that job for you.
But what you’re instead dealing with, day in and day out as a CEO, is people matters. It’s communication. It’s politics, alignment, collaboration, stakeholder management. It’s all about the people.
Where is that in an MBA course? It’s very, very hard to find that in any curriculum that has to do with business. But actually, 90% of your day ends up being dealing with people.
Then, even more looking at those who go to a top, elite institution for their education, they actually learn how to deal with people even less, because they would learn how to operate with people who are at the top of their game or the top of the society and not how to operate with the average masses.
Half of the world’s population is below average. Half of the people in your company are going to be below average, even if your average might be very high.
So, how are you going to engage them? How are you going to have empathy for them and motivate them?
The Harvard bubble doesn’t teach you that. That’s where I believe this huge disconnect between employer and employee, that we see now, is also many times where that is coming from.
William Tincup (23:36):
I got to get your take. Last question. I got to get your take on something that I’ve seen and read, oh good gosh, the last couple months, around the return to office and CEOs and executives using soft skills as an excuse to return to office.
Let me explain. At least the argument goes something like this, Millennials and Gen Z don’t have the soft skills development, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Okay. Got it.
The return to office, if they’re in the office and they’re work… even if it’s flex, even it’s three days a week, whatever, then they’re having to interact with each other in a different way.
I don’t believe that. I’m just reporting the news. I don’t believe that at all. I think this is just an excuse to get people to come back to an office, so that they can see people work.
But I have heard this argument from more than about 10 different executives. So, I know that they believe it or they believe it enough to at least tell me. What’s your take on that?
I mean, that’s bullshit.
William Tincup (24:54):
William Tincup (24:55):
I knew I liked you. I think the exact same thing. I mean, again, there’s certain things you can’t learn through Zoom. Oh okay, I get it.
Yeah. There should be some more human interaction. Okay, fantastic. But what does that have to do with a return to office?
I mean, the thing is with soft skills, it’s not physical. Do they think [inaudible 00:25:20] soft skills is going around touching each other?
William Tincup (25:22):
I hope not.
That would be concerning a different way. That’s another [inaudible 00:25:26]
William Tincup (25:26):
Oh, HR is going to get involved.
Yes. Soft skills is about, how do you speak with others? How do you communicate? What words do you use? What tone do you use? All of that can be done virtually as well. So, I think that’s complete bullshit.
I think if you don’t have a way of measuring productivity or seeing if people are doing their job or looking at the results, apart from watching people physically work, that you have something much, much bigger, serious problems in your business.
You shouldn’t have to see people physically being at a desk, doing work, to think that they’re working. That should show up in your OKRs, in your results and seeing the needle moving forward with the business. Whether they’re physically at their desk or not, that’s a completely separate matter.
So I would challenge those executives and say, “Oh, so soft skills are now physical touching? Is that how you define it?”
William Tincup (26:18):
Nellie, this has been absolutely fantastic. Thank you so much for carving out time and wisdom for us.
Likewise. Thank you for taking the time.
William Tincup (26:27):
Absolutely. Thanks, everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Until next time.
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William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.