Did you know that a simple lack of a four-year degree can create an invisible barrier for millions of talented Americans, limiting access to job opportunities? Tune in as we explore this crucial topic with Michelle Sims, CEO of YUPRO Placement.

Michelle shares her expertise on how skills-first hiring and non-traditional pathways can break down these barriers and provide opportunities to underrepresented communities like Black and Hispanic workers, veterans, and women.

Join us for an insightful discussion on how focusing on skills over formal education can create positive change in the workforce. Learn how to help young adults identify and communicate their abilities to employers and create more diverse and inclusive workplaces.

Don’t miss this enlightening conversation on the challenges organizations face when implementing skills-first hiring practices and the incredible benefits it can bring to both employers and employees.

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Michelle Sims
Chief Executive Officer YUPRO Placement

Michelle is a dynamic executive who has led staffing and human resource teams nationally. Prior to taking on the role of CEO in March, 2020, Michelle served on the YUPRO Placement Board of Directors and now is excited to bring together her passion for helping others and building collaborative teams to this socially driven mission of both YUPRO Placement and Year Up. Michelle’s early experience in meeting needs for the underserved started in operations of a nationally acclaimed after-school program for under-privileged and latchkey youth. Fast forward many years, and as her career progressed, Michelle also taught and mentored students for 17 years in the Houston Community College system. Michelle experienced firsthand the impact that both an individual has, and a socially responsible organization has in making a difference in shaping children, families, and a community toward economic stability.

William: This is William Tincup and you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today we have Michelle on from YUPRO Placement, and our topic is the relationship between skills first hiring and non-traditional pathways. So why don’t we go ahead and do introductions? Michelle, would you do us a favor and introduce yourself and YUPRO placement?

Michelle: Absolutely. Thank you, William Sure, so happy to be here. So I’m Michelle Sims. I am the CEO at YUPRO Placement. Many of us know our organization as formerly Year Up Professional Resources And we recently went through a rebrand so that the marketplace would know that we are a placement firm connecting traditionally overlooked talent that come from our nonprofit training providers in the workforce development arena And we support our talent in job placement, career readiness, upskilling programs, apprenticeship programs all focused on building a early career talent equitable workforce with our employers, and we are a proud subsidiary of the nonprofit organization Year Up Oh cool.

William: So when we say traditionally overlooked talent, give us kind of a definition of what that is.

Michelle: Absolutely So. Talent right. We are founded on the basis that talent is universal, but opportunity is not, and why we say that is there is this, what we call the paper ceiling of resumes and degrees that may omit a good portion of the workforce to really good jobs. We have put this barrier, this invisible barrier, on so many job opportunities for folks that do not have a four year degree, and so we support talent that have been trained or built their skills through alternative pathways or routes that don’t have a four year degree. They might have some community college, but all of our talent have typically completed a really robust workforce development training program, but they haven’t finished college, and so what has happened is this barrier has really omitted them from a good job that has economic and career mobility, and that’s where we are trying to bridge that gap.

William: Do we see, let’s say, minorities, women, veterans, folks that are disabled, like what? do we see any clusters of talent that are there that just for whatever reason, didn’t go to college or didn’t finish college whatever, or didn’t attend college, for that matter, but still have skills? And I’m really the question is is there any clustering of any kind of demographic that you see?

Michelle: Absolutely. We do a lot of work with both opportunity at work if you’ve heard of really important nonprofit organization and also Grads of Life, another subsidiary of Year Up that really helps with the research in this area. And we have found that folks that are not agreed is really half of the workforce, about 70 million Americans, and when you break that down to I think what you’re asking is that affects 61% of black workers, it affects 55% of Hispanic workers, 61% of our veterans do not have four-year degrees and 48% of females. So when we talk about overlooked, we are looking at a very large portion of the workforce, a large portion of the population, but it also affects 53% of white workers that don’t have degrees.

William: Right.

Michelle: And so we’re looking at the population. In general, corporations have a need for early career talent And, with this invisible barrier of requiring a four-year degree, there is this entire untapped talent population that they may not be considering because of traditional hiring practices, maybe because they’re using outdated AI or an HR system. There’s all sorts of reasons. But, yes, certainly we focus on ensuring that underrepresented talent are being represented, because we also say that jobs don’t require degrees employers do Right.

William: You know that’s interesting. The 70 million number resonates with me because it’s also very similar to the number of Americans that have felonies, and so similar but different when they went through kind of in different states. When they went through the ban, the box, part of applications, of not requiring people to disclose whether or not they have a felony or not or things like that. It’s like you can see the bias And that’s really one of the things that you’re confronting is kind of head on is when people in a job description require a bachelor’s of whatever, or a master’s or PhD if you want to go even further, but they require a degree. There’s an inherent bias in that request. If you will not in a request, it’s a mandate. So I guess it’s one of the things that we would look at is kind of okay, as we, as we talk about the topic skills first, rather than looking at a job description and figuring out, okay, what degree do they need to have? It’s what skills and skill levels, i would assume.

Michelle: Well, and you bring up a great point on the job description. That’s really the crux of working with employers as a first step, but it also is a mindset.

William: Right.

Michelle: That job description. They are written in a manner that either lists a degree or lists years of experience. They’re very robustly written where folks read them and omit themselves. Out versus in Yeah.

William: Well, it’s a wish list.

Michelle: It’s a wish list And so we help employers with also rewriting job descriptions. We also don’t accept jobs to fill that will mandate a four-year degree. So we stay very true to our mission and our purpose. And we’re not for everybody, right. Some employers aren’t quite ready. But where we come in is to say let’s start with one or two early career roles And let’s help you adopt skills first and allow it to be a step, an entry level, into building a talent acquisition strategy that opens up a talent pool that will help you meet your hiring needs, that will get you into the future. And all of our placements also come with upskilling pathways so that we are also supporting employers through building skills, of early career talent, because we don’t even have a talent shortage, we have a skill shortage, so we can help employers with also building skills in talent. We’re also helping with that career mobility avenue as well.

William: So when you work with someone and they’re not skills first, where do you generally start with them, like what’s the okay? you’re kind of breaking things down, like a lot of things, right, you got to break it down and build it back up better. So where do you see yourself and where do you kind of come in and say, okay, here’s how you today, here’s how you should be looking at skills?

Michelle: Great, great question. So a first step is truly finding a champion. So we talked to a lot of our sales team, our workforce solutions team, we talked to a lot of organizations and we have found that without a champion and without an individual or leader in the organization that is either supporting DEI initiatives or supporting a broader talent strategy, it falls short. So let’s assume we have a champion and then we can either bring in our partners at Grads of Life for a study on how they can adopt or, if they’re really early in and they want to say, okay, well, let’s just pick one. Let’s pick an entry level digital marketer. Right, we’ve seen that the digital marketing space is evolving so quickly that the predictor of having a college degree as a digital marketer is no more a predictor of performance than not having a degree, and actually overall, it’s about five times more predictive of performance of not having a degree.

Michelle: And so when we look at that role, we have some technical assessments. We support clients with skills listing versus experience, and so we’ll look at, like we just talked about military, like looking at the untapped talent and all of our nonprofit partners that provide a training certification. We also have available training certifications. We also have a registered apprenticeship program for digital marketing, and so for an organization that wants to build their talent from the ground up, we can provide that career talent solution and build on one role and help them with how to build the upskilling program in to their hiring with assessments. And they also have to really peel the onion on their interview process right, so they, you know, looking at how objective their interview process is and making sure that folks aren’t omitted because of technology And that’s, you know, a big topic these days And ensuring that it’s very objective overall. But we say start small, right. Start with one or two, because we’re more likely to get increased adoption without, you know, trying to change the entire system at once, because there are a lot of layers to it.

William: Right, right. So two things come from that for me. One is industries that kind of get skills first, like just immediately, you know, is there anything that you see in the data or just in your interactions with clients, or you just know that they get it. And the other question that’s kind of similar but different is how do you, if we move to skills first, which I’m a huge advocate for what do you feel like the testing mechanism should be? Or like how do we because skills aren’t, you know, they’re not finite, there’s a breadth and depth to a skill right And it can change from month to month, year to year, et cetera So like how do we keep up with where people are with their skills? So there’s two different questions One, industries or verticals that you see, that just kind of get it, and the other is what should take on testing.

Michelle: Okay, yeah, let me, let me break those down. Let’s let’s tackle the industries first. So I would say higher adoption are the the traditional trade Industries.

Michelle: Where I went to high school in the 80s, we all had trades in high school and send in all of those trades have left our public schools and So you know we had woodworking, we had cosmetology, we had auto mechanics, right All of those and that would lead into Very skilled Trades overall and leading to career paths for folks and for living wages. I’m that has since left us Right and but I would say that all of those industries, including Manufacturing, you mean, they don’t have cosmetology at my local high school anymore. They might, but they don’t have woodworking or So what I mean?

Michelle: but it really served the workforce well our economy well, and And then, as we morphed to, for that to be privatized, and you know, either organizations had to take that on, colleges had to take that on, trade schools had to take that on, and Then, you know, our gap on from opportunity started getting wider. So, but I would say, from a manufacturing standpoint, they very much get skills first. They they’re the early adopters of apprenticeship programs. So I would say you know the more professional roles that have career mobility and for accounting, for finance and even tech, they have not necessarily adopted skills first and are still stuck in that pedigree over performance. I’m thinking that we need to check the box of a four-year degree to, you know, balance your checkbook. And so you know, i think where we are also Partnering with employers is to build learning paths for these less traditional skills.

Michelle: First industries and finance and banking. Insurance Is a big one and in tech, they’re starting to get it. I will say Accenture is leading the way, ibm is leading the way, you know very vocal on skills first and dropping degrees, and and there’s also been some states that have dropped degree requirements for a good portion of their jobs, which is, which is wonderful, so Attacking the industry.

Michelle: So you asked about breadth and depth of testing, but also how you look at your workforce overall, i mean what their skills are. I think this is where, overall, the technology is catching up and organizations are struggling to figure out how to do this. There is some great tech out there, one organization called Skyhive, where they come in and assess all of the jobs, they, they interview folks and they really peel the onion on all of the roles and they build all of the skills that your organization is built on to run your business Right That you can look at every, every position, every role. You know your structure and ensure that you’re building in skills opportunities and development programs to fill in the gaps as you grow your business. And that’s just one example. I think tech will be the answer in helping us figure that out. But but you know, i think that that is in tandem to your hiring strategy And your hiring plan for hiring for skills first and continuing to build on a skills first mentality within the organization.

William: So we we’ve talked about kind of tearing down, kind of the biases on the employer side. I don’t think we have to tear down so much on the candidate side, but maybe build up their communication of what skills they have or have acquired or want to acquire, etc. So what’s the role there In terms of kind of okay, now we’re working with again overlooked talent, traditionally overlooked talent, and we want them to kind of not think about LinkedIn and putting on a big profile there, building a resume in a traditional sense and looking at a degree or what they don’t have, but maybe looking at what they do have and being better at communicating what they’re great at.

Michelle: No, that’s a great question. So we actually spend a lot of time with our talent in building up their confidence in the skills that they have. So we support talent coming from nonprofit training provider programs and now they can check this box that they have this. Let’s say back to digital marketing. Ok, i’ve earned this digital marketing certificate and that’s what they place on their resume.

Michelle: And we really have to help young adults with the skills that they’ve now learned, because they’re not quite conceptualizing or naming the skills that they have. So through this program, they’ve built some active listening skills. They’ve built time management skills. We also work with entry-level customer service or retail talent and we have to help them with OK, what are all the skills that you’ve learned? Well, i mean, i dealt with customers and I worked on a cash register. Ok, so active listening, service orientation, speaking, well, right, just active learning in the process.

Michelle: And when you help talent really name the skills that they have, you see how it lights them up, it builds their confidence And they’re more apt to perform. When we do mock interviews and prepare them for interviews, when they’re able to name the skills that they’ve learned and work up through these programs, and that’s also building. It’s like there’s this also gap in communication for early talent to explain to an employer in an interview all of the great skills that they have through their life experience, through their certification programs, through the entry-level jobs that they’ve had. So that’s part of how we are helping create job opportunity is matching skills talent to employer needs but really helping the employer embrace the talent from a skills perspective that everyone is struggling to peel the onion and name the skill that it is.

William: Right, right, and there’s tangential tertiary, transferable understanding skills and saying, ok, this is what I have And here’s how it can be applied to customer success or sales enablement or this or that or the other. It’s like we’ve got to actually take both sides on how to look at skills differently, which is one of the things I wanted to ask you, because you had touched on it before, but I wanted to get you to take When we look at skills, first, take the degree out of it. I mean, again, there are some positions that need degrees, fair enough.

Michelle: Oh, and we’re not decreasing the degree itself, right, we’re not saying that at all.

William: That’s not it, that’s not the bit, but skills first. If we look at skills first, we’re by association, we’re eradicating some hiring biases that have just been there for a long time. But what’s interesting is that, as you mentioned it is, this can also be tied to your DEI strategy.

Michelle: Yes.

William: So what have you seen with clients when you kind of explain it in that way Like, OK, skills first, there’s a business case for just talking about skills first and not even talking about anything else. But there’s also another business case about hey, you have a DEI strategy, You’re working different programs. This is just another program to think about it, to help you get to the goals that you want to reach.

Michelle: Yes and I will.

William: Did you just improv, me You just yes, and me I did it.

Michelle: I did it.

Michelle: All right, and the reason is, i think the DEI metric is the result of placing equitable hiring practices and building inclusion in the practice, and the DEI metric, or what you may be measuring Right, the result of championing still first, and by doing so because we’ve shared the stats on underrepresented talent and traditionally overlooked talent very much so, you are building diversity and inclusion into your practice, inherently by opening up jobs to half of the workforce that don’t have degrees. So you’re, by proxy, increasing diversity, being more inclusive, committing to building equity and job opportunities, and therefore the result is a more diverse workforce that may increase more Black Americans working for you more.

Michelle: Americans working for you, more veterans working for you, and so it is a result of this practice, and so we tend to focus on inclusion and equity And oh, by the way, it’s the right thing to do and will support your ESG goals, right.

William: Right, right. So everything we’ve talked about sounds a lot like common sense to me at least. So like when we’re I mean everything skills first, full stop. Got it helping folks that have nontraditional pathways, or looking at traditionally overlooked talent in a different way, like, oh, that’s just OK. Oh, i’m shaking my head. Yes, the whole time, obviously, you run into opposition at points. What excuses or what reasons do people give you for not doing this?

Michelle: Wow, well, transparently, some of the reasons are that they don’t have the leadership, support or the mandate to remove the degree requirements because they don’t know how. Yet It’s a fear that drives what will happen, like we’re not quite ready for that. That’s one of them. The other is well, our technology doesn’t support it And we’re on this journey And we’re figuring out how to take out the barriers in our AI. So think about, when you recruit or post a job in our traditional job posting, acss, what is the first, second or third question that is baked into the job posting?

William: Degree.

Michelle Exactly So. Indeed it’s done a study. Just by removing that question in the top three of a recruiter posting or creating a job description, you’re automatically reducing bias just by removing that question of the first or removing it altogether. But because the technology is catching up and evolving, that question is still either one, two or three when you’re posting a job. So they’re afraid to say no. It’s almost like companies want to say, well, maybe Right, right.

Michelle: So we’re trying to say, well, no, it’s not a maybe, it’s. Either they need these skills or they don’t. We’re not, they’re not going to be a medical doctor, so let’s pass the degree for right now. And so we hear tech, we hear we don’t have a champion. The other piece, william, is really interesting. You have a champion and you get some folks hired, but without the inclusion that’s already within the organization and the hiring manager or the department lead or the folks that are working already on the team. There might be this bias that if other folks have been hired with degrees and then all of a sudden the organization has removed that, there’s this gosh, this un-said Right, so you know a class system within an organization. Well, those folks have degrees and they were hired before that time, and these folks were hired after we removed it, so they don’t have degrees. So now, if we’re not careful, we’re now creating our own, you know caste system within our organization.

William: Right, right.

William: Before and after Right I think he, i think you nailed it when you said you know degrees. If you have them, great, it, it, it. I think historically people have looked at them as a predictor of success and and maybe in some cases they are, but not universally. And people, there’s many paths to get to success And so, again, i mean speaking as a person who has three degrees, i would tell you that, like I have a BA in art history, an MA in American Indian history and art and an MBA in, most people dial in on my MBA And I’m like, yeah, mba is basically a degree in common sense.

William: I learned more by studying art history than I did in anything else, and so does that help me on a day-to-day basis? Yeah, it actually does, because it makes me think creatively about, like what, what’s happening in the world of HR technology, but, but it’s again, it’s I have to reinvest in my skills every day. You know that’s, that doesn’t, that doesn’t help. I think you know one of the things that, as I was, as we were talking, i think people have to have success with this, with skills first, like they’ve got to, they’ve got to have a champion, as you mentioned, have an advocate, and they’ve got to have Tammy or Johnny or you know whomever and just take a chance and it work Right. And then once it works, they see it works, then it’s off to the races, because all the benefits are. It’s just too easy to make the case for why this makes sense.

Michelle It is easy to make the case And I think companies are also trying to figure out how to measure it. But at the end of the day, you know your. Your measurement is your top line revenue, your gross profit, your.

Michelle: ROI your turnover in your organization, your retention on you know how, what is your time to fill in. You know what is your brand reputation. What are people saying about you online? It’s everything, and I think companies are trying to pick the one thing to say okay, well, how can we figure out if this is going to work?

William: Right.

Michelle: Have to take a holistic approach to all of those measures And it is over time And we’re not going to see the effects of that right away. But we can’t not Because you know you’ve probably read it as I have by 2030, the demand for skills workers will absolutely outstrip supply. Like question about it And if we don’t do something, the talent shortage with without investing in this will be over 85 million And it will cost our economy 1.7 trillion in revenue And that you can read that stat anywhere.

William: Oh yeah, i can see it just in my, in my local community, where stores are shut down because they can’t get the talent And it’s like you know, for everything that you read about how the economy is this and the other, it’s like people are the skill shortage is showing up everywhere. Everywhere you look, just now you’re talking about the, you know in years from now, but like right now, it’s it’s, it’s already impacting our lives. I could talk to you all day, Michelle.

Michelle: I know I could too.

William: But I know you got stuff to do. So I thank you for so much for coming on the show and also talking about this topic.

Michelle: I really appreciate it And you know, anytime you want to talk more about skills first or you have an employer that wants to chat, please send them our way. We will. We will change their mind 100%.

William: One way or another, and thanks for everyone listening, until next time.

The RecruitingDaily Podcast

William Tincup

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.


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