MSF Approved

A Skills-Based Approach to Hiring

In late December 2023 the House Education and Workforce Committee voted to advance the bipartisan Stronger Workforce for America Act (H.R. 6655). The bill would reauthorize the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which is the primary federal legislation designed to strengthen our nation’s public workforce system.  Within the WIOA reauthorization is a House-driven push to extend the Pell Grant federal college student financial aid program to shorter career training programs dubbed the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act.   Proponents of expanding Pell eligibility to short-term training programs point to the growing acceptance of short-term credentials which help people move quickly into in-demand occupations and would enable more upskilling or retraining to address skills mismatches.

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

As of January 2024, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the unemployment rate was 3.7 percent for the third month in a row, and the number of unemployed people was little changed at 6.1 million.  The number of people not in the labor force who currently want a job, at 5.8 million, was also little changed in January.

WIOA is designed to strengthen and improve our nation’s public workforce system and help get Americans, including youth and those with significant barriers to employment, into high-quality jobs and careers and help employers hire and retain skilled workers.

Employers may not be aware of the WIOA as valuable source of qualified and available candidates.  WIOA is the largest single source of federal funding for workforce development activities and helps counties tackle and overcome challenges facing job seekers and employers.    WIOA establishes the one-stop center delivery system, which provides access to job search assistance, workforce training and career services to county residents across the country.  America’s Job Centers (formerly known as CareerOneStop) are a network of nearly 3,300 federally funded workforce development centers located across the U.S. 

Employers can utilize the centers for recruitment, candidate screening, and more. Many states also offer training and hiring incentives if employers agree to hire job seekers who meet certain eligibility requirements.   In the search for qualified workers, employers have realized that skills-based credentials beyond a traditional degree can effectively prepare workers and, consequently, skills-based hiring has been on the rise.

Federal financial aid is the biggest source of funding for career-related training through America’s Job Centers. Workforce development training dollars are an important source of funds for students; however, current law excludes Pell Grants for students who are in non-credit programs, formerly incarcerated individuals, and youth and adults who are earning secondary credentials and gaining work experience. 

America’s Job Centers

The American Job Centers system is coordinated by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA).    Workforce services for eligible adults are available through one of the six core programs authorized by Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). The Adult program serves individuals and helps employers meet their workforce needs. It enables workers to obtain quality jobs by providing them with job search assistance and training opportunities.

America’s Job Centers (formerly known as CareerOneStop) are a network of nearly 3,300 federally funded workforce development centers located across the U.S.  This network of career centers was created to empower individuals to gain meaningful employment.   Most states require individuals who receive unemployment benefits to visit their America’s Job Center for help looking for a job. Many states have online registration systems that match job seekers to employers looking to hire. As with job seekers, employer services are offered at no cost.

American Job Centers provide a full range of assistance to job seekers such as training referrals, career counseling, job listings, and similar employment-related services.  American Job Center staff, when using WIOA Adult funds to provide individualized career services and training services, must give priority to recipients of public assistance, other low-income individuals, and individuals who are basic skills deficient. In addition, veterans receive priority of service in all DOL-funded employment programs.  Many have Veterans Representatives who offer specialized services to veterans.

Job seekers who take advantage of these services receive a similar experience to what job seekers find with a recruitment agency; the assistance of a résumé writer or career coach, but without the cost.  Centers offer services free of charge to anyone looking for a job, whether currently unemployed or otherwise, offering workshops, résumé writing and review, mock interviews, job leads, subsidized training program placement and more.  America’s Job Centers can connect job seekers with training programs in nearly every field and, depending on the job seeker’s circumstances, may be able to get some or all of the cost of training covered by funding from the Department of Labor.

Noncredit Workforce Training Programs

Today’s tight labor market has led more employers to consider taking a more skills-based approach to hiring.  The result has been that Employers have been able to access more talent and be specific about what skills they need, and job seekers have found more doors open to them.  For certain roles, the relaxing of high education requirements is in effect serving to correct so-called degree inflation; the term used to describe a stated requirement for a college degree for jobs that truly do not require one. 

In 2023, the share of jobs on hiring platform ZipRecruiter that listed a bachelor’s degree as a requirement dropped to 14.5%, from 18% in 2022.  In 2022, 12% of health care job postings required college degrees, compared to just 9.3% in 2023, according to ZipRecruiter.     Employers are starting to recognize that educational credentials are but one variable when evaluating a candidate and that specialized skills in a particular area combined with soft skills, such as the ability to work as part of or lead a team, can be a better fit for the positions that need to be filled.


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