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A simple answer to address persistent skills gaps and talent shortages in any industry

Kermit RandaMarch 14, 2023AssessmentsQualification

There’s a common understanding among most talent acquisition teams this year — the need to optimize resources in accordance to the ebb and flow of our economy and job market. Even the federal government’s HR leaders, hiring managers, and recruiters are asking, How best can we find and quickly hire the right talent to fill our open positions? 

The answer they arrived at — perhaps serving as a market indicator around hiring trends — may surprise you in its simplicity: skills-based assessments.

The Chance to Compete Act, which passed overwhelmingly in the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 24 and is now in the Senate, intends to reduce the skills gap and talent shortage within the government by reshaping federal job recruitment and hiring practices, with specific focus on skills-based assessments to identify and hire right-fit talent for government positions, regardless of agency.

“Candidate assessments, which assess competency and culture fit, are not new to the recruitment scene,” said Kara Polk, Program Director, Assessments at Symphony Talent. “But this U.S. legislation marks a fundamental shift in recruitment in the public sector, and it’s a clear indicator of additional market movement in the private sector as well.” 

Symphony Talent has seen a marketed uptick in candidate assessment use through its website According to Polk, use of assessments rose 26.5% from 2021 to 2022. “Companies are not only competing to bring in top talent, but also identify skilled workers within their existing team who will elect to grow and move up in their careers, while staying within the organization. Assessments can help hiring teams find those candidates. And they are simple to use.”

William Shackelford, President of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association in Alexandria, Virginia, recently commented, "Current federal hiring processes are stifling the government's ability to bring in the talent necessary for it to effectively serve the American people. Federal agencies currently suffer from mission-critical skills gaps. Competitive hiring practices are central to the concept of merit-based hiring, whereby employees are hired based on their qualifications. This bill addresses those issues by providing common sense steps to improve competitive hiring practices and increase hiring efficiency."

That’s a sentiment and goal shared by many of today’s recruitment teams.

Impact of assessments on hiring teams

In the face of a turbulent and uncertain economy, fluctuations in candidate and employee expectations, shifting business priorities, and more, many companies are feeling the pressure to reassess, reallocate, and redefine their recruitment and hiring practices, as well as their employee engagement and retention strategies.

Unemployment rates remain low (3.4% as of February 2023), while competition for qualified candidates continues to be high across virtually every industry. Add to that the challenges associated with inflation, federal interest rates, rising levels of burnout, and other factors, and you’ll have a complex picture of the current job market. It’s no wonder many organizations continue to struggle to fill open positions with the right talent. Organizations need a way to evaluate existing talent to identify gaps and create a plan to fill them. That’s where skills-based assessments really shine. 

recent McKinsey & Company study suggests that “hiring for skills is five times more predictive of job performance than hiring for education and more than two times more predictive than hiring for work experience.” That’s a powerful advantage for hiring teams — the ability to predict performance prior to hiring a candidate. 

Interviews and resumes, while valuable, provide a curated picture of the candidate. But to truly understand a candidate’s skills and knowledge related to the specific job, teams need to add skills-based assessments to the process.

Let’s say you need to hire a cohort of new employees for a global assignment, but you need them to have superior English language and software skills to produce comprehensible documents. Such was the case for one Symphony Talent client. They opted to use skills-based assessments to evaluate English language proficiency, which was then reviewed and validated by a language expert. With the help of skills-based assessments, the team was able to better predict job performance — in this case document production — which enabled them to select the best candidates for the job.

“We empower recruiters to hear, see, and ‘meet’ talent earlier in the process,” Polk said. “Plus, we help strengthen candidate profiles at scale for future hiring.” 

Getting the right people in the door is only the first step; retention is the next. High turnover rates and an increasing risk of employee burnout are two significant challenges in today’s recruitment landscape.

As Heather Bollinger, a nurse at San Francisco General Hospital recently said, “The more short staffed you get, the more people resign.” A lack of healthcare staffing resources isn’t just problematic for the healthcare team, it can lead to significant patient safety risks. According to ECRI, staffing shortages are among the top 10 patient safety concerns from 2022. A focus on recruitment and developing career progression pathways within the organization were noted as key action recommendations, further emphasizing the importance of workforce planning and employee mobility. With the help of assessments as an integral component of the recruitment marketing engine, healthcare HR leaders can gain a greater understanding of their existing workforce, identify and prioritize staffing gaps, and create and execute a plan to fill them.

In virtually every industry, the cycle of staffing gaps that lead to burnout further compounds staffing concerns as more team members vacate their positions, but it can only stop when we take a closer look at the team dynamics and available skills and resources. By upskilling or reskilling team members, organizations can begin to close the skills gap, address organizational needs, and offer some relief to overburdened and underprepared teams. 

McKinsey & Company echoed this sentiment, stating, “Organizations that realign HR processes to match skill needs can boost employee engagement by 50 percent, lower training and development program costs by 50 percent, and raise productivity by 40 percent.” Among their recommendations, leveraging assessments within the hiring and reskilling or upskilling process ranked high.

Despite the clear value of assessments for pre-hire evaluation and existing employee retention and engagement, assessments are often underused. But that seems to be changing as we see more organizations across the private and public sectors recognizing their utility and, of course, their simplicity. 

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