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3 Ways You Can Use Nontraditional Education To Win The War For Talent

The ongoing transformation of higher education makes hiring more challenging, but there are alternative ways to reach the right people.

3 Ways You Can Use Nontraditional Education To Win The War For Talent
[Photo: Flickr user Chase Elliott Clark]

“Gone. Poof. Done.”

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That’s how former Zappos recruiting strategist Stacy Zapar summarized the online shoe retailer’s decision last year to eliminate all of its job postings.

The U.S.-based company has chosen to rely instead on a “Zappos Insider” program that exists on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. It’s intended to draw people to the company and “get to know the people who might like to work for (Zappos) someday.”

It’s too early to tell if other companies will follow the Zappos’s example, but one thing is clear: The corporate hiring landscape is undergoing major disruption. That’s to be expected, given how behavior and expectations of job seekers has changed in response to shifts in the economy and technological advances. But another factor at play is easily overlooked: the upheaval underway in American higher education.

Compared to just a decade ago, there are many more educational options in the United States today, such as online learning often referred to as massive online open courses, or MOOCs. And there’s expanded enrollment in for-profit universities.

These changes, coupled with rising tuition, have shaken up the profile of the American college student. Approximately 70% of those currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in the U.S. are not doing so in what is thought of as the “traditional” college experience, according to the U.S. Education Department. Rather than studying full-time while living on a college campus and earning a degree after four years, they are studying part-time, withdrawing from college to work, and then returning later in life.

Because of these changes, businesses need to expand how they approach finding future employees, hiring them, retaining them, and developing them. Here are some approaches they should consider:

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1. Deepen Relationships With Academia In The Development Of Programs And Curricula

These relationships can help ensure students acquire needed skill sets and will not need extensive training in the basics when entering the workforce. One example is the PowerPathway initiative at Pacific Gas & Electric in California. The company collaborates with community colleges and four-year universities in offering courses that will prepare students for a range of positions at the intersection of energy and technology. Similarly, BMW partners with Clemson University, with students working alongside engineers on innovation, research, and development.

By helping to close the skills gap, relationships like these can help ensure businesses are able to quickly fill vacant positions with qualified workers, an outcome that will reduce unemployment and boost long-term economic competitiveness.

2. Broaden Recruitment Strategies

That means expanding recruiting beyond college campuses and using tools that will help to reach the students of today and tomorrow. One of the largest health insurance companies in the United States, Cigna, now finds close to one-fourth of its new employees through Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

An expanded recruiting strategy can also mean giving students an alternative path into an organization. One example comes from our Deloitte UK member firm, which sponsors an initiative called BrightStart that gives people without a university degree the opportunity to enroll in a comprehensive training program. When enrollees are finished with the program, which can last for up to five years, they have obtained a professional qualification without incurring the debt associated with higher education.

3. Offer Employees Better Opportunities For Learning

This learning can take many different forms and will help with recruiting, retention, and professional development. An innovative program announced by Starbucks last year provides its employees who do not have a college degree, which is 70% of the company’s workforce, with an opportunity to receive either a partial scholarship or full tuition reimbursement in connection with online classes offered by Arizona State University. And Yahoo reimburses employees for the cost of verified course-completion certificates from online educator Coursera.

Companies can also provide learning opportunities beyond the traditional classroom setting. We operate three Deloitte University campuses (in the U.S., Europe, and India) where our member-firm professionals participate in leadership training. These facilities represent our belief in our people, the power of personal networking, and that hands-on learning from our leaders will help them to realize their full potential.

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One of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned from almost four decades in business is the essential value of human capital. Companies can have visionary strategies, and breakthrough technologies, but the potential offered by both won’t be realized without smart people to implement and execute them.

In our knowledge-driven economy, the premium on hiring skilled individuals is growing. The ongoing transformation of higher education makes the hiring process more challenging, but technology offers new opportunities to reach the right people.

Companies that adapt to these changes will be best positioned to succeed in the hiring war. And those that fail? They may meet the same fate of the Zappos job listings: “Gone. Poof. Done.”

Barry Salzberg is Deloitte Global CEO.

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