• Susanna Williams


Updated: Dec 20, 2019

I spent yesterday working with a major New York City employer’s HR team around creating skill-based career pathways for low-skill, low-income New York City residents. The HR leader kept insisting that any training needed to have at least a full year of experience, even though research has shown that training and experience have very little predictive value when it comes to work productivity. I finally pushed back on her and she admitted that it comes down to needing ways to filter an overwhelming number of applications. “When you receive 3,000 applications for 200 jobs, experience becomes a filter. If someone has worked for at least a year, they’ve shown up, they’ve committed.” And that means at least one less uncertainty in what is increasingly an extremely uncertain process.

We are so. bad. at hiring.

This has very real practical implications in New York City, which has perhaps the most unique labor market in the United States. Employers freely admit that they have no trouble attracting top quality talent. They have no reason to hire people from the community, particularly given the persistence of social promotion in New York City public schools and the unequal distribution of economic opportunity throughout our city. Since the only way to get relevant experience is by having relevant experience, low-income New Yorkers are essentially trapped in a dead-end trough of retail and service industry jobs. And even if experience were no longer a factor, employers would seek some other filtering mechanism just to deal with the immense volume of applications.

For a country supposedly at full employment, the employment landscape is hardly demand driven.

Artificial intelligence, with embedded semantic networks, would seem to be one smart solution here, but that still requires human intelligence around identifying what actually matters in terms of skills (not tasks) required to successfully do the work of a job.

Hiring takes place within a much larger system. Until business leaders honestly confront the complexity of hiring and we capitalize on technology’s ability to see clearly through the volume of data delivered by online job applications, simply adopting skills-based hiring practices won’t be enough.