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When Hiring, Skills Are the Key

July 8, 2021
The skills a person has learned over the years are often more important than a person’s level of education.

By Zane Pucylowski

When hiring for an open job, companies often first look at the level of education a person has when determining whether or not they are qualified for the position. This way of thinking is outdated as more employers are seeking skills over education. Having a degree in a related field is not the only important factor to consider when hiring a person to do a job. A candidate with skills is much more in demand than a person with only a degree.

The skills a person has learned over the years are often more important than a person’s level of education. Many times, having the right set of skills is going to be more beneficial in the long run than having a degree. Young adults have been preached to for decades about the importance of getting a college degree and that thinking has shifted in recent years. Well known CEOs Elon Musk, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Jeff Bezos have all been on record saying they look at the skills a person has accumulated over looking at what degree and where a person went to school.

Shifting of norms

Many companies are willing to overlook post-secondary education if they see a person is able to do the job. Recently many industries have been changing their mindset about degrees, including construction, engineering and mechanical businesses.

The shifting of people’s mindset on education over acquiring skills needs to begin at an earlier age than in the past. It is recommended that we help middle school children get early exposure to trade skills. Learning skills at an early age can be a huge benefit for a person after they graduate high school. They will have learned how to work with their hands which can lead to a job in one of the trade fields. Not everyone is going to become a doctor, accountant or a lawyer. The world still needs qualified plumbers, HVAC technicians, auto mechanics and builders.

In some socio-economic circles these jobs have been looked down upon but can often lead to lucrative careers. Learning skills for these positions puts a person in a place where they can easily get a job or even start their own business. Not all people are fit for business school, but a person can always continue working while taking a few classes at a local community college to gain business skills.

Skills show personality, goals and values

Skills teach you about a person and what they are capable of achieving. You can learn a lot more about a candidate by seeing the skills they have acquired and maintained than by what degree they received. To put this in perspective let’s say a person comes in to interview for an engineering position. When I interview a prospective engineer, I give them a basic engineering math problem for them to solve. If they can solve it then it shows they know at least the basic level of what we do. This shows the candidate has some skills to actually perform the job.

A successful person also needs to possess at least the basic skills, communication, time management, teamwork and leadership. If a person is unable to work in a team, communicate with others, and stay on task the level of education doesn’t matter. Having a degree can show you how technically capable a person is, but it offers no glimpse into the personality of the candidate or how well they will fit into your company.

Skills show experiences degrees can’t

When a person is entering the workforce, they most likely have had years of experiences behind them that do not relate to their degree. Through internships, part-time jobs and even military experience, they have developed skills and behaviors a degree cannot show.

If a person didn’t have a traditional education, it is important to focus on the skills a person has accumulated when determining if they will be a good fit at your company. Focusing on a person’s skill set will help you better understand the person and also show you if they are capable of doing the job. For example, if a company is looking for a welder to join their team, they are going to be more prone to hire someone who can show their actual work rather than showing they have a certificate from a school saying they learned about welding.

When hiring people for technical roles skills always come first. If a person can show they are capable of doing the job and have examples of them doing it then they are often going to be a better fit for the position. Just having a degree showing a person has learned about an area is slowly becoming not enough for a person to get a job. Experience beats education. Focusing on a person’s skill set will allow you to hire someone who can immediately do the job.

Zane Pucylowski is the President and Principal Engineer at Phoenix Engineering and Consulting, Inc. in Woodstock, Georgia. He is also a part-time faculty member teaching labs in senior design in the Mechatronic Engineering department at Kennesaw State University.

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