Breaking Hiring Barriers to Working Learner Success

Posted: September 27th, 2016

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ACT Foundation’s new report, Hiring Practices and Working Learning Success in the Learning Economy, by Dr. Franci Phelan and Dr. Randal Peters, explores the learning and earning dynamics of today’s workplace and the barriers that are unintentionally created in hiring working learners. The paper attempts to answer the following question: “In the context of the learning economy, what are the implications of contemporary human resource practices related to sourcing, selecting, and hiring talent for young working learners?”

Despite the importance of working learners to the growth of the economy, the unique attributes of working learners are not meaningfully acknowledged during the hiring processes of many companies. Instead, tension between hiring practices and working learners’ needs were found in three important areas:
· many businesses are using age-old hiring practices in an era defined by corporate innovation;
· “learning while earning” is undervalued in the hiring process but critical to worker success; and
· policies intended to promote diversity in recruiting may instead frustrate working learners.

The report also examines recruitment practices that only reinforce the homogeneity of their existing workforces. Many times, companies end up hiring people who mirror the people who already work for the company, in some cases because of a hiring manager’s sincere but subconsciously biased attempt to ensure “fit.” This may also occur simply because incentives are given to current employees to help recruit through their own personal networks. Since many personal networks are predominantly made up of people from similar backgrounds with shared experiences, this kind of recruitment often only deepens the homogeneity of the company’s existing employee makeup.

Hiring practices may also unintentionally penalize workers who are striving to earn the type of educational credential demanded by employers by not accommodating students enrolled in school but who have not yet obtained a degree. Historically high tuition costs frequently force students to work while learning and delay graduation until they can afford to pay for needed courses. What’s more, hiring systems that include complex application procedures and multiple rounds of interviews can be too burdensome for working learners to navigate as they also balance the other demands in their lives, including supporting their families. With that in mind, the report recommends that companies adopt policies that recognize working and learning as a positive factor and as an indication that an applicant has habits related to the lifelong learning that drives invention and corporate growth.

It’s clear that employers must adopt policies that embrace the value of working learners. And in order to do that, employers must establish clear, competency-based hiring criteria that fairly allow applicants to demonstrate proficiency. One way employers can do that is by making use of the National Retail Services Initiative Competency Model, which outlines competencies at play at all levels of the retail industry. Employers must also respect the importance ongoing learning, and find nontraditional ways to diversify the applicant pool outside of employee networks and routine job postings. Hiring Practices makes the case that the learning economy will necessitate support for working learners through  a willingness to set aside decades-old practices and develop new systems that align with new realities in which learning and earning are inextricably linked.

Read Hiring Practices and Working Learning Success in the Learning Economy here.