Four Ways Companies Can Find the ‘Hidden Talent’

Apr 4, 2022

Employers want to hire faster; job seekers want to find jobs faster. Despite this mutual desire to improve the hiring cycle, we’re seeing large steps back with applicant tracking systems that continue to filter deserving candidates out. 

Harvard Business School and Accenture recently released an astonishing report estimating that America has more than 27 million “hidden workers” — people whom companies would benefit from hiring but are ignored by traditional hiring practices. 

Chief among the study’s findings is a widening training gap: “The rapid pace of change in many occupations, driven in large part by advancing technologies, has made it extremely difficult for workers to obtain relevant skills.”

The workforce is not lacking in talent. Companies must widen the aperture on how they identify promising talent and equip them with job-specific skills. Here are four key ways technology leaders like Microsoft, Amazon, and Netflix are rethinking recruiting practices to keep up with the pace of change: 

1. Make “returnships” as common as internships. 

My team works with hundreds of companies — from startups to the Fortune 500 — to help expand their talent pipelines. Most reserve their internship programs for current college students only. But why? Internships for people with prior work experience are emerging as a key pathway for hiring “hidden talent” already equipped with the soft skills to thrive.

Companies like Microsoft, JPMorgan, and VMWare have launched internship programs for workers who follow a nontraditional path into entry-level roles that require technical skills. These are often rebranded as an apprenticeship, returnship, or another specialized program name.

For example, Microsoft’s LEAP Program is a 16-week paid apprenticeship program designed to bolster the company’s engineering workforce. Among the program graduates, two-thirds go on to full time employment at Microsoft and 98% end up in jobs in the tech industry.

“I think recently, we are focusing even more and more on these nontraditional pathways,” Priya Priyadarshini, a general manager of global early career programs at Microsoft, previously told HR Dive. “We believe that there are many pathways to the technology industry and to Microsoft and we are leveraging talent from previously untapped talent pools more than we have done in the past.”

2. Upskill current employees.

As the “Great Resignation” continues to cause staffing shortages, training current employees can be both a talent acquisition strategy and a retention strategy. 

Employees understand that new skills are their best bet for progression, with 77% of workers indicating a desire to upskill, according to a 2021 survey by PWC. In order to retain their best talent, employers must invest in more rigorous training and education opportunities. 

Even Amazon is taking note. Faced with stalling growth due to hiring challenges, Amazon recently announced the start of new upskilling programs and an expansion of its tuition reimbursement program for all of its 750,000 hourly employees.

3. Work directly with schools to build college-to-career pathways.

The problem of “hidden talent” goes hand in hand with the lack of diversity in tech. In a radical move to change what many call the pipeline problem, some innovative companies are going straight to schools to prepare students for the jobs of the future. 

For example, Netflix has begun to embed its own technology training programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). For these no-cost, semester-long courses, industry mentorship is the key ingredient.

“For many of the students in the boot camp, this is the first time they are seeing a reflection of themselves in the tech industry,” said Kabi Gishuru, director of recruitment and inclusion at Netflix. “These mentorship relationships go beyond just guiding students through the boot camp. We’re unlocking inspiration, helping students set the foundation of their professional networks, and equipping students with the skills to land their dream job.”

Well-resourced employers have an opportunity to go directly to universities to find and nurture diverse talent while students are still in school. But skilled workers don’t have to be college graduates.

4. Remove the college degree requirement from job descriptions.

report last year by Accenture and Opportunity at Work estimates that 60% of the U.S. workforce does not have a college degree but has the skills for a high-wage job. Many of these workers have gained skills through alternative means, including short-term tech training programs like boot camps.

When I began working for a technology boot camp provider five years ago, we painstakingly had to convince employers to look at boot camp graduates. Even though these adults had every skill listed on the job descriptions, the lack of a college diploma or a computer science degree disqualified them. 

Today, the environment is different. Top employers including Google, Apple, IBM, and Bank of America no longer require applicants to have a college degree. HR leaders are increasingly seeing boot camps, microdegrees, and similar training programs as important signals of skill-readiness and willingness to learn.

Former marine Dalton Ricker is a great example of how alternative credentials can provide the signaling employers need to hire nontraditional candidates. Dalton had intended to enroll in college at Georgia Tech until his path led to a career in the military. Six years later in search of a change, he struggled to find work outside of the maritime industry. Dalton ended up enrolled at Georgia Tech — not in a degree program, but in a six-month, part-time coding boot camp for adults, after which he landed a software developer job at Wayfair.

To find the “hidden talent,” we need skills-based hiring and innovative recruiting and training practices that pave the way for individuals of all backgrounds to prove themselves in the workplace.

By Jennifer Henry