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How Skills-Based Training Can Help Employers Access a Hidden Talent Pool

  • 5 Min Read

Hear from Gary Flowers, CIO of Transformation and Technology Services at Year Up, about what skills-first training and hiring look like and why focusing on skills sets people and organizations up for success.


There’s a persistent challenge facing today’s companies: not everyone is taught the skills they need to succeed in a corporate environment.

Year Up knows this challenge well. As a national workforce development organization, it has identified a disconnect between opportunities for young adults and a growing need for talent among employers. That’s why it focuses on promoting skills-first learning and hiring to create lifelong learners who can pivot on a dime. But how can companies invest in infrastructure that supports this mindset?

We sat down with Gary Flowers, CIO of Transformation and Technology Services at Year Up, to talk about the importance of skills training, the value of soft skills and what employers should look for when filling open roles (hint: it involves lifelong learning).

How Does Skills Training Unlock Potential?

At Year Up, we always say skills over degrees. There is nothing wrong with a degree, but we found that if you look at the job description for most entry-level positions, you don’t need a degree; you need skills.

Frankly, many of our young adults continue their education after our program, but how cool is it to continue your education when you already have a meaningful career? How great is taking advantage of company-funded tuition reimbursement to advance your education? It’s not skills over degrees forever; it’s skills over degrees to get you into that first career-sustaining job.

I spoke at a large technology conference, and the young adult who was interviewing me came through our program. His story was just so impactful. He had been at this organization for five years. He was working on his third promotion. He was about to complete his degree. Our program didn’t just impact him but his family as well.

Regarding concrete skills, the worst thing we could do is prepare young adults for jobs that aren’t there. So, we listen very closely to the needs of our corporate partners in tech and finance, and then we train people on the requested skills.

What’s the Value of Soft Skills?

It’s not just the academic skills corporations want but also the wraparound (also known as soft) skills. When I came out of school, for example, I didn’t know how to write an email correctly. That was a wraparound skill that I still needed to learn. And so, when we focus on the skills for the job, we also want to focus on the skills needed to be corporate ready—to walk into that corporate internship, to know what it’s like to have the watercooler talk and know the importance of networking and financial literacy.

Upskilling those soft skills goes a long way towards lifelong learning. We want to take the young adults we work with and upskill them so they’re prepared for an entry-level position and continued career success in corporate America.

We continue to help them upskill even after they finish the program. Our graduates get promoted more often and faster than their peers because we teach them things like soft skills and resilience. We don’t only want to get them the first job. We want to get them the first job of many.

Do You Have Advice for Employers Looking to Fill Open Roles?

When hiring, know that there is a talent pool out there that you may be unaware of, which could be due to unconscious bias. We’ve served more than 45,000 young adults who prove that if you focus on skills versus degrees to help close that opportunity divide, there’s a whole talent pool out there awaiting you.

And bridging that opportunity divide helps everyone. It helps your corporation because you have access to a new talent pool. It also helps society. As our founder Gerald Chertavian always says, we’re not changing young adults’ lives. We’re giving them an on-ramp. They already have talent and motivation; we’re giving them an on-ramp to career-sustaining, life-changing jobs. It’s a win-win on both sides; you’re helping your organization and making a difference in society.

Where Do Most Organizations Fall Short?

Many organizations are focused on the ten things someone needs for a position: what they’re missing is the why.

When I was growing up, we didn’t walk around with cell phones and control our entire lives on a mobile device. We had to learn all of that, which gave us a different mindset. Now, with the release of ChatGPT, a young adult can complete an assignment in a matter of seconds. So, how we design the training now has to consider the generation that we’re training—and that’s where most organizations come up short.

In the context of generative AI, critical thinking is incredibly important. If you have a 100-meter race, ChatGPT may get you to the 75-yard line instantly. But are you going to be done there? Or will you be a critical thinker who can get over that last 25 yards faster than your counterparts?

What’s the Importance of Technology in Lifelong Learning?

You never know when something disruptive is going to happen in the industry. So, becoming a lifelong learner can sometimes insulate or protect you from those changes. A lifelong learner is always learning new skills that can be applied in their current or another job.

This approach hits home when it comes to AI, which is slowly but surely replacing a lot of entry-level positions already, according to the trends. Teaching young adults to be critical thinkers and collaborators is important so they’re always moving forward. Lifelong learning almost becomes ingrained in your DNA, but we find that you have to be intentional about that. We are intentional as we partner with D2L to update and revamp our curriculum. That way, our people have a baseline to become lifelong learners and get the skills they need to advance their careers.

Plus, we don’t do technology for technology’s sake. We talk a lot about people, process and technology. There’s a reason why we do it in that order. If you get the people and the process right, you can help five or ten people. But technology enables you to do it for thousands of people. We believe technology is an enabler and a multiplier, but you must think intentionally about what it is you’re trying to improve.

Two people working on a laptop.

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Table of Contents

  1. How Does Skills Training Unlock Potential?
  2. What’s the Value of Soft Skills?
  3. Do You Have Advice for Employers Looking to Fill Open Roles?
  4. Where Do Most Organizations Fall Short?
  5. What’s the Importance of Technology in Lifelong Learning?
  6. Unlock Learning as a Catalyst for Growth