Jan 16th Skills-First Hiring: The New Flight Path for DEI

2024 is buzzing with a new trend in the corporate world, and it’s all about talent – or rather, the shortage of it.

Linda Hill throws the spotlight on a strategy that’s reshaping how companies approach hiring: the skills-first model. It’s a game-changer, especially for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and guess who’s leading the charge?

Delta Air Lines.

Delta’s journey towards a skills-first approach kicked off under CEO Ed Bastian’s leadership. His mantra? Take care of the people, and they’ll take care of your customers. Simple, yet profound. Despite positive employee engagement data, Delta noticed a consistent concern among employees about developmental opportunities and career mobility. And here’s the twist: these concerns were tightly interwoven with DEI, particularly for Black talent.

Fast forward to the chaos of 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic was wreaking havoc and racial tensions were at a boiling point. Delta, in a bold move, became a charter member of the OneTen coalition, joining forces with other major players like IBM and Merck. Their mission? To hire and advance 1 million Black Americans without college degrees into sustainable jobs over ten years. It was a commitment made amidst the storm of the pandemic, proving Delta’s dedication to not just weathering the crisis but emerging as a leader in equitable hiring practices.

But what makes Delta’s skills-first approach so revolutionary is that it’s more than just a hiring strategy. It’s a commitment to seeing the potential in every individual. Delta took a hard look at its talent policies and practices, and what they found was a goldmine of untapped potential within their own ranks. By reclassifying over 90 percent of its jobs, Delta opened doors to equitable opportunities, proving that skills and talent often don’t come wrapped in a college degree.

This approach is not just about filling job vacancies. It’s about doing good business by doing good for the community. It’s a belief that brilliance isn’t limited to certain demographics or education levels. It’s everywhere, and it’s Delta’s responsibility to upskill and reskill the talent that’s right in front of them.

But don’t be fooled; Delta’s leaders aren’t resting on their laurels. They know that a skills-first approach and DEI aren’t just one-off initiatives or fancy programs. It’s a long-term commitment, intertwined with the core of corporate strategy.

And for the corporate world, this signals a major shift from traditional hiring norms, with an embrace of diversity not just as a checkbox but as a business imperative. Skills-first hiring is the new flight path for DEI, charting a course towards a more inclusive and equitable workplace. It’s a journey of discovery, recognizing and nurturing the latent potential in every individual.

And as Delta’s story shows, it’s a journey that’s just getting started…

Harvard Business School

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