College Grad, Will Work for Food

Consider the scenario. Despite the fact that 90% of all jobs require a high school diploma, 7,000 students drop out of high school everyday. As a result, our nation faces a historical high in the number of young adults under the age of 26 without jobs. In fact, 6.5 million of our young adults are neither in school or working. This includes the 53% with college degrees, often saddled with an accompanying crushing debt, who are either unemployed or underemployed.

While the lucky ones have achieved the roles they seek, many more have been overlooked. Despite having the skills and knowledge required for the new world of work and the global high tech economy, many young adults in the U.S. have no opportunities to prove their skills and translate them into careers. These statistics represent real people, individuals who through their actions, such as dropping out of high school or college, illustrate that the system no longer works for the majority of young adults and job seekers with non-traditional backgrounds (e.g. veterans). We have to begin to find new pathways to employment that acknowledge the value of skills and experience, can be demonstrated through alternative credentialing and recognized by employers where there is no degree or while an individual is working toward their degree. Failing to do so fails our young adults and our workforce, and ultimately, puts our nation at risk.

We believe skills-based training and hiring is one solution. Cognitive skills assessments, measure 3 to 5 fundamental skills: literacy, numeracy, critical observation, critical listening, and the ability to understand and apply charts, graphs and diagrams. These cognitive skills accurately map to over 95% of all jobs and predict on-the-job performance five times better than a degree alone. We tend to gain these skills from multiple places - school, prior work experience, online self-education, life experience and other valid learning pathways. Job seekers can use cognitive skills assessments to market their skills to employers and employers can hire based on clearly advertised 'skills required to do the job' leading, ultimately, to a better match between the individual and the job.

Measuring and hiring based on skills requires a real shift for both the job seeker and the employer. Job seekers often don't realize or can't communicate available skills if acquired through non-traditional means and employers are used to hiring by degree and resume. But here's an interesting example - in New Mexico, only 1% of unemployed 16-24 year-olds have a college degree, but when tested, 33% display fundamental skills at the level of a college degree. These young adults could be hired in 'college-degree-requiring' jobs that don't depend highly on content knowledge but they are being overlooked because they lack a degree.

But this is changing in New Mexico through the visionary leadership of Richard J. Berry, the Mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico's largest city with over 25% of the entire state living in the Albuquerque area. The city of Albuquerque adopted skills-based hiring in 2010 to build new opportunities to employment for its citizens. The skills-based hiring model allowed the city to drop the GED requirement for positions like CDL drivers and animal handlers, opening careers with the city to thousands of potentially qualified but previously excluded candidates. This model also allowed for injured city workers to find placement in other 'skill appropriate' positions rather than be placed in physical lay off. The city also offered free online, skill-building curriculum through their Public Service University.

Today, Mayor Berry, in partnership with Central New Mexico Community College, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Department of Workforce Solutions and local business and industry, the city of Albuquerque is launching Talent Albuquerque, a citywide expansion of the original skills-based model to advance both skills-based hiring and skills-based training for job seekers. Talent Albuquerque is the first city in the nation to adopt this model as a way to proactively advance economic development opportunities and invest in its workforce. When I asked Mayor Berry why he was leading this groundbreaking initiative he said: "Talent Albuquerque will help connect and align the skills and abilities of our residents with the needs of employers, while at the same time providing job seekers with knowledge and training opportunities that can lead to lifelong career success. "

Talent Albuquerque will fuel a system-wide increase in the use of cognitive, skills-based hiring strategies by employers and provide marketable, skill-up opportunities for job seekers. With both national and New Mexico dropout rates at extremely high levels, it is important to work with young adults to help them navigate their futures. To that end, Talent Albuquerque also includes 28 "skill-up" centers across the city, providing free access to online curriculum and skill-building training.

If we are to stop losing record numbers of students from school and start rebuilding our economic competitiveness nationally, we must begin regionally and I believe that Albuquerque and the Talent Albuquerque initiative can serve as a national model for communities and citizens to achieve "The American Dream" once again.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Innovate+Educate, in conjunction with the "Close It" Summit, which will take place in Washington, D.C., Nov. 5-7, 2013. The summit will address the U.S. job-market skills gap. For more information on the conference, click here.