Dear Business Roundtable: Social Responsibility Starts by Changing Perceptions of Talent

There is a talent crisis in America. Across the country, nearly five million young adults disconnected from the economic mainstream are unable to find a path to self-sufficiency or a family-sustaining wage. At the same time, employers struggle to fill open positions for jobs that require more education than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree

This paradox is the result of a market failure: Our education and training systems are increasingly both out of touch with employers’ needs and out of reach for young adults. Correcting this failure is both a moral imperative and economic necessity.

The new statement of purpose released this week by the Business Roundtable, a nonprofit made up of CEOs of major U.S. companies, affirmed a commitment from America’s leading companies to create value not just for their shareholders but for every stakeholder, including customers, employees, suppliers, and communities. Delivering profits and financial returns are not sufficient enough, it stated.

That change signals an important shift in corporate social responsibility. But while rhetoric alone does not amount to actual changes in employer practices or behaviors, the Business Roundtable has an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to action by enhancing their efforts to remake our country’s talent marketplace.

They should start by changing outdated perceptions of talent that often perpetuate inequality of opportunity.

Consider Grads of Life, a national talent development initiative focused on shifting employers’ perceptions of 18- to 24-year-old young adults who are out of school and out of work, and changing the way companies source talent.

Two years ago, Grads of Life introduced 7 Second Resumes, short videos that capture the practical business value that these young adults can provide employers looking to build a 21st century workforce. These videos—seven seconds long because that is the average time a hiring manager spends evaluating a resume—feature them highlighting the skills they have acquired along their life journeys that add value to them as employees. Skills like motivation, determination, and resiliency which are harder to outsource and more immune to automation or artificial intelligence.

To disabuse perceptions of talent that have cut off Americans without a bachelor’s degree from economic opportunity, the Business Roundtable could launch a campaign focused on mobilizing America’s employers to make changes to legacy hiring practices, such as removing four-year degree requirements as a proxy for hire when the job doesn’t actually require it. Given that over two-thirds of the job openings in this country created by 2020 will not require a bachelor’s degree, this campaign would expand economic opportunity for many more Americans and broaden the way employers look at and source talent.

In order to support their workers with training and education that helps them develop new skills for a rapidly changing world, the Business Roundtable might also consider transforming the way community colleges and the private sector collaborate to prepare Americans for the future of work. They can chip away at the pejorative perception that community colleges are meant only for low-income, working-class, and minority students by recommending innovative ways for these institutions to engage with the private sector and help more students attain jobs that lead to meaningful wage gains over time.

By demonstrating ways to leverage the infrastructure of community college campuses, which is often one of the most common places where students can access upskilling opportunities, they could help other training providers do a better job of linking college training to employer demand and employment opportunity.

The Business Roundtable can also engage with human resource associations, such as the Society for Human Resource Management, to evaluate how talent acquisition practices may inadvertently exclude a diverse and motivated talent pool. And they can encourage the employees represented by the companies who signed on to the pledge to share stories for how they are overcoming economic disparity with their elected officials.

Doing so can shape new, powerful, and diverse narratives across the country that communicate the values that citizens share with each other, and the agency we all have as citizens to create and participate in an economy that works for everyone.

This month America’s leading companies said they’re ready to think beyond their bottom line. Changing the way they source, train, and hire talent would go a long way in proving they’re serious about doing that.

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