How a ‘Skills-First’ Approach Unlocks Opportunities for Both Employers & Those Looking for Work

Demand for tech jobs, digital transformation and remote working setups. These aren’t the only aspects of the corporate landscape that’ve changed. Talent acquisition strategies and how we access talent also pivoted. A “skills-first” approach is hot on the radar, and the impact on individuals, more than companies, has been nothing short of remarkable.

First things first—what is the “skills-first” approach?

A “skills-first” approach focuses on the individuals’ skills and competencies instead of academic degrees, job history and fancy titles. Think “paid ads management” and “project management” vs. a degree in business or a degree in communication.

For example, someone who knows how to do TikTok marketing can apply for a job opening even if they don’t have a digital marketing degree. A Google ads specialist can also apply for a job opening for a performance marketer even if they have a totally irrelevant degree. Now with more companies turning to a skills-first approach, the question is: how will it impact individuals and businesses? 

How does the “skills-first” approach change the game?


1. The skills-first approach democratizes access to career opportunities 

Despite massive layoffs due to inflation, there will always be jobs that need to be filled—full-time, part-time or contracting/project-based 

The skills-first approach means that companies are focused on filling in skill gaps. They acknowledge that there are individuals who have specific competencies and expertise—and they may have different backgrounds, experiences, locations, and even availability.

Globally, companies who hire for skills increased their talent pipeline by 9.4x. In APAC especially, the skills-first approach helped companies in India increase their pipeline by 12x and 13x in Indonesia. This is proof that this new approach unlocks more job opportunities for individuals.

This new approach breaks down the traditional filters so they can zone in on the right person with the right skills. Individuals from all over the world (thanks to the rise of remote work) can apply confidently for jobs that call for their expertise. They will no longer be blocked by traditional criteria like years of experience, internship experience, or even their degree.

Speaking of degrees…


2. It’s time to look past degrees and certifications

Before, companies would zero in on an applicant’s degree and work history. However, education in Asia has become more expensive, resulting in a smaller hiring pool. Additionally, a lot of tech job requirements of today are not included in old curriculums. At the rate that tech and the digital world are growing, a lot of individuals had to learn new skills outside of formal institutions. 


Key takeaway: The lack of a formal degree is not equivalent to a lack of skills. Education does not equal learning. 


With the skills-first approach, employers get to dip their toes in a bigger pool that they probably wouldn’t have even explored if they stuck with the traditional hiring process. A wider pool would also mean a more diverse pool which brings additional benefits.

When companies choose to focus on degrees and certifications, it means that they value the theoretical knowledge gained by the individual. While there’s nothing wrong with that, the skills-first approach puts a premium on actual experience and tangible output over theories.

No more initial filtering based on educational attainment or degree. Hiring is all based on actual capabilities. Here are some illustrations:


  • Between a graduate of Computer Science who has developed websites with a team and a freelance web developer who has a portfolio of websites created alone and from scratch, the freelancer would be the chosen one.
  • Between a freelancer with inbound marketing certificates from the likes of HubSpot and a consultant who has a track record of generating a number of qualified inbound leads for various clients, the consultant would be the clear winner.


3. Companies can gain access to top-tier talent

When a company looks less at the university degree and more at the skills, they are more focused on how candidates can get the job done. Where or how they learned the skills don’t matter—whether they learned from a prestigious university or by practicing on their own—as long as they have proof that they can deliver.

Today, many employers are already removing the degree requirement. By doing so, individuals who have the necessary expertise can get in even if they didn’t have the means to get higher education. 

At the same time, companies have the chance to hire highly-skilled experts under various terms of engagement. For example, the best candidate may actually be available remotely or via a contract/project basis instead of just the more traditional route of permanent hiring. 


4. Hard skills are not the only skills needed to secure jobs

One thing that should not be missed when talking about “skills-first” is it does not pertain to only hard skills. Gone are the days when hard skills are enough to get hired or get promoted.

Ultimately, soft skills play a huge role. Soft skills like the ability to communicate well, prioritize, work well with others, and even manage time well—these abilities can spell the difference between individuals who have similar skills. 

Let’s paint a picture that shows why soft skills are crucial:


  • Specific soft skills complement specific hard skills. For example, salespeople need to know how to use specific CRM tools and should have good forecasting skills. However, they also need to be resilient, proactive, and creative so they can think of new ways to close deals. They should also be good negotiators and have great communication skills so they can establish rapport with potential clients.
  • Workers with good time management skills can prioritize tasks well and meet deadlines without cramming.
  • External consultants who have a knack for problem-solving can ask questions that need to be asked, helping companies solidify plans and objectives.
  • Between candidates who have similar skills and experiences, the one who’s more collaborative and flexible will work better with an existing team.

Finally, culture fit has also become more important. With different companies come different cultures, and finding the right people who reflect the same core values is often difficult even if they have the necessary hard skills.


So…is your company ready to shift towards ‘skill-first’ hiring?

While some companies in Asia are already adapting to this shift away from traditional hiring, it’s not happening fast enough

Many employers are still used to traditional hiring practices. Additionally, with changing demands in the market, it might be difficult to anticipate the skills and abilities that will be needed in the future. 

Thus, it is important to partner with industry experts like CXC Global. With years of experience in contingent workforce management, contracting & consulting solutions, CXC Global knows its way around the hiring landscapes of various countries. Reach out to us today and we’ll help you future-proof your company by ensuring you get top-tier talent inside your fold.