“Skills-based hiring practices were a huge time saver” How focusing on skills helped one organization fill urgent contact tracer roles

The pandemic has created a pressing need for thousands of people across the country to work as contact tracers to help notify, interview, and advise those who may have been in close contact to patients with confirmed or probable COVID-19. For El Paso County Public Health, a Public Health Department in Colorado Springs, Colorado, finding the right talent to fill this important role was a challenge until a focus on skills helped the organization find the workers they need.

When the demand for contact tracers began, El Paso County Public Health worked with a staffing agency to help them find applicants for the role but weren’t successful in identifying candidates with the right competencies. “We had some very specific requirements for the people we needed,” explained Victoria Bennett, Administrative Manager, El Paso County Public Health.  “We wanted people who had some sort of medical background. We were thinking Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), social workers, medical assistants, something along those lines because these occupations would provide experience explaining things to patients. Good customer service skills were also very important to us because this position requires having a lot of delicate conversations and providing instructions.” 

For the organization, it was also very important to find contact tracers who were bilingual because they were finding that a lot of the people they were reaching out to only spoke Spanish.

“When you can mark off the skills you need and the skills the person has, you see a better fit.”

Since this initial approach wasn’t yielding the right results, El Paso County Public Health contacted the Pikes Peak Workforce Center to help them hire the employees they needed. Erica Romero, Business Relations Team Lead at Pikes Peak Workforce Center, began working with Goodwill Staffing to provide El Paso County Public Health with candidates. Erica was very familiar with the importance of using a skills-based approach to hiring after attending the Skillful Talent Series workshops, which help employers find the right talent by focusing on skills instead of relying on proxies such as degree pedigree or previous job titles.  Seeing the issues El Paso County Public Health was having filling the open contact tracer roles, Erica re-prioritized the skills in the job posting to highlight those that were most important. “Nobody likes to write job descriptions, they're really hard,” said Erica. “But, when you create some best practices, you don’t have to take up so much time. When you can mark off the skills you need and the skills the person has, you see a better fit.”

Daniel Garcia, a job coach at Pikes Peak Workforce Center - and an alum of the Skillful Governor's Coaching Corps (SGCC) training program - was asked to help pre-screen applicants for the contact tracing roles. After speaking with Victoria, and using the skills-based job posting, Daniel pre-screened 70 job seekers by conducting phone interviews to ensure the candidates had the right skills, even if they hadn’t previously worked in the medical field. “Pre-screening candidates based on their skills has been saving us so much time,” said Victoria.  “We’re just stretched so thin and going through all of those resumes is very time consuming, a lot of work, and it’s something that hiring managers often don’t have time to do themselves.”

During the SGCC training, career coaches are acquainted with skills-based hiring practices and the important role they play in helping create better career pathways for job seekers, while also helping employers find the talent their businesses need to thrive. With his knowledge, Daniel created skills-based assessments for the applicants and asked them to answer behavioral questions that could speak to the skills El Paso County Public Health needed.

“Skills-based hiring practices were a huge time saver for our agency, and it works.”

As a career coach, Daniel knows the importance of transferable skills, and instead of filtering people out due to their lack of credentials or lack of medical experience, he looked for people with strong communication skills, computer literacy, and good customer service, regardless of their background. This resulted in El Paso County Public Health hiring people with the right skills even if they didn’t have medical experience. For example, one of the people hired for the bilingual COVID-19 case investigator position came from a clerical and customer service background, with no previous experience in the medical field. “Initially, we just thought that a medical background would be useful for the position, for somebody to have that experience talking with patients, providing instructions, dealing with very sensitive matters,” explained Victoria. “But Daniel was able to apply what we needed and see who had those communication and customer service skills and found good matches even when they didn’t have those credentials. We hired some people who don’t have a medical background, and they’re comfortable in their new role, and they’re doing a very good job.” Victoria concluded, “Skills-based hiring practices were a huge time saver for our agency, and it works.”

El Paso County Public Health has successfully hired 24 contact tracers, six of whom were bilingual, and are now asking the Pikes Peak Workforce Center for help with other positions they need to fill. “I would highly recommend this skills-based approach to anybody, especially if they need people in a rapid-fire fashion,” said Marigny KIaber, South Central Region Epidemiologist, El Paso County Public Health. “Daniel did such a great job with it. We initially were a little apprehensive about this method because it was kind of unknown, but as Daniel came on and refined the process, we were confident in his ability to screen those candidates appropriately. Now, we take a quick look at the summary for each candidate, and some have customer service skills, and some don’t have those medical backgrounds, but honestly, they’re working out quite well, no complaints.

To learn more about how you can implement skills-based practices visit our employer page where you can sign up for a Skillful Talent Series online workshop.