'We've Lost the Practicality of Hiring': A Conversation With Entrepreneur Andy Seth About Skills-based Practices

Andy Seth

Andy Seth, a Denver-based philanthropist and serial entrepreneur, is the CEO ofFlow, a Colorado-based digital agency that helps thought leaders scale their influence. After selling his last company, he took some time off and thought, “What problem do I want to solve?” Thinking back to his own experiences, having spent 14 years living in a motel with his family, he decided to help low-income, highly-motivated youth build in-demand skills. With this purpose in mind, he created Flow, the first company founded for the purpose of creating apprenticeships.

After being introduced to skills-based practices through Skillful—an initiative of the Markle Foundation, the state of Colorado, Microsoft, and LinkedIn—Andy hired eight people using skills-based practices. I caught up with him last week to talk about what led him to transition to these practices, what difficulties he had in implementing them, and how they have helped his business.

What led you to adopt skills-based practices? 

I’m a behavioral economist by trade so data speaks very loudly to me. If I have an opinion that data contradicts, I will change my opinion.

My eyes were really opened when I learned that only about 30 percent of the population has a college degree. At many of my companies, I’ve often required that candidates have a college degree. Why? I was being lazy. People who require a college degree for entry-level jobs are being lazy, flat out. I get that, I understand. As entrepreneurs, we don’t want to learn yet another thing. We create shortcuts.

Skillful showed me that the shortcuts that I had created needed to be undone. If you’re always trying to create shortcuts, you also need to realize they might be hurting your business. I’m telling everyone I can that I have figured out a way to lower my hiring costs and improve retention. I know the challenges we face around hiring, and I especially know the challenges we face in Colorado, where we have a competitive labor market.

What’s the most difficult part of implementing skills-based practices?

The hardest part is figuring out how to take your job postings and turn them into a skills-based job posting so that when people read them, they say, “Yes, I know how to do that,” or “No, I don’t know how to do that.”

That is the hurdle that we all face, but when you overcome that hurdle, you’re able to find people that don’t disqualify themselves because you set an arbitrary metric such as “two years’ minimum work experience.”

We’ve lost the practicality of hiring, we’ve gotten soft. Large companies can afford to get soft. They’re so profitable, they can afford to make big mistakes. Not every business can afford to make big mistakes. One hire matters. If you’re not a giant, your hiring makes a colossal difference. Don’t emulate the big companies. Emulate the ones who had to be scrappy, the ones who can’t afford not to have every hire be gold.

And by “gold,” I don’t mean perfect. To get great hires, figure out what skills they have and what skills you’re going to teach them. By solving this puzzle, you’ll provide your employees real career paths, and you’ll make money.

If you think for one second that you’re not in the business of education, you’re wrong. We’re all educators. We just call it something else. We call it “job training” and we call it “onboarding” and we call it “workforce development.” Look, we’re in the business of education.

Do skills-based practices make the hiring process easier?

Skills-based practices got me clear with what I want and need, and whether a candidate has what I’m looking for or not. Now, my hiring is so much faster. Initially, it took me time to figure out how to use skills-based practices and then translate each job description into that. But it served as a way to get clear so that my decision-making and hiring became easy.

What do you wish other employers knew about skills-based hiring?

I wish businesses knew that there is a low-cost, highly motivated labor pool begging for an opportunity to learn. This pool can make your business a lot of money.

When you rely on old hiring practices based on education-levels and experience, you don’t hire right. You miss revenue targets, cost savings, and projects slip. Businesses need to take a hard look in the mirror and ask themselves: How much money are we leaving on the table because of our hiring practices?

If you are interested in implementing skills-based practices at your company, email me at dpetty@markle.org or send me a message via LinkedIn.