Skills-based Hiring as the Gold Standard — Will employers shift to skills-based hiring versus the focus on degrees?

When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.

As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview CEO/Founder, Celina Shands.

As a communications expert, Celina has helped more than 500 workforce development and K-12/postsecondary education organizations across the nation build high-performing outreach campaigns that empower vulnerable populations, students and job seekers to embrace their potential and motivate employers to be part of the process. She has earned 75 global awards, including a 2021 Stevie® Business Award for Communications Campaign of the Year, and is a former American Marketing Association Marketer of the Year.


Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.

I was born and raised in North Carolina and like so many in this country, had a tumultuous childhood where alcohol played a negative role in our family dynamics. Fortunately for me, my sister was the one constant in my life. She raised me and consistently told me that I could do anything and be anything if I dreamed it. Even though I doubted myself, she didn’t, and more importantly led by example by starting her own company.

Through her guidance, I was able to go to a small private school and play sports so that I could channel that negativity into something positive. I played every sport the school offered so I could be somewhere other than home. It was there that I met my best friend and her family who took me under their wings. I spent summers with them cropping tobacco in the early mornings and playing sports in the afternoons.

Fortunately, I received a scholarship to play basketball in college and continued to follow my educational path studying business and marketing, all the while meeting mentors along the way who helped me. I followed my passion for being an athlete and ended up getting a master’s degree in sports medicine. For many years, I had a company, called Life At Its Peak, that helped doctors integrate sports rehabilitation as part of their practices. But when insurance laws changed, the model became outdated, so like any entrepreneur I had to reinvent myself.

I decided to utilize my business and marketing background and took a job in the public sector as the marketing director for the San Diego Health & Human Services Agency. That led to a job offer in workforce development. I had no clue what workforce development was all about but once I understood that it was an industry helping youth, job seekers and entrepreneurs find their career path through education and training, I was hooked! After all, that was something that I had done my whole life through the help of my mentors — finding the right path and next steps.

After four years with the workforce agency, I began to realize that I could use my talents to help similar organizations build an effective brand within their respective communities. That’s how my second company, Full Capacity Marketing, was born 21 years ago.

Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?

One constant that will remain is the need for the workforce to feel a connection to a company’s culture and values. Sadly, Gallup’s 2022 WorkHuman study reported that only one in four employees strongly agree they feel connected to their culture, and only about one in three strongly agree they belong at their organization. That sense of connection and purpose is critical for employers to gain stickiness with employees and contractors.

While my company is a traditional marketing consultancy, we specialize in helping organizations that focus on the workforce, education and entrepreneurship sectors. One of our customers, an adult education school, recently shared a story where they helped a homeless woman living in a storage unit obtain her high school equivalency, followed by stackable credentials. Today she is earning over $60K/year. Our team knows that our marketing work is helping to recruit under-represented and underserved populations that can lead to these kinds of remarkable success stories. That is a motivator — to share stories about positive impact and how our work contributes to making a difference not only for our customers but for those that they serve.

On the other hand, what is drastically changing is the skill sets needed in an ever-changing world of artificial intelligence and high tech. One of our projects in the San Francisco Bay Area with 14 community colleges is helping to rebrand the auto mechanic industry which has been typically thought of as a “grease and grime” blue collar job for men. Governor Newsom announced a phase out of Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles by 2035 in California, mandating 100% of new car and truck sales be electric vehicles by that time. The rebranding of this industry in the Bay Area, replacing the mechanic’s tool belt with a laptop, led to engaging 67% of campaign leads from under-represented minorities with 26% being women.

No matter the industry, workers need to be informed about, and keep up with, the skill sets required for high growth industries that provide the most opportunity, while employers need to provide training to help them move up the career ladder. Investing in the knowledge, skills and abilities of the workforce is a smart workforce strategy.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

Like the example of the homeless woman shared earlier, employers need to continually demonstrate to it’s the workforce how they make a difference in the world, either directly and/or indirectly. People want to know that they matter and make a difference, and how their individual jobs connect to a bigger purpose.

We’ve worked with large organizations of 10K + employees where the goal was to rebrand their perceived image. This process always starts with an internal assessment of what the current workforce thinks about the organization, its mission, values and if they believe that they belong and are recognized. Of course, it matters what external potential and existing customers think as well, but managing just the external perception of the market can be short-sided when the goal is to create a workforce that believes in the mission and lives the brand daily.

Building an employer brand that is consistent with its mission and values is the way to future-proof an organization; and the good news is that it is within the total control of leadership to make that happen. One of the most surprising employer branding trends of 2023 was that 49% of surveyed employers believed their employer brand was “lousy” or “fair.” I’m not sure why more companies don’t focus on this critical business strategy, given the expense to replace employees.

What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?

The workplace has most definitely changed with the onset of COVID-19 and now in the post pandemic environment. Being willing to be flexible with work schedules that accommodate work/life balance is more important to the worker than ever before, and it should be for employers as well. Productivity is what employers want, and employees are more likely to give them that if the employer has several key components embedded in the work environment: flexibility, connection to the organization and recognition.

Negotiating productivity is fully within the control of leadership, as is setting up systems to ensure the employees are happy within that environment. Communication is a key component for success so having both communication channels established, and an understanding of the workers’ circumstances will go miles in elevating employee engagement.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

This is an interesting question for me to answer because my company has always been virtual (for the past 21 years) before “working from home” became a pandemic necessity. We were one of the first companies that beta tested Webex, way before virtual meetings were an acceptable way to conduct business.

Having a virtual business model has allowed me to find the right talent regardless of location and it provides the workers with flexibility to meet their lifestyle choices. We manage the team through a host of technology including Slack, Asana and Zoom, and meet face-to-face periodically at conferences and/or at retreats.

High productivity is an expectation in my company and what I’ve found is that people stick when they have the flexibility to tailor their schedules based on their personal needs. Workers will be accountable and productive when there are clear expectations laid out in exchange for the benefits they value, like flexibility. Now that the pandemic has revealed this as an option for workers, I don’t think there is any going back.

A study from researchers at Stanford, Harvard and other institutions analyzed over 50 million job postings in March 2023 and found that postings explicitly mentioning remote work are at 12.2 percent — a fourfold increase since before the pandemic.

We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?

Globally, workers have been faced with a series of non-stop issues from the COVID-19 pandemic to an economic downturn and soaring inflation.

Eighty-two percent of employees now say it’s important that their organizations see them as a whole person, rather than simply an employee. To me, this means considering their personal circumstances, as well as their different personal values and beliefs. This is a good thing, as there is strength in having a diverse workforce that looks at the world through various lenses.

For years, organizations have talked about the strategic value of expanding and diversifying their talent pipelines. This is the perfect time to examine workforce strategies to get them to this goal. Organizations can no longer meet their talent needs through traditional sourcing methods and candidate pools.

Employers can benefit by recruiting diverse, non-traditional candidates and looking at alternative recruitment methods. For example, the public workforce system of 600+ private sector led workforce boards and the associated network of American Job Centers, along with community colleges and adult education schools, offer ways to tap into up-and-coming diverse talent. These organizations have teams dedicated to working with companies to provide employment and work-based learning opportunities (e.g., apprenticeship, internship, mentorship) that give employers the upper hand in leveraging public sector funding, worker training programs, and employment and training services.

To fill critical employment gaps in 2023, companies need to start looking at candidates based on skills and abilities versus degrees and prior experience.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

At the end of the day, people want to work and contribute to benefit society and create a good life for themselves and their families. If you look at the 100 Best Places to Work in 2023, the majority of comments about these companies relate to the organizational culture and the companies’ ability to help workers feel welcome, embrace diversity and be flexible. These things are all within the control of companies’ leadership. If all executives strive for this kind of environment, can you imagine what a great society we’d have with people looking forward to going to work? We all have the power to shape the future of work and that gives me hope.

Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?

It’s been my experience as a CEO that if you treat workers as human beings by understanding their background and personal stories, and provide them with flexible options for meeting productivity, they will rise to the occasion. The pandemic has really hit many people hard with many experiencing extreme fatigue and burn out.

Several creative trends that I’ve seen in the work place include strategies such as proactive rest like no-meeting Fridays and allotted wellness, and trauma counseling onsite with training to coach management on resolution of workplace conflicts. Delta Airlines leadership expanded their focus on mental health treatments by increasing free counseling sessions to their employees and their household members from seven to twelve sessions. The company is also piloting healthier food options in their cafeterias and breakrooms and is launching new financial education programs to help workers improve their personal financial skills.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

Listen to your workers; have them look at cultural challenges and ask them for solutions they’d like to implement to create a better culture in today’s ever-changing world of work. If they are part of the solution, there will be more buy-in. Let them know what you think you can afford to do now and in the future, and build trust by having a well-executed plan. Dedicate a portion of team meetings to reporting back on the changes and measure productivity to see if there have been improvements in employee engagement.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”

I wish I could fast forward to the end of 2023 to answer the questions below, but I believe these are the trends to track.

  • Artificial Intelligence & The Future Of Work — What will be the full implementation of AI in 2023?
  • Remote Work as an Automatic Option for Workers — As of December 2022, almost 30% of paid workdays happen at home. What number will that be one year later?
  • Use of Public Sector Employment & Training Programs by Employers — Will employers turn to the public sector to help them find alternative labor pools?
  • Skills-based Hiring as the Gold Standard — Will employers shift to skills-based hiring versus the focus on degrees?
  • The Rise of Employer Branding — What new innovations will rise in 2023 as more employers begin to focus on building their employer brand?

I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

“Life is made up of many comings and goings and for everything that we take with us, we must leave something behind.”
Herman Raucher, Author, Summer of ‘42

While the Summer of ’42 was a chronicle of one summer in a boy’s coming of age, this quote stuck with me for business inspiration. It resonates and inspires because building and running a successful company is just like building a long-term relationship; it can’t always be about what’s in it for me or the bottom line — — it’s about creating a flow of give and take to keep the trust between me and my employees and contractors, and the customers we serve.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.

While the athlete in me wants to have lunch with Serena Williams, I would love to have a heart-to-heart with California Governor Gavin Newsom about why the latest employment laws in California are so detrimental to the economic success of our state and options to better work together to help alleviate the challenges he is looking to solve.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

Feel free to schedule a meeting via our website, connect with me on LinkedIn, and find FCM on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube!

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.

It was a pleasure, thank you for speaking with me!