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Opportunity@Work is Tackling the Opportunity Gap and Equalizing the American Dream

For millions of adults in the U.S. labor market without a four-year degree, the American Dream feels more and more like just that: a dream.

Middle-wage jobs that offer entry to a fruitful career path are only getting harder to obtain under the false assumption that “no degree” means “no skills.” The result is an ever-widening opportunity gap between those who can afford to earn a college degree, and those who can’t.

The practice of requiring a four-year degree for jobs that don’t really need it is fairly new. Some employers wrongly believe that a degree equals skill, while others use the requirement as a shortcut to narrow their applicant pool. Either way, more than 70 million workers with the right skills and experience for these jobs are getting overlooked—and a disproportionate percentage are people of color.

Nonprofit organization Opportunity@Work sees the changing landscape of the American workforce as a chance to make a difference for those who might otherwise get left behind.

Their mission is to increase professional opportunities for STARs—people who are Skilled Through Alternative Routes.

Mike Shwedick, Senior Director of People at Opportunity@Work, wears a lot of hats. As Head of People, he’s responsible for the entire employee life cycle, from recruitment to retention. Luckily for us, he took time out of his day to chat about his Pinpoint experience and what makes his organization special.

“It’s not just about employing people, it’s about giving them meaningful career opportunities and a chance to make a difference ,” he says. What makes Opportunity@Work appealing to applicants, apart from competitive benefits and flexible work/life balance, is the chance to do work that hasn’t really been done before—a powerful draw to applicants jonesing to make a difference.

At Opportunity@Work, D&I isn’t just a recruitment initiative—it’s a way of life

As a nonprofit organization targeting inequality in the United States, diversity and inclusion are at the very heart of Opportunity@Work’s mission. Because they practice what they preach, an inclusive hiring process with a diverse candidate base was always a top priority. Mike’s first year with the company was all about putting the tools and processes in place to make it happen.

“It takes intention and patience to have a truly inclusive search. At a minimum we know that the longer a job is open, the more visible and accessible it is, the more diverse and representative the talent pool will be.  However, waiting around for the candidates to appear will not create impact.  You have to be intentionally inclusive with every decision.”

Their job descriptions intentionally avoid insider lingo and overtly masculine phrases or “corporate speak” that might discourage someone with an alternative background from applying. They keep required skills and experience simple, focusing on the core work a recruit would be doing without getting too in the weeds. “If a candidate hasn’t done the exact job we’re hiring for, but they have the skills, we’ll provide them a way to show that beyond a typical behavioral interview. This is incredibly important especially in the case of STARs (workers without a four-year degree). In many cases they have the skills to do the job but may not have the “traditional” signals that recruiters have unfortunately relied upon for way too long. Mike says.

At each stage of the hiring process, he looks for a certain percentage of diverse candidates to keep the company accountable.

Mike realized the need for a newer, more flexible ATS when they outgrew the limitations of their former solution. “There weren’t a ton of features and we had little visibility into meaningful data around inclusive hiring,” he says. He wasn’t able to customize each search based on the open position: scorecards, job boards, hiring steps, and other components were all standardized.

And as a forerunner in the space of diversity in hiring, Opportunity@Work needed a compatible tool with the same level of emphasis on D&I that they themselves have.

Flexibility and function meet usability and design

It’s easy to collaborate, schedule, provide feedback, and interact with each other, both in the comments and the Slack integration. The experience has been very positive.

Mike Shwedick
Senior Director of People, Opportunity@Work

Mike knows a thing or two about sourcing a new ATS. “This is the fifth time I’ve had to implement an ATS,” he told us. “I always start by looking at the usual choices. When I started my search this time (summer of 2020), I realized it had been a few years and so I actually did a google search to find alternative choices beyond the main 4 or 5 I had been looking at. That is  how I found Pinpoint.”

Right away, the emphasis on usability and design intrigued him. “The website had a clean design, and the main messaging was about candidate experience and delivering on diversity and inclusion. And so I booked the demo.

At the time, Mike planned to sign up for a tool that many on his team had used before, but something held him back. “I wanted to do my due diligence,” he said. The feature set was similar, and his team was recommending the other—more familiar—tool, but Pinpoint stood out.

“Tom and I had a conversation about STARs (workers without a four-year degree that are Skilled Through Alternative Routes), and it turns out our organizations have really similar values. Right away Tom got what we are trying to do and I could tell he was equally excited. We want to partner with and  support organizations that are doing right by STARs and are mission aligned. To me, that outweighed any risk of the unknown.”

And that risk, Mike is happy to say, has paid off.

Now, he can heavily customize a search based on the job. This flexibility is key, since Mike’s team juggles an average of 10-15 open job postings at any given time. He loves the ability to customize the steps for each hiring process, scorecards, job boards, and more, based on the open position. He also cites built-in job board postings and the ability to schedule interviews right from the platform, without having to go back and forth with candidates. All of it adds up to make his job easier.

The hiring managers at Opportunity@Work enjoy Pinpoint, too. “The feedback has been really positive,” Mike says. “It’s a pretty intuitive tool. It’s easy to collaborate, schedule, provide feedback, and interact with each other, both in the comments and the Slack integration. The experience has been very positive.”

But for Mike, the clincher was D&I functionality that set Pinpoint apart from the other software he tested.

Compatible values and a compelling partnership

Pinpoint has helped us in a lot of ways, specifically in providing us real data as to how inclusive our searches are and how diverse our candidate base is.

Mike Shwedick
Senior Director of People, Opportunity@Work

“Pinpoint has helped us in a lot of ways, specifically in providing us real data as to how inclusive our searches are and how diverse our candidate base is, ” Mike says, highlighting the two key features that changed the game for him: equality monitoring and blind hiring software.

“One is the equality monitoring feature, which has been really helpful. This allows us to see who our jobs are reaching, who is actually applying, and can help us ensure each round of interviews are representative. We can see the makeup of our applicants,  how our different jobs are performing, and if we’re getting in front of the right people, which is really important.”

The blind hiring feature can be helpful to organizations looking to combat levels of unconscious bias. Neither of these features alone are a “silver bullet” when it comes to having a truly inclusive search but they can be incredibly impactful. If your organization is looking to change your hiring practices and open up your jobs to these untapped talent pools, Pinpoint has tools to get you started in the right direction.

Of course, Mike says, no software can do all of the legwork. Human oversight is still needed to ensure that applicants don’t represent just one group of people. But Pinpoint gives him the checks and balances he needs to monitor recruitment initiatives, and feedback about where to shift his focus if they aren’t.

Mike’s advice to prospective Pinpoint users is simple: “Decide what’s most important to you—Pinpoint will probably be able to do it.” For him, it all goes back to customization. “Every job is different, and you can make each job unique.”

Plus, he says, “The interactions with Pinpoint’s customer service team have been incredible. They are always responsive and it’s clear they genuinely care about my experience. It’s become the norm to have less than stellar experiences with customer support, but Pinpoint’s support has been exceptional.”

Improving diversity starts with recruitment

We’ll help you attract a diverse talent pool and reduce the risk of bias at every stage of the process.

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