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Changemakers: Workday Is Addressing the Opportunity Gap by Hiring for Skills and Potential, Not Pedigree

Workday’s Ingrid Franzen is sparking a hiring revolution for nontraditional talent.

Reading about the U.S. jobs outlook during the pandemic highlights an interesting dichotomy. There are a record number of Americans out of work (the unemployment rate was around 6.7 percent in December 2020), yet many industries and employers are facing labor shortages. How is this possible? How can a labor shortage exist when so many people are looking for work?

Employers often say they’re encountering a “skills gap” — they can’t find enough people with the right skills for open positions. The end result, they say, is that numerous jobs go unfilled even though they’re recruiting aggressively.

Workday, a leading provider of enterprise cloud applications for finance and human resources, thinks the real problem is an opportunity gap, not a skills shortage.

Founded in 2005, Workday is deeply rooted in putting people at the center of enterprise software. Its current products include applications for financial management, human resources, planning, expenditure management, and analytics. The company had annual revenue of $3.6 billion in its last fiscal year, and its customers include some of the world’s largest companies — Bank of America, Chevron, Netflix, and Target, to name a few.

Since Workday is accustomed to solving human capital challenges, it’s not surprising that it’s tackling the current talent and skills shortage in an especially innovative way. Its approach is simple: Rethink hiring with a focus on skills and potential over pedigree.

Currently, corporate hiring is governed by traditional talent acquisition models that rely on recruiters sorting through resumes using keywords that often include bachelor’s degree and job titles that match the roles they are trying to fill. The downside to this approach is that nontraditional candidates — people who may not have had the opportunity to pursue a four-year college education or had never had a chance to work in a corporate job — typically get screened out before they’re able to prove themselves.

To address this, Workday created an innovative workforce development movement called Opportunity Onramps® dedicated to fostering economic opportunity for all. Through various workforce development programs, Opportunity Onramps provides training, internships, and job opportunities to jobseekers from nontraditional backgrounds, including veterans, caregivers and parents returning to work after an absence, and talented young adults without a four-year college degree.

So how does Opportunity Onramps work, and is it changing how hiring managers screen potential talent? JFF’s Carey O’Connor recently met with Ingrid Franzen, Workday’s vice president of strategic planning for technology and an Opportunity Onramps champion.

O’Connor: Opportunity Onramps is such an interesting ideaan innovative solution to an enduring challenge. How did you first learn about it?

Franzen: Opportunity Onramps was actually one of the reasons I accepted my first job at Workday. Working for a company that values diverse talent is a requirement for me. When I interviewed, I asked whether I could bring with me a key project manager from my former company who I had hired after he completed a Year Up internship. He is incredibly talented, and I knew I could leverage his problem solving, digital skills, and project management capabilities to take the team to new heights.

Workday was supportive of hiring him and introduced me to Opportunity Onramps, which partners with Year Up as part of its program. I was really impressed with Workday’s commitment to creating economic opportunity for all, regardless of background.

I know Year Up focuses on young adults without a four-year college degree. What about the other programs that make up Opportunity Onrampswhich nontraditional talent pools do they target?

Workday’s Career Accelerator Program focuses on veterans entering the corporate workforce after their service, and the Returnship Program focuses on parents and caregivers returning to the corporate workplace after putting their careers on pause for caregiving responsibilities. Both provide four-month paid training programs with the support, coaching, and mentors needed to relaunch people’s careers.

Another program we have in partnership with Year Up was built specifically for Workday customers — the Workday and Year Up Internship Training Program, which trains Year Up students to use Workday software and then matches them with six-month internships with our customers.

And as Workday grows, our Opportunity Onramps programs are continuing to expand. They now include new partnerships with workforce development training partners such as JVS, who focuses on industries that are hiring and can offer career path jobs, such as healthcare, financial services, technology and trades.

So, here’s the big question: Does Opportunity Onramps work?

Yes! Since inception, about 80 percent of the participants have converted to full-time roles at Workday. Workday is doubling down on its commitment to the program and recently announced that it will accelerate Opportunity Onramps hiring to fill 20 percent of early-to-mid-career full-time roles by 2023.

Wow. That is impressive! Our readers might be surprised that Workday is filling jobs throughout the organization with Opportunity Onramps candidates. Did I get that right?

There are many jobs at Workday that can be ably performed by an Opportunity Onramps hire. On my team, we’ve had great success with jobs in data analysis, communications, and project management roles. The key is thinking about the technical skills required to perform the job and whether those skills can be taught at work or gained through self-directed learning. Many people have gained competencies and job-specific skills outside of the walls of a college classroom. I learned most of the technical skills I need to perform my job at work, since the technical environment changes so rapidly. Formal education does not equal potential. Energy, interest, determination, curiosity, and ability to build relationships — those characteristics determine a person’s potential to succeed at work.

Speaking with you, I can feel your passion and positive energy about Opportunity Onramps. How do you convince others to get on board?

Dictating participation is not going to work — it just won’t be successful in the long run. So I focus on creating awareness. I consciously look for opportunities to showcase Opportunity Onramps participants by giving them highly visible assignments like making presentations, leading training sessions, or driving programs.

The participants themselves are often the best sources of truth for the program:

I also treat Opportunity Onramps as the talent pipeline it is. During hiring discussions, I ask my team and peers whether they have considered sourcing any candidates from Opportunity Onramps just like I would ask about college recruiting or other talent sources.

Probably the most important thing I do is help colleagues personally connect to the program. Everyone is busy and overcommitted. But helping a fellow employee make a personal connection to someone in the Opportunity Onramps program helps that person move from being a sideline supporter to a champion. If I can help colleagues understand an Opportunity Onramps participant’s story, they will emotionally connect and want to invest their time and effort.

You have a huge heart for this mission, which is such an important part of this work. Where does that come from?

I grew up as an invisible minority, which is a unique and, many times, an uncomfortable place to be. It exposed me early and often to the discrimination many minorities face every day.

Although I have red hair and green eyes, my mom is Mexican, and I was born in Mexico. I spent much of my early childhood there, and Spanish is my first language. So my personal identity is Mexican.

Because of my light coloring, I have experienced how minorities are treated differently based on the color of their skin. People sometimes feel comfortable making truly awful comments around me because they see me as white. It’s been hard to observe my mom and others treated differently over the years. It’s heartbreaking and painful, especially if it is happening to someone you love. Those memories, while frustrating, are my catalysts for driving change.

What advice do you have for other corporate leaders who are looking to be change agents?

Find your passion — what drives you. Diversifying our workforce and closing the opportunity gap requires a lot of work in many areas and places. Find your place to drive change and be fearless. To actualize your passion and transform it into practice, it helps to find a community of like-minded colleagues, to learn and grow from one another in an effort to make change across the board.

Your energy and passion are contagious. When do you sleep?

I don’t! I’m also a mom of two young girls, so life is pretty busy. But I’m driven by the knowledge that those of us who have privilege and access must make as much noise as possible for change to occur.

To learn more about Opportunity Onramps and Ingrid Franzen’s role as a leader and advocate for hiring nontraditional talent visit opportunityonramps.org.

The Changemakers series is produced as part of JFF’s Corporate Action Platform, which features stories of Impact Employers. Visit JFF.org for more information about Impact Employers. This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.

Written by

JFF (Jobs for the Future) is a national nonprofit that builds educational and economic opportunity for underserved populations in the United States.

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