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Nontraditional Experience

by Apr 29, 2024Magazine, Professional Services

Southcentral Foundation | Southcentral Foundation | Chris Arend

Life is a college. When evaluating potential employees, many companies are looking beyond higher education or a résumé loaded with relevant work experience to notice a subtler sort of qualifications. Applicants may have nontraditional backgrounds that translate into excellent job performance. This expansive view might not have been obvious until relatively recently, when hiring became a headache.

Faced with difficulty finding qualified workers, Governor Mike Dunleavy issued an administrative order in February 2023 that waived the college degree requirement for most State of Alaska jobs. Dunleavy said, “Today people can gain knowledge, skills, and abilities through on-the-job experience. If we are going to address our labor shortage, we must recognize the value that apprenticeships, on-the-job training, military training, trade schools, and other experiences provide applicants. If a person can do the job, we should not be holding anyone back just because they don’t have a degree.”

Alaska is not alone. Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania also no longer require college degrees for state jobs.

At the local level, Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson announced in November 2022 that the municipality would ask applicants for executive or non-union positions about nontraditional work experience. Examples include experience, paid or unpaid, with community-based cultural, philanthropic, professional, religious, social, spiritual, and tribal organizations. By hiring individuals with experience outside of traditional employment, the municipality hoped to diversify its workforce.

In the private sector, several Corporate 100 companies welcome nontraditional experiences, too, enlarging the hiring pool. While some professions resolutely require college degrees, such as doctors or lawyers, many positions have more flexible qualifications. By considering broader life experiences, companies attract valuable team members while providing on-the-job training.

From Fast Food to Cold Cash

Northrim Bank understands the unique challenges and opportunities of Alaska. Thus, Northrim considers the following for all positions: equivalent combination of related education or experience as a substitute for work experience alone, or related military education or experience.

“In 2024, we are shifting how employers should look at the workforce and considering what is truly valuable,” says T.J. Alinen, human resources director for Northrim. “What mattered ten or twenty years ago doesn’t apply anymore.”

Alinen acknowledges that some positions still require formal education, but he notes that it is not as important as it was previously. “Leadership experience can come from several places, including a volunteer organization,” Alinen says. “For entry-level branch employees, we evaluate any work applicants have done with the public, including tribal or village work. We have also had a lot of success with employees who previously worked in the fast-food service industry where they learned to provide good customer service. That translates well for teller positions.”

Alinen also welcomes military veterans to apply for banking jobs. “Veterans are workforce ready for many positions. They’ve already learned solid work ethics from their service; they know how to figure things out and are an excellent resource for positions requiring organizational skills.”

Aware that fewer people are interested in becoming bankers in Alaska, Northrim has gotten creative by developing in-house programs for on-the-job training. “We offer a twelve-month program to prepare employees to be commercial loan officers specifically,” explains Alinen. “In the program, they learn credit analysis, credit quality, collections, and underwriting. If they have not worked in a branch setting, they do a rotation in a branch for experience.”

Northrim also created an internship program over the last couple of years in partnership with the Anchorage School District. “We bring students in for a sixty-hour internship program,” says Alinen. “The goal of the program is to attract students right out of high school who are interested in entry-level careers in banking.”

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Rhythmic Consistency

Celebrating one hundred years as a company this year, Ace Hardware has thirty-one stores in Alaska, with more to come. Each store is independently owned by locals as employees, managers, and owners.

Unlike many larger companies that offer virtual job interviews, Ace Hardware prefers a face-to-face meeting. “All of our retailers and owners have face-to-face interviews with potential employees,” says Ian Momany, Alaska district manager. “That personal conversation makes a big difference when an applicant doesn’t have traditional experience or education.”

Ace Hardware focuses on the applicant’s level of interest in working for the company. “A lot of Alaskans don’t have previous store experience, so we look for stories from people about their personal experiences,” explains Momany. “One example was a young man who said he chopped wood every day with his father and grandfather and had to carry the wood back and forth each day. That rhythmic consistency transfers well to the duties in our hardware stores. Employees need to show up ready to work each day to meet the needs of our customers.”

When a community experiences a major snowstorm or another natural disaster, Ace Hardware becomes the hub for residents to get the supplies they need to clean up after the storm. “Our employees are all the same: they are dedicated to serve, happy to be there, and many are focused on giving back to their communities,” shares Momany.

Ace Hardware also rewards the work of its employees through promotions. “We saw one young man’s experience going door to door shoveling snow for his community to earn money as a reflection of his dedication,” says Momany. “He became a great worker and eventually became a store manager.”

Fulfilling Impact

Founded in 1968, Hope Community Resources is a nonprofit disabilities service provider for people of all ages with intellectual or developmental disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, or mental health challenges. Founder Nancy Stuart Johnson moved to Alaska from Florida with her husband in 1967, having worked with children with developmental disabilities as a volunteer. Today’s applicants can leverage their own volunteer experience to secure paid employment at Hope.

“When hiring new employees, one thing I always look for is transferrable skills,” says Caitlyn Scott, director of human resources. “Some examples include someone who has coached baseball or softball or someone who taught kindergarten previously. That type of experience transfers well to our company, as we are here to teach and coach the people who choose our services.”

Scott also considers applicants who have family members with a disability. “Their personal experience with someone with a disability makes them a great candidate for a position with us,” she says.

A nontraditional background can prepare a dental assistant for on-the-job training (left) or a teenager for a Raise internship (center) with Southcentral Foundation. And Northrim Bank (right) is more interested in what applicants can do than where they’ve been.

Southcentral Foundation | Southcentral Foundation | Chris Arend

As a nonprofit organization, hiring is always challenging. “We are subject to budget constraints and have to rely on state and federal government funding, which makes it difficult for us to be competitive with a for-profit organization,” explains Scott. “When the pandemic hit, we experienced unprecedented hiring challenges. We saw a dramatic decrease in our workforce and had to pivot dramatically in terms of how we could recruit employees to fill critical needs.”

Creativity led to new practices to help fill those critical needs. “We would post on social media, where we focused on attracting the type of people that would be interested in our work,” says Scott. “With record employment shortages everywhere post-COVID, we had to explore how to upskill or reskill a workforce. Many folks came in from medical clinics, exhausted and burned out, so we worked at reskilling them to work as direct support professionals, which is not as stressful but equally important and equally fulfilling, as it makes an impact within our communities.”

Hope developed partnerships with high schools and career counselors to develop a pipeline of individuals interested in entry-level positions like a certified nursing assistant. The company also has a direct partnership with the Alaska Primary Care Association. “We do mock interviews with students who are going through a program, and that can lead to an offer of employment if they are interested in working with Hope,” says Scott.

Some positions require formal training, such as an assisted living home supervisor. For those positions, Hope looks at internal promotions. “We cannot let any opportunity go for succession planning. If we have supervisor or director roles to fill, we consider current employees who are interested and provide them with a formalized development program,” shares Scott. “Internal employees might not have the qualifications on paper, but we know their work ethic and their work history, so we want to give them opportunities for development.”

Strong Foundation from the Start

Southcentral Foundation (SCF) is one of the largest of Cook Inlet Region, Inc.’s affiliated nonprofits. Its healthcare network encompasses more than eighty programs, employing more than 2,700 people. Filling that massive personnel roster is a never-ending task.

“SCF has created a systematic process with a strong foundation to ensure that our recruitment and sustainability processes are aligned,” says Karen McIntire, vice president of workforce. “To build a strong foundation, we have written the job requirements to allow for some flexibility to hire someone without a formal education for a job. This allows us to work with people within our communities and to continually develop our employees’ potential.”

As a team-based, story-based, community-based organization, SCF focuses on those practices in the selection, onboarding, and internship training processes. “By providing a strong foundation from the start, someone can start in an entry-level position in administrative support, and through on-the-job training that individual can develop the skills and competencies necessary for promotion without going through another recruitment process,” explains McIntire.

SCF also considers applicants seeking a career change. “Let’s say we have someone living in rural Alaska who has worked as a fishing boat captain and managed a business for years, including payroll, ordering supplies, and other business management activities. That experience could transfer to a position as a supervisor or manager,” says McIntire. “This also applies to moms who have managed the family budget and taken care of kids for years. Those are not lost years, and the life skills they have learned can help them when they are ready to join the workforce.”

Additional programs help community members develop skills to thrive. Targeting young people ages 14 through 19, the SCF Raise program was established to introduce Alaska Native and American Indian interns to administrative and healthcare careers, provide worksite experiences, and support educational goals to become the next generation of leaders.

For positions that require a formal degree or certification, SCF offers various scholarship opportunities for Alaska Natives and American Indians interested in studies of behavioral health and paraprofessional training. “We work to create pathways for advancement,” McIntire concludes.

Alaska Business June 2024 cover
In This Issue
Delivering Anchorage's Promise
June 2024
Welcome to the June 2024 issue, which features our annual Transportation Special Section. We've paired it this year with a focus on the Pacific Northwest and Hawai'i, as Alaska has close ties to both that reach far beyond lines of transportation. Even further out past our Pacific Ocean compatriots and our Canadian neighbors to the east, Alaska's reach extends to India and Singapore. Enjoy this issue that explores many of Alaska's far-flung business dealings.
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