Changing how we hire for real-world skills

Chairman and CEO Rob Davis discussed our talent focus on skills rather than a four-year degree for a qualified, diverse workforce

February 24, 2023

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Merck CEO Rob Davis and some Skills-First attendees

In an increasingly competitive job market, we’re evolving the way we recruit, hire and develop talent — focusing on skills instead of degrees as the most important determinant of success. This talent strategy, called “Skills-First at Merck,” was front and center during a recent event at our Upper Gwynedd, Pennsylvania, location. 

Our chairman and CEO Rob Davis sat down with CEO of OneTen Maurice Jones for a fireside chat moderated by Celeste Warren, vice president of global diversity and inclusion. They discussed our Skills-First hiring strategy, which connects talent to well-paying job opportunities without a four-year degree requirement, and our partnership with OneTen.

Co-founded in 2020 by our retired chairman and CEO Ken Frazier, OneTen brings together more than 70 companies and CEOs with a mission of hiring one million Black Americans into family-sustaining careers over 10 years. In a highly competitive and evolving labor market, this approach helps level the playing field, increase access to high-potential talent pools and accelerate our talent strategy.

“I am personally committed to continuing this mission and driving this change across our organization,” said Davis. “Our ability to attract, develop and retain top talent that brings diversity of experience, perspective and ideas is critical to our success now and into the future.”

A Skills-First success story

Attendees heard firsthand from Merck Research Laboratories (MRL) colleagues about how they experimented with their operating model to create meaningful career opportunities for non-degreed talent in the Philadelphia area. Because one of the obstacles to attracting diverse talent can be travel time from their communities to an office space, MRL set up a WeWork coworking space in the city. That, along with removing four-year degree requirements and recruiting through diverse channels, contributed to the successful hiring of two cohorts of new, diverse colleagues.

Most of the employees at the site work as clinical data managers, roles which previously emphasized degrees.

Our commitment to diverse talent and Skills-First

Celeste Warren, Rob Davis and Maurice Jones.

This photo: Celeste Warren, Rob Davis and Maurice Jones. Top of page: Rob Davis with Merck interns through the Year Up program.

In 2022, our company posted 900 roles not requiring a four-year degree, and more than 4,000 job seekers responded to our Skills-First recruitment efforts. We are continuously expanding strategic partnerships to bring in more diverse talent, including collaborations with Year Up, YUPRO, Open Classrooms and Interapt. In 2022, approximately 100 Year Up interns and 30 Skills-First apprentices joined our company.

“Put simply,” Davis said, “by focusing on skills instead of a four-year degree for appropriate roles, Skills-First will make us a stronger, more competitive company that reflects the patient populations we serve.”