Over the past year, I have spoken to over 500 Berkeley and Oakland based business owners about their hiring practices. The consensus: hiring is hard!

As a former caterer and the current Co-Founder of Localwise, a Berkeley-based online job board, I know the pain of hiring local employees. I also know a trick: focus on transferrable skills.

Below I’ll explain what transferrable skills are, why they are important, and the massive social impact we could unleash by focusing local hiring practices on transferrable skills.

The basics

Transferrable skills are those an employee can take from one job to the next. Customer service, sales, project management, work ethic, and teamwork are all skills that make for a great employee across many industries and roles. Transferrable skills can be acquired in a for-profit, non-profit, volunteer, or academic setting. They are the foundation for any great employee.

Don’t fall for the trap!

Too often local business owners forget the importance of transferrable skills. When I ask a local business owner what they look for in an employee, the most common answer is something along these lines: “I’m looking for someone who has done the exact same job I’m offering.”

On the surface, this makes sense: less training time. But for most, this line of thinking is a trap! The exception being a highly technical position that requires years of training.

Small change, big benefits

What would happen if local employers focused on transferrable skills? I believe positive change would be unleashed across multiple levels of Berkeley and local communities at large.

First, local businesses would benefit. Employers would find there are far more qualified candidates for their jobs. Localwise data suggests that the qualified candidate pool would double. Moreover, employers could focus on candidates that fit their culture, which would reduce turnover. A quick Google search shows that the replacement cost of an employee equals 30-50% of annual salary. Whatever the exact number, it’s expensive. Sometimes deadly, as the Berkeleyside’s article on the Nabolom Bakery in Elmwood revealed.

Second, local people would benefit. Focusing on transferrable skills would give people a chance to build their resumés and advance their careers. Local communities should be places where today’s youth can grow into tomorrow’s leaders. This process starts with a job. For the employers this isn’t charity work. When you give someone a chance, you’re not just another employer, you’re the employer who changed someone’s life. There is no quicker fix to reducing employee turnover.

Third, local communities would benefit. The fabric of local communities is torn when youth unemployment is high. The U.S. faces over 11% youth unemployment, nearly double the figure across all age groups. Worse, African-American teens face over 30% unemployment while Latino teens face over 20%. As a society, we are setting ourselves up for a disaster. To not train future generations is a mistake. To disproportionately exclude large segments of the population from the labor force is a crime. We have to take action.


It’s time to focus local hiring practices on transferrable skills. Local business owners would reduce employee turnover. Local people would be given a chance. Local communities would foster inclusive growth. It’s a win-win-win.

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Ben Hamlin is the Co-Founder & CEO of Localwise, an online job market that has helped thousands of local businesses in and around Berkeley hire local employees.
Ben Hamlin is the Co-Founder & CEO of Localwise, an online job market that has helped thousands of local businesses in and around Berkeley hire local employees.