Ditch the Degree

In years past, having a college degree was required for almost every salaried job—and many hourly jobs, as well. Candidates who didn’t have a degree often would lose out on opportunities and struggle to advance their careers.

When I had my Staffing Agency, I was amazed when I would receive a job order for a Receptionist and the qualifications included a BA Degree.

Recently, widespread talent shortages and a number of other cultural shifts have prompted more employers to revisit that requirement.

About two-thirds of working-age adults (64 percent) do not hold a bachelor’s degree, and undergraduate college enrollment fell by 8 percent from 2019 to 2022. The share of jobs that require a college degree fell to 44 percent last year, down from 51 percent in 2017, according to research from the Burning Glass Institute.

As a result, major employers such as Dell, IBM and Bank of America have eliminated the college degree requirement for most jobs, and many other businesses are following suit. 

College degrees are incredibly expensive, and the costs continue to rise which many people are deciding not to sign up for lifelong student debt.

Most companies believe there is value in a traditional college education, not requiring a degree often makes companies more diverse. Everyone doesn’t need to have the same background. Diversity builds strong teams and creates successful businesses.

A college degree continues to be valuable, but it isn’t accessible to everyone, and most companies want to ensure equity in their hiring process to provide a workplace with diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Human Resources, recognizes that the requirement for a college degree might inadvertently exclude exceptionally talented individuals from underprivileged backgrounds who might not have had equal access to higher education opportunities.

Compounding the issue has been the lack of available workers. HR is now focusing on candidates’ skills rather than degrees.

Once employers start looking beyond college degree requirements, four areas tend to emerge as most important:  

1. Prior Experience 

Hiring managers are now looking at candidates with the right experience for the job. In many fields, experience is far more valuable than a degree. For example, hands-on experience learning how to fix a printer cannot be taught in a traditional college environment.

As an Ex. Recruiter I would present a candidate with previous experience, such as whether they have demonstrated an ongoing pattern of growth and development in past roles.

2. Critical Skill Sets 

Finding skilled workers has been another struggle for many employers.

In sectors like logistics and transportation, there’s a distinct scarcity of skilled workers.

HR looks for work experience that has similar or transferable skill sets. Or they look for more entry-level candidates who demonstrate a willingness to learn.

It’s customary to gravitate toward individuals with degrees because that has been the industry norm. However, after working in HR for the past 20-plus years, you get a true grasp of what adds value to a company. I believe that a degree is quite valuable, but it’s the attitude that one holds, with or without the degree, that has led to success.

I greatly value candidates who have demonstrated a consistent track record of embracing change and displaying a commitment to continuous learning—traits that are particularly prized in our evolving landscape.

3. View the Whole Picture

As industries and job requirements continue to evolve, so do the criteria for evaluating job candidates. This ushers in an era where a candidate’s capabilities and potential are just as crucial, if not more so, than their academic achievements.

Focusing on the whole story of a person is essential for a team and a business—to thrive, Hiring is subjective. There is no one right answer to what background a candidate must have to be successful.  Companies should build teams where people have a variety of experiences, education and backgrounds so that a team can build on one another’s strengths and help each other with weaknesses.

Lastly, the tight labor market, combined with the high cost of college and a pandemic-era re-assessment of work, has led both employers and job-seekers to question the conventional wisdom of higher education for everyone.

Employers are finding that the best workers may be skilled in other ways than a formal education – and that jobs are easier to fill without the default demand of a formal degree.

Looking for some more job tips? Schedule a free introductory coaching call.