Check out a recap of The Great Acceleration: Digital Skills in 2021 panel discussion – the latest panel in BrainStation’s Digital Leadership Event Series.
Apple and Google have made headlines by no longer requiring college degrees, but they are not the only companies to reconsider their educational demands in the digital age.
A report from Glassdoor claims that a number of marquee companies are dropping the requirement of a four-year degree, including IBM, Costco, Hilton, Nordstrom and Bank of America.
And according to economic experts, it’s long overdue that employers look past rigid educational requirements to find the best and most dynamic talent on the market.
“In today’s economy, we cannot afford to let the lack of a college degree become a barrier to entering the workforce or seeking their careers,” a 2017 Harvard Business Review report wrote.
“Competency is more important than credentials. Degree inflation is not just hurting individual workers; it undermines American competitiveness. American companies can’t let that happen.”
This kind of thinking is catching on, creating a sea change in hiring practices at some of the world’s most innovative companies. Here are some reasons why.
It Can Increase Diversity
When Penguin Random House announced plans in 2016 to drop degree requirements for new hires, the company noted that there was “no simple correlation between having a degree and ongoing performance in work.”
But just as importantly, the company felt that its degree demands were a roadblock to diversity.
“We want to attract the best people to help grow and shape the future of our company, regardless of their background – and that means that we need to think and act differently. Simply, if you’re talented and you have potential, we want to hear from you,” said Group HR Director Neil Morrison.
“This is the starting point for our concerted action to make publishing far, far more inclusive than it has been to date,” he added. “We believe this is critical to our future: to publish the best books that appeal to readers everywhere, we need to have people from different backgrounds with different perspectives and a workforce that truly reflects today’s society.”
Indeed, colleges in the U.S. and around the world continue to struggle with inequality and a lack of diversity among their student populations.
The biggest reason for this is economic. While 83 percent of students from high-income families in the U.S. enroll in college, only 63 percent from low- and middle-income families do the same. In total, 44.2 million Americans are now carrying student loan debt, and those Americans owe more than $1.48 trillion collectively – roughly $620 billion more than total U.S. credit card debt.
There are therefore surely many talented, bright candidates who have the minds but not the means to attain a four-year degree.
There’s a Drastic Shortage of Workers With Digital Skills
By now, you might have heard that there’s a huge – and growing – demand for tech talent and simply not enough skilled workers to meet it.
The 2018 Harvey Nash-KPMG CIO Survey reported that a staggering 65 percent said a lack of talent was holding their organization back. In Canada, the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) found that Canada would need an additional 182,000 skilled technology workers by 2019.
Keeping in mind that only a third of American adults have a college degree, it’s clear that any company limiting their candidate search to that very narrow pool is going to struggle to hire the right people.
Skills and Experience Matter Most
In an influential 2016 column for USA Today, IBM President and CEO Ginni Rometty wrote about the rise of “new collar” jobs that employers were struggling mightily to fill, specifically in the technology sector.
She argued that updating traditional job criteria would be essential to meeting that demand, and added that at a number of IBM’s locations in the U.S., as many as a third of employees didn’t have a four-year degree.
“New collar jobs may not require a traditional college degree,” she wrote. “What matters most is that these employees … have relevant skills. Indeed, skills matter for all of these new positions, even if they are not always acquired in traditional ways,” she added.
Another report by the Information Systems Audit and Control Association found that 55 percent of hiring managers say practical, hands-on experience is the most important qualification for a candidate.
Bootcamps and Digital Skills Training Are Gaining Prestige
Where a decade ago tech bootcamps and other digital skills training companies were few and far between, students can now earn certifications and undergo intensive re-training programs at institutions that are widely respected in the industry.
BrainStation, for instance, has trained more than 70,000 digital professionals since launching in 2012, with certificate courses in five disciplines: data science, UX design, web development, digital marketing, and product management.
Many experts expect that companies will only move farther away from rigid educational requirements in the years to come. A study from ZipRecruiter found that “significant success” is being made toward creating that “new-collar” job market, with even more progress predicted in the very near future
“New collar jobs are important today, and they’ll likely become even more important as technological progress continues to accelerate, college costs continue to rise, and fewer and fewer traditional employment opportunities are available,” read the report.
“Tech jobs require a unique skill set, and a traditional bachelor’s degree is only one way of many to obtain those skills. To hire the most qualified applications, hiring managers need to lessen the focus on what degrees applicants have, and instead strive to hire the right applicants with the right skills.”