Eliminating college degree requirements for jobs increases competition

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A four-year degree has long been heralded as a must-have for advancing in corporate America. But that may not be the case for very long.

General Motors recently announced that it will remove educational requirements from job listings when they are not absolutely necessary. The decision to prioritize skills over a college education bypasses an unnecessary barrier to diversity in the workplace, said Telva McGruder, the company’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer. . Fortune’s Phil Wahba.

There is a 20 percentage point gap between white and black Americans with college degrees in 2018, nonprofit research finds Lumina Foundation. Plus, skyrocketing tuition costs (up more than 500% since the 1980s) have made it even harder to graduate, not to mention the student debt crisis.

“An engineering degree is ‘wow’ and highly respected. I have one myself,” McGruder said. “But it’s not necessarily the ultimate indicator of someone’s potential.”

This focus on potential is precisely why GM and many other Fortune 500 companies are moving away from mandatory college degrees. Google, EY, Okta, Penguin Random House, Microsoft and Apple have all started offering high-level positions to applicants without a degree to attract talent in a tight job market.

This shift in mindset opens the door to new opportunities for marginalized groups and foreign workers in today’s world of remote work. This may make jobs more accessible to non-US-based workers, as experts predict remote jobs could soon be widely offshored. But it could also make jobs for high-demand positions even more competitive, meaning job seekers in the Great Resignation era can expect fewer opportunities as more and more people compete for a limited set of open positions.

Fewer requirements, more candidates

A study of degree requirements by Harvard Business School and Emsi Burning Glass found that between 2017 and 2020, only 29% of positions at IBM and 26% of positions at Accenture required a college degree. In 2016, Accenture launched an apprenticeship program aimed at integrating workers without formal degrees into its pipeline (80% of potential hires from the program do not have a university degree).

“A person’s credentials aren’t the only indicators of success, so we’ve evolved our approach to hiring to focus on skills, experiences and potential,” said Accenture North America CEO , Jimmy Etheredge, by CNBC.

But a four-year degree is still likely to endure largely as a yardstick for measuring candidates’ skills and competencies, said Sean Gallagher, a professor of educational policy at Northeastern University. Fortune. “We believe, based on our research, that a large part of the reason degrees have increased over the years is due to the changing nature of work and the skills required,” he said. he declares.

At the same time, he adds, that doesn’t mean employers don’t recognize that a bachelor’s degree is necessarily synonymous with job suitability.

If college degrees no longer become mandatory for white-collar jobs, many other essential requirements for a job could also disappear, said Sean Martin, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. Fortune. This may include previous experience or specific skills learned during the first few weeks on the job, or in a boot camp or apprenticeship program such as Accenture’s.

“Companies themselves are missing out on people who research suggests might be less authoritative, more culturally savvy, more eager to be there,” Martin said. Rather than pedigree, he added, hiring managers should look for motivation and a desire to learn and adapt, two traits that cannot be found on paper.

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