While companies have a fierce war for talent, they have one simple tactic at their disposal that could help unlock vast pools of potential talent: abolishing the qualifications required for open jobs.
In the years leading up to the pandemic, blue-chip companies such as Apple, Google, IBM and Bank of America drew attention with announcements that they would no longer require applicants to hold a degree for certain jobs, including senior finance manager positions. .
But a few years after their announcement, these companies still stand out as exceptions to the rule in a sea of employer degree requirements that hold back students, society and the companies themselves. Notwithstanding The headlines, the university’s stranglehold had become even greater in recent years.
Degree inflation is the practice of demanding college degrees for positions that previously did not require them. According to Harvard Business School research, 6.2 million workers were at risk due to diploma inflation, “meaning their lack of a bachelor’s degree could prevent them from qualifying for the same job with another employer.”
The practice entails considerable costs, according to the same study. Graduates in positions that previously did not require a degree earn higher salaries, are more likely to leave their jobs, are less engaged, and produce no more than employees in the same position who do not have a degree. Yet many employers use university degrees as a screen to help them search through large numbers of job applications, even when degrees does not relate to how a person performs at work.
The strength of the degree made sense in recent years. When hiring, employers look for signs of suitability, experience, character and personality. For people with no experience, employers usually read the signals that their education data gives. If someone does not have a college education, society has assumed that that future employee is of lower quality than someone who does.
Years ago, when colleges were the only place to learn higher-level knowledge, develop corresponding critical thinking skills, and join powerful social networks, this arrangement had plenty of false negatives. In other words, few hyper-talented people chose not to go to college.
But universities no longer have a monopoly on providing access to knowledge, skills and a network. The internet, online learning and social media have changed that.
Indeed, forward-thinking companies not only waive degree requirements, but tend to cater for education and training to recruit and train promising talent.
However, some hiring managers have not only failed to keep up, but have regressed, hurting their companies and their employees.
In research of recent years, a team of researchers and I collected and analyzed more than 200 personal stories and conducted surveys of more than 1,500 students who had chosen different paths to higher education to understand what prompted them to enroll. What we found was that a significant group of students are enrolling to just do what is expected of them.
This group of students has little intrinsic motivation or energy to attend school to earn a degree. They are completely apathetic about their choice.
They enroll because it’s the next logical step in their lives that someone else — a family member, their employer, or their peers in society — expects of them. It is that expectation that drives them to make a decision that in many cases results in a substandard outcome. According to our survey, 54 percent of students were dissatisfied with their school experience, and a whopping 74 percent transferred or dropped out.
Employers play a key role in creating and shaping those expectations.
Many of the students we spoke to in our survey who were currently employed but not graduated were attending school part-time. Why? Because they felt that their employer expected them to return to university, even though there was no apparent or compelling reason to study. In other words, the skills they learned during training were irrelevant to what they would do on the job, and often the only reason they enrolled was because the employer would foot the bill through, say, a tuition reimbursement program.
But there are more and more solutions to this problem. Some employers try to focus on the competencies – the knowledge, skills and dispositions – that employees need to succeed and grow, as opposed to their credentials.
Pre-hire assessments that measure specific competencies and skills grow, according to a study by Ithaka S+R. Organizations like the Institute of Management Accountants offer certifications such as the certified management accountant program, to focus on the actual competencies needed by a modern finance professional, including in technology, data analytics, ethics and decision making. And companies like Walmart and IBM focus their education and training on the skills and competencies needed by their current and future workforces.
To amplify the success of individuals in need of education, we must unleash their intrinsic motivation, not force them into a bad choice. That means individuals should broaden their set of desired choices so that they can find the right one for them, and not limit their choices by requiring specific, sometimes outdated credentials such as a college degree.
It is time for employers to play a leading role in that movement.