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Should Employers Value Education Over Experience?

Today, only 41% of US job openings require a bachelor's degree, down from 46% in 2019.

Andrea Diaz

by Andrea Diaz - March 6th, 2023


The hiring process can be complex in deciding the best candidate for your organization. Many employers must decide what skills they want to prioritize and have seen the value of training that results in adaptable employees.

Priorities may be shifting once again. A recent study found that only 41% of US job openings require a bachelor's degree, down from 46% in 2019. Let’s review the value of candidates and why degrees aren’t the most valuable asset to today’s employers. Let’s begin!

Changes In Qualities Employers Look For

While role-specific hard skills are good, they can be instilled and fine-tuned through training. Soft skills such as time management, problem-solving, adaptability, teamwork, and communication are vital for candidates to excel in the workplace. 

Turnover is a problem many employers want to avoid. So, many choose to select candidates with the passion and soft skills to stay long-term. What do experts say about this? 

A Positive Shift to Skills and Adaptability 

These changes have been in development for a long time. Employers that decide to cut degree requirements ask for a broader range of skills, specifically soft skills. A recent study by The Burning Glass Institute states, "At a time when employers struggle to find talent, including a degree requirement immediately eliminates from consideration the 64% of working-age adults who do not hold a bachelor’s degree.” 

Finding hidden talent within that 64% will help decrease the talent gap in many organizations and open up opportunities for many. For this reason, there is a shift to looking beyond formal qualifications. But what more are employers seeking in candidates?

As a hiring manager for a skills training business, I have noticed the trend of fewer jobs requiring at least a bachelor's degree. As an educator, I found this to be encouraging news, as it means that employers are increasingly looking beyond formal qualifications and focusing more and more on candidates' ability to learn new things and adapt quickly to ever-changing technological necessities in their respective fields.  

Our primary focus during the hiring process has shifted further away from just the formal education requirements and towards the specific skills and experience needed to perform a particular job—which has helped us find more reliable and capable employees who will be able to contribute more value.

Derek Bruce
Sr. Director of Skills Training Group

Shift to Experience Becoming Priority

While a degree is helpful, employers are looking for candidates with experience. This trend can be seen more heavily in the tech industry, as many types of programming can be self-taught. 

In many current job postings, employers ask for experience as a priority to be considered.

This shift has caused many candidates to rethink priorities in their resumes and further develop their portfolios to demonstrate their expertise. Degrees are losing value in certain industries, so showing qualifications other than a degree has become more important. So what are experts saying about this?

Experience and Portfolios Matter More Over College Papers

A recent Harvard Business School and Accenture study expands on this topic. In their survey with companies, two-thirds acknowledge that stipulating a four-year degree excludes qualified candidates from consideration. In many professions, a college degree is optional to perform their tasks.

For example, a possible candidate may have the skills and a vast portfolio to perform the job, but they are not considered due to a lack of a college degree. It can create a more extended problem in acquiring candidates for the position, as capable candidates are excluded. 

Employers want trainable employees, and a degree is just one indicator. For a long time, college degrees were viewed as the gold standard for trainable employees, but this has changed significantly. 

Prospective employees can now demonstrate skill and trainability in more ways, including relatable work experience, portfolios of previous jobs, and more. As global labor markets continue to reorient towards gig workers and freelancers, the relevance of degrees in the hiring process will become less significant. 

As an HR and business expert, I have seen enough evidence that this shift is happening sooner rather than later.

Jennie Miller
Co-Founder, Midss

Relaxed Education Requirements Welcome In The Tech Industry

Experts see the current shift in many industries. These changes are important to consider when looking at candidates. So how do you choose the best candidate for your organization?

I work closely with hiring managers and prospective employees, so I think I have a unique perspective on the changing education requirements in my industry. 

Tech has been at the forefront of relaxed degree requirements, thanks to the proliferation of self-guided training tools for things like programming. While I, and the hiring managers I work with, wholly welcome this change, management can be slow to accept the altered landscape. 

Bosses often come from a generation when degrees mattered more, which can make them reluctant to move on to a self-taught applicant. It's frustrating. But, it's likely a problem that will be solved naturally, as more and more tech workers are sourced unconventionally. Results are hard to argue with.

Rob Reeves
CEO & President, Redfish Technology

What Can Employers Do to Choose the Best Candidate?

Reevaluate Hiring Strategies

Reevaluating your organization’s hiring strategy can be a great start! Many are moving to equitable hiring practices to level the playing field for applicants. This can help avoid missing out on great candidates due to hiring bias.

A well-written and engaging job posting can also benefit from receiving a wider variety of candidates. Hiring is a two-way street; candidates want to be sold on the opportunity and why they should join your company. GoCo has a fantastic article that thoroughly explains how to write an engaging job posting and provides mistakes to avoid and opinions from industry leaders. 

Understanding Current Trends and Challenges

Another thing to consider is seeing what trends and challenges to look out for in the coming year. Currently, there is the challenge of massive talent gaps in the healthcare and tech industries. A shift to focusing on building skills rather than exact roles has been the preventative choice in combating that challenge. Awareness of current trends and challenges can help avoid headaches when choosing the best candidates for your organization.

Is a Degree Necessary to Being Considered for the Position?

There are shifting views on whether requiring a degree for certain positions is necessary. As mentioned, certain industries are moving away from requiring a degree for some positions. 

According to a recent study from The Burning Glass Institute, 46% of middle-skill and 31% of high-skill jobs have experienced changes between 2017 and 2019 by no longer requiring a degree. This study shows how this trend pre-dates Covid-19, and while Covid-19 accelerated the process, it is still an ongoing trend.

These changes should be considered when deciding whether a candidate is fit for your organization. First, ask yourself, what skills do you value? What skills do you see in long-term employees of your organization? 

Next, revisit your middle-skill and high-skill jobs and identify the key competencies required to do the job. You can then match them to specific associate’s degrees, certificates, or internal training programs that create career pathways for non-degree holders. 

Final Thoughts

We have found that degrees do not have to be the only qualifying aspect of a potential candidate. Candidates without degrees can provide equal or even more value to your company if you consider them. It’s time to reevaluate your hiring process and determine what you value in an employee and the different manners qualifications can come in. This will help you succeed in finding the best candidates for your organization.

Digital HR software can come in handy in making your hiring process easier. Here at GoCo, we offer a way to make onboarding for your best candidates quick and easy! By streamlining and automating your documents and data and being able to customize each employee onboarding experience! Take a free tour today!

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