With fierce competition for talent in today’s job market, many employers ask if a university degree is really necessary. They range from giants like Google to small businesses in the heartland. For example, Central Iowa Vapors in Cedar Rapids recently ruled new hires no longer need credentials after a star management trainee revealed he never even graduated from high school.
Policy makers are also beginning to remove educational barriers. The federal government recently released new rules that make it easier for people without a four-year college degree to apply for federal jobs. And in Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan deleted degree requirements for thousands of state jobs.
The trend is construction. A 2022 Harvard Business Review report analyzed over 50 million job postings and found a clear shift in the workplace. A growing number of employers are looking for skills and competencies, rather than relying reflexively on diplomas.
While we support post-high school education for all Americans and believe that degrees lead to better careers and lives, these are much-needed steps in the right direction. It’s a win-win situation for workers and employers as “degree inflation” decreases and more jobs are opened up to qualified candidates.
Yet simply removing educational requirements will not automatically lead to greater equity and access for workers of color and others struggling to find jobs. Like the Lumina Foundation stronger nation shows, black, Hispanic, Latino and Native American adults are much less likely to have a college degree than their white counterparts. They therefore face more difficult barriers to employment, even when they have the right skills. Removing arbitrary educational requirements helps level the playing field, but we need to do more.
We need coordinated systemic changes to create a more equitable workforce. Here’s a good start: About 100 major American companies have pledged to provide high-paying jobs with career paths for people without a four-year degree. These include the Business Roundtable Multi-Lane program; one ten, an initiative to hire 1 million black workers over the next decade; and [email protected]’s efforts to draw attention to workers who are “qualified through alternative pathways” (STARS).
These employers and others are rewriting job descriptions, revising interview processes, adding more training and developing new career paths. Businesses can expand these opportunities by partnering with community colleges and other providers offering high-quality, non-degree training. More companies should also consider tuition funding to make it easier for workers to hone their skills and continue learning beyond the entry level. And employers can’t lose sight quality of work — a job without a diploma is not an excuse to pay less or offer fewer benefits.
Many community colleges already work in close collaboration with employers to align programs with jobs. But here you can also do more. Community colleges and other training providers need to pay more attention to communities of color and ensure they provide the right skills and resources for students to succeed both on campus and in the marketplace.
Meanwhile, policymakers must ensure that lifting educational requirements for public sector jobs means that those jobs are genuinely accessible to people who have been turned down because of their race, ethnicity or of their income. We need to get closer to our peer nations to fund workforce development. While some states are increase investments in non-degree qualifications to help workers train quickly for new jobs, more needs to be done to support and expand efforts to create equitable pathways to employment.
If we get it right, skills-based hiring can be crucial in expanding opportunities for millions of workers while helping American businesses compete with broader talent pools. Remember that jobs that don’t require degrees still require advanced skills. While removing degree requirements is a good first step, helping workers get the skills they need is just as essential as they learn, earn, and build a better future.
Amanda Cage is President and Chief Executive Officer of National Workforce Solutions Fundthat invests in a network of communities that advance workforce development. Kermit Kaleba is Director of Strategy for Employer-Aligned Accreditation Programs at Lumina Foundation, which works for racial equity because it helps all Americans learn beyond high school. The two leaders work together to advance industry partnerships with community colleges.