Why Employers Should Reconsider Degree Requirements

For employers, including college degree requirements on job applications grants passage to some candidates — but closes the door on many other candidates who may not have the desired degree but are just as qualified for the role.

With an abundance of labor reports all showing that the demand for talent outweighs the supply of available workers, this imbalance continues to hinder many employers’ ability to find the workers they need. While there may be a talent shortage, employers could be self-sabotaging their hiring efforts by including degree requirements for positions that don’t necessarily require them. In getting more intentional about the skills you seek, shifting your search to look for soft and transferable skills in place of formal degree requirements may help broaden your access to promising talent.

If employers hope to fill their open positions, it is in their best interest to reconsider degree requirements for certain roles and open their doors to a more expansive network of skilled talent that has otherwise been excluded.

Redefining What it Means to Be Qualified

The prototypical “qualified” candidate traditionally has some sort of postsecondary education in addition to years of relevant work experience in a specific field, but this definition excludes those who have experience and qualifications through other means.

Tear the Paper Ceiling focuses on breaking down these barriers and highlighting workers who bring in a whole new set of skills not necessarily attached to a college education. They define these individuals as STARs, or Skilled Through Alternative Routes, and they make up over 70 million American workers that have gained experience through other avenues such as “military service, community college, training programs, partial college completion, or, most commonly, on-the-job experience.”

STARs — which include 66% of rural Americans, 61% of Black workers, 61% of veterans, 55% of Latinx workers and 50% of white workers — represent a more inclusive and diverse portion of the U.S. workforce.

By redefining traditional definitions of what it means to be a qualified candidate, the Tear the Paper Ceiling movement is encouraging important conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace and prompting employers to reconsider including degree requirements for roles that don’t need them.

Instead of hiring based on whether an applicant has a bachelor’s degree, adopting a skills-based approach to hiring not only allows for more to apply but also lets employers be more specific in the traits and skills they’re seeking for a particular role.

PREMIUM CONTENT: January 2023 US Jobs Report

A Skills-Based Approach to Hiring

When a college degree is required for a position that previously did not require one, it’s known as “degree inflation.” This inflation ultimately discounts a large portion of the population that does not meet this requirement and also suggests that at one point in time, a degree was not needed to be successful in this role.

A study by the Harvard Business School shows employers tend to equate a bachelor’s degree with a set of soft skills, the implication being that those who did not attend college don’t have the same set of skills. Instead of equating a bachelor’s degree with soft skills, employers can establish a skills-based approach to hiring to get more intentional with their search.

This approach to hiring also opens an employer’s search to individuals who may have transferable skills, or skills that can be carried over from one role and be applied just as successfully in a different role —further maximizing the scope of their talent search.

How to Expand Your Pool of Talent

To remain competitive and evolve alongside the labor market, employers should consider limiting college degree requirements when possible. In prioritizing skills over degrees, they will open the playing field to more professionals that have since been underutilized and overlooked.

Our recruiters prioritize building strong relationships with candidates to fully understand the scope of their skills and capabilities — beyond a college degree. In getting to know these candidates personally and professionally, they’re able to better identify the perfect fit for your company.

Nick Ault

Nick Ault
Nick Ault is a market research analyst at Aston Carter.

Nick Ault

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