Anthony Hughes, cofounder and CEO, Tech Elevator.
Having a college degree doesn’t automatically make a candidate more qualified for every role, particularly roles that are skills-focused. Anyone who’s been actively involved in hiring and developing talent knows that in a practical sense, but in the midst of developing job descriptions, interviewing and hiring, that knowledge is often forgotten.
As we find ourselves at a point where the job market is cooling, it’s critical that we don’t revert to old practices of falling back on the college degree as a proxy of preparedness for skilled jobs. After all, there are big reasons behind the rise of skills-based hiring. The biggest one: skills drive company performance and productivity, not degrees.
A model for progress, the technology sector has led the way in skills-based hiring, and in the process, the sector has been able to identify incredible new and diverse sources of talent. This realization isn’t limited to the private sector either. Even state governments such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Colorado and others are beginning to drop the four-year degree requirement and prioritize hiring for skills, recognizing it hurts them and their constituents. These orders have represented a rare bipartisan consensus, suggesting they will remain regardless of future election outcomes.
From public institutions to private companies, across industries and sectors—and across party lines—there are good reasons for alignment in this area, and it’s a solid indicator of what the future holds.
Skills Drive Company Performance, Not Degrees
The need for true problem solvers mounts during tough times. In fact, some of the greatest innovations come from challenges met during a recession. In the past, companies that underwent mass layoffs might have taken a different approach; rather than being laid off, some of those employees could have been retained through reskilling. The same is true today.
Reskilling remains one of the most cost-effective and powerful ways to address the labor shortage, which despite headline news remains a very real challenge. Rather than the full cost of recruiting a new employee, companies that understand the value of retaining, reskilling and redeploying talent are saving millions by developing alternative talent pipelines. Companies that implement reskilling experience cost-savings and a high ROI when factoring in institutional knowledge retained long-term employee loyalty and the saved opportunity cost of leaving roles temporarily vacant.
Prioritizing skills-based hiring over solely hiring degreed candidates offers a similar ROI as it encourages employers to measure outcomes and performance versus academic pedigree. According to research by Handshake, it not only increases the eligible talent pool by 2.3x, but it also builds and supports diversity, equity and inclusion by supporting underrepresented minority job seekers who are statistically less likely to have a bachelor’s degree.
The degree credential has long been a poor proxy for assessing candidate abilities; skills-based hiring offers a new approach that is primed to focus on what people can do and what they can learn, giving a clear line of sight to how they can directly impact a business.
Policy Changes Support The Focus On Skills tate governments are dropping the degree requirement for a reason. Facing severe labor shortages, Maryland, for example, opened up 50% of the 38,000 available jobs to candidates who acquired their experience through traditional work, bootcamps, military service and community college. Utah and Pennsylvania soon followed by removing bachelor’s degree requirements for 98% and 92% of the state’s jobs, respectively. Similarly, Colorado enacted skills-first and experience-focused hiring practices in lieu of degree requirements. Other states have made similar efforts—which in some cases were concentrated on specific shortage areas like education—including but not limited to Georgia, Alaska, Arizona, North Carolina and Oregon.
With government leaders using terms like “arbitrary” to describe degree requirements, these developments indicate a significant shift in tone, policy and practice that will serve public interest, as the labor shortage and understaffing have impacted critical government functions.
The Right Skills Can Make An Individual (Or Team) Recession-Proof
Today, every company is a tech company because technology forms a critical component of how any business functions. Even today, the greatest number of tech job postings aren’t concentrated within the tech sector; they’re in the industries of Insurance, Finance, Manufacturing, Public Administration and Professional Services. It’s plausible and probable that as a software developer, you will change industries multiple times. Software development skills not only offer exciting opportunities to apply technical problem-solving skills across industries, but as the economic fortunes of industries ebb and flow, the portability of these skills offers unrivaled career resiliency.
Ultimately, despite the lay-off headlines, the bulk of recent layoffs from tech companies have hit departments outside of IT. According to data from CompTIA, engineering and software development positions have made up the largest available share of open positions in recent months. Other reports suggest this may be the highest talent shortage seen in 17 years, as almost 80% of employers report difficulty filling roles.
I’ve personally seen the impact reskilling can have in building recession-proof teams of software developers. While a newer concept to some, it’s become a proven alternative to traditional talent acquisition methods for others, including brands like KeyBank, Pinnacle 21, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Autozone and PwC, among many others.
It’s Time For A New, More Creative Approach To Tech Talent
There simply aren’t enough degree-candidates to fill the open roles and the output today (and in the future) simply cannot meet the demand—nor is it necessary for candidates in these roles to have degrees. Fortunately, more employers are opening their eyes to that reality and adjusting their approaches accordingly, creating a pathway for a more skill-based, performance-focused and overall equitable workforce.
As we contemplate this moment and how we navigate through it, let’s not lose the momentum we’ve fought so hard to gain. Resist the urge to curl up in the false comfort of college completion. If you are committed to finding the best talent to build the highest-performing teams, remember this truth: jobs require skills, not degrees.
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