Why Hire for Skills Not Degrees

Posted by Des Sinkevich on December 1, 2021

At the end of August, there were 10.4 million job openings in the United States, seeming to signal continued economic recovery as we crawl toward a post-pandemic future. But despite increasing numbers of open positions and the 7.4 million unemployed US workers still searching for employment, employers around the country are struggling to fill the gaps.

Besides many workers holding out for better pay, better benefits, and even completely changing industries, another, often easier to address issue limiting the number of applicants your job post receives is the level of education required to qualify for the position. Nearly 75% of jobs require a degree or some college-level education – but fewer than 40% of workers meet those requirements. In order to increase the applicant pool, find qualified and dedicated new hires, and address the worker shortage, it’s vital that we reassess the level of education required to perform the job, placing more emphasis on hiring for skills versus degrees only.

man and woman in job interview.

How screening for degrees impacts hiring

Degrees alone are no longer enough to ensure that someone is ready for employment, especially in skilled industries. Demonstrated skills, however, can assure hiring managers that prospective employees can handle the responsibilities and daily tasks required of them on the job. But we still emphasize the need for degrees in many job posts, which can negatively impact the number of applicants you receive. When requiring degrees for jobs that don’t necessarily need them, it effects hiring by
  • Decreasing your available talent pool. A college degree can signal dedication, a strong work ethic, and persistence. Depending on the position you’re hiring for, however, it may not mean that your applicants have the necessary skills to successfully fill the role. While there are many jobs that do require a degree, there are just as many – or more – that don’t. Yet employers still rely on outdated education requirement sections to screen prospective hires, discouraging potentially excellent employees from even applying. With a lack of qualified options from which to choose, open positions can remain unfilled for weeks or even months, increasing the workload on current employees and negatively impacting hiring budgets over time.
  • Decreasing the potential for diversity in your company. In the last two years, diversity and inclusion have become important considerations for companies large and small. However, hiring a diverse talent pool is difficult when you screen applicants for bachelor’s degrees instead of looking at their skillsets. In fact, disregarding those applicants who don’t have a four-year degree excludes 68% of African Americans, 79% Latinx applicants, and 73% of rural Americans. Additionally, you’re also excluding two-thirds of American veterans who have industry-specific skills and technical knowledge, but no degree.
Instead of limiting who you can hire by using a degree as a gatekeeper, emphasizing documented skills and other qualifications in the job post and application process can allow you to find more talented, dedicated workers who fit the needs of your company.

How to implement skills-based hiring

If using a degree to measure competency in job applicants is flawed, how do you determine who’s an appropriate fit for your open positions? And how do you ensure your job posts get attention from qualified applicants? Try these methods to get talented new hires in the door.
  • Revise your standard job posts. Most companies don’t write brand new job posts for each open position, especially when you’re constantly hiring. For example, the “requirements” section is often copy/pasted by employers because, in general, those are the qualities you’re looking for in all applicants. But because of this copy/paste culture, the outdated degree requirement still makes its way into posts it shouldn’t. Making changes as simple as changing the word “requirements” to “responsibilities” can have a positive impact. LinkedIn data has shown that employers who list responsibilities in job descriptions without including a requirements section receive 14% more applications than those who don’t.
  • Implement ways to measure skills. An applicant has the desired skills listed on their resume, but are they really competent in those skills? To ensure your prospective hires can meet the day-to-day job requirements, a late-stage interview could include a skills test or working interview, depending on the industry. You can also measure skills and job-fit through easier solutions such as unexpected, or in-depth, interview questions.
  • Ask about their commitment to continued learning. In roles that are mid- or high-skilled, continued learning is essential to excellent job performance and growth. During the interview process, ask about their interest in learning more to assess if they’re willing to continue to further their education with your company. Besides helping you decide whether or not a candidate is a good hire, education benefits are a big draw for many workers, so it’s a win-win. Additionally, it can improve employee retention. 94% of workers would stay longer with a company that invested in their career and growth.
It’s also important to acknowledge that, while a degree isn’t necessary for every role, education and training through career schools and certificate programs can be a good indicator that an applicant is qualified for the position you’re looking to fill. Those who have technical or career diplomas in specific fields may be more qualified for the roles you’re hiring for than someone who has a business degree.

Why offer training programs for new and current employees

Education opportunities and training programs aren’t just a draw for new hires, they’re vital to building culture and ensuring continued career growth for all employees. Whether you’re looking to supplement a new hire’s previous work experience with further training, or you hope to build future leaders among your employees, making industry-relevant courses available to staff positively impacts employee retention and loyalty. Training programs are also proven to improve the company’s bottom line overall. A study conducted by the Association of Talent Development found that offering comprehensive training programs increased revenue by 218% per employee.

With an impact on hiring, revenue, and employee satisfaction, it’s obvious that besides hiring for skills, making sure to continue growing those skills in-house is vital to success.

Partner with a proven training provider to upskill your workforce

Whether you’re looking to offer education benefits to attract skilled workers or want to create an in-house talent pool that can advance to leadership roles, offering comprehensive training programs is the solution. But implementing in-house training programs can be costly, inefficient, and place an unnecessary burden on current workers. That’s where a proven training provider like Penn Foster comes in. From skilled trades to healthcare training, Penn Foster’s online training courses can help employees build or strengthen skills at their own pace. To learn more about available programs or how to implement education benefits at your company, reach out to our training experts today!

Related article:

Why Upskilling is the Key to Recovery in 2021